Wayfarer- Lots to tell about the Highlands highest village

Still wandering around Banffshire I came across a tale which will surprise even the most sceptical follower of unusual tales.

This concerns the village of Tomintoul which we regularly hear about in the winter road reports as being snowbound. Tomintoul at 1,160 feet above sea level is considered to be the highest village in the Highlands, assuming that Dalwhinnie is a hamlet. However there is a lot more to Tomintoul than those mundane facts, but let us start at the beginning.

It was founded in 1750 by the Duke of Gordon in the pretence that it would be more congenial to have his tenants in one comfortable spot than scattered about the countryside. But of course those with power and wealth do not spend their money without good purpose and by keeping his tenants in one locality it was easier to keep an eye on some of their nefarious exploits such as cattle rustling and illegal whisky distilling. So in this instance both parties seemed to benefit, but it was not until 1988 that my tale really starts to unfold.

It was then that Tony Williams from Surreywas holidaying in the area with his wife when the village seemed to cast a spell upon them. Mr Williams at first purchased a derelict cottage to improve, to be followed by purchasing the local hotel, the Gordon Arms, and the nearby Clockhouse restaurant.

These were refurbished by a company he set up called Tomintoul Enterprises through which funds were poured to restore run down cottages and support local businesses.

He was thought to be a very wealthy philanthropic man and became very popular with the villagers as he had completely revived the village, but of course that was not the whole truth which eventually came out.

It turned out that Mr Williams was not the wealthy man he was thought to be as he was in reality a finance director at Scotland Yard in London from whom he had embezzled some £5m to benefit the people of Tomintoul becoming their laird.

All this eventually came to light with Williams being arrested in 1994 and taken to court .

As a result of the court case Tony Williams went to prison for seven years, but remember he had not stolen the money for his sole benefit, but to improve the lives of everyone in Tomuintoul which seemed to suffer so much in winter.

The village declined after having lost its benefactor but the popularity of the Lecht Ski Centre close by has helped to restore its fortunes. See you next week.