Robert Dalrymple

Born: November 10, 1946

Died: May 27, 2024

When Kings Arms Farm was invited to host Scotsheep, Scotland's biennial national sheep event, in May 2018, more than 5,000 sheep farmers from around Scotland descended on the village of Ballantrae, in south-west Scotland. They were there to admire the work and expertise of Robert Dalrymple, a renowned Ayrshire farmer and countryman.

Working together with his wife Caroline and close friend and farm manager of 30 years, Andrew McLean, Crailoch and Kings Arms Farms had become formidable role models in Scotland’s agricultural community, racking up countless awards like the MLC Grass to Meat trophy in 1991 and Sheep Farm of the Year in 1993.

Robert, Caroline and Andrew were like-minded on the highest standards of animal welfare. They also kept a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle, selling a few young bulls every year. Robert said he always wanted to buy the best and sell the best. But he insisted that his special skill was in growing pedigree grass!

Robert’s father and mother, Hewie and Mildred, lived in Ballantrae and in November 1946 Robert was born prematurely in Ayr. He spent a lot of his formative youth with his grandfather, the Earl of Stair, at Lochinch Castle near Stranraer. He was sent, aged nine, to Ardvreck Preparatory School in Crieff, then on to Fettes College, Edinburgh.

Aged 18, Robert, who had never ventured abroad, decided that he’d like to work in Australia. Ambling down Bond Street in London, he noticed the Qantas Airline office so popped in and asked for a job. He wangled his way into the boss’s office, who told him the trainee management scheme was full but nevertheless took his details.

Sydney looked very different when Robert arrived as an 18-year-oldSydney looked very different when Robert arrived as an 18-year-old (Image: free)

Miraculously, two weeks later, a letter from Qantas arrived in Ballantrae informing Robert that he could start the course in Sydney in a couple of months’ time. This exciting news posed a problem, however. Qantas weren’t offering a free flight to Sydney, so Robert signed up as a £10 Pom, spending seven weeks on an old Greek ship sailing to Sydney, sharing a windowless cabin with three other boys.

Robert next moved from Qantas to the Sydney Stock Exchange, where he quickly discovered a flair as a city trader. He lived in Sydney for six years, moving to London in the early 70s, where he joined the London Stock Exchange as a stock jobber and through a close school friend, was introduced to Caroline Hunting, who was to be the love of his life and invaluable business partner. When Robert proposed to Caroline, he told her the marriage was conditional. There would be no lounging around in London, he said, pointing out that he had only come to the city to find a wife. Robert pledged that their future would be in Ballantrae.

Robert and Caroline were married in 1976. On learning that Crailoch was on the market, Robert took Caroline to the old and dilapidated farm steading where they stood and admired the incredible view over Ballantrae to the Antrim Hills, Arran, Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre. Caroline recalls that Robert put his arm around her and said: “Could you live here?” “Yes’, she replied, “but only if you move these sheep pens.” It took 27 years for the sheep pens to be moved, she says. Caroline and he were a true love match as well as best friends, working together, entertaining together, travelling together, never long apart.

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After they bought Crailoch, their first task was to install electricity, then they gradually developed the house into the wonderful home it is today, surrounded by glorious gardens and fields. It was a bustling household for their sons Hamish and Alastair to grow up in, with dogs, hens, sheep, cattle and endless visits from family, friends and neighbours. Robert and Caroline also developed a thriving holiday cottage business, creating jobs and welcoming an endless stream of visitors.

A community man through and through, Robert was an elder of Ballantrae Kirk for 40 years and treasurer for 30 years. He was a director of the Lendal Trust, which distributed money to local projects, ex-president and committee member of Colmonell Show, and involved in various fishery boards. He was a director of BRICC, the Ballantrae Rural Initiative Care in the Community project, raising tens of thousands through his letters and contacts, to look after the elderly in Ballantrae.

He displayed the perfect balance of business practicality with a bit of fun, an infectious combination, leaving every organisation he joined better off than he found it. On a national platform, Robert was a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire and a member of the Royal Company of Archers since 1977.

Robert was dotty about his dogs. He once told Caroline that the one good thing about dying would be that he’d get to see his dogs again. He was a true countryman; a superb fisherman; a good shot, and a sleeves-up dedicated farmer. He worked hard and played hard. He loved nothing more than chatting to everyone he met. He was a besotted grandfather to Isla, Wilbur, Rory and Poppy and adored his daughters-in-law Emma and Kate.

Robert Dalrymple really was the Master of Ballantrae.