Farmer and businessman

Born: September 20, 1926;

Died: October 5, 2017

Loading article content

LORD Cochrane of Cults, who has died aged 91, was an active farmer near Cults in Fife and a much respected local businessman.

He had the foresight to found the Craigtoun Meadows Holiday Park near St Andrews in 1972 which became hugely popular as a centre for family holidays and the site of semi-permanent homes. Lord Cochrane insisted upon the highest standards being maintained and did much to modernise all the caravans and lodges – he was, for example, an early advocate of central heating in the caravans.

Ralph Henry Vere Cochrane of Cults (always known as Vere) was the 4th Baron whose forbears had seen distinguished service in the Royal Navy and the RAF. Indeed, Admiral Lord Cochrane became so renowned that Napoleon gave him the nickname of the Sea Wolf while Vere’s uncle, Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane was, from 1942 – 45, Commander of No 5 Bomber Group whose 617 Squadron played a key role in the famous Dam Busters raid.

Lord Cochrane grew up in Hampshire and Fife and after attending Eton College he did his national service in the Royal Engineers and then studied land management at King’s College Cambridge.

In 1952 he returned to Fife to farm Cults Mill, an arable farm near Cupar. Lord Cochrane took over running the whole estate, Crawford Priory, when his father died in 1966. He succeeded to the barony (created in 1919), on the death of his elder brother in 1990.

That year Lord Cochrane piloted through Parliament a Private Members’ Bill regarding the supply of gas to isolated communities, holiday homes and caravan sites. For some years he had championed efforts to reduce the bureaucracy involved with the delivery process. He was adamant that safety was paramount and took immense trouble during the debates in the Lords to explain the bill’s complexities.

For his trouble he won much praise from all sides of The House. He got the law through both Houses – a rare occurrence for a Private Members’ Bill from the Lords – and The Gas (Exempt Supplies) Act got the Royal Assent in 1993.

Typical of the courtesy were his comments on behalf of himself and his wife when he no longer had, as a hereditary peer, a seat in the Upper House. He placed an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph thanking the staff “particularly the doorkeepers, refreshment department and the library…for their unfailing helpfulness.”

When he was chief executive, Craigtoun Meadows was awarded the AA Campsite of the Year for Scotland in 1984, 1990 and 2001 and was awarded 5 Stars by the Scottish Tourist Board.

Lord Cochrane’s son Michael, now chairman of Craigtoun Meadows, told The Herald how much the success of the business was due to his father’s sound business judgement.

“All at Craigtoun Meadows are very proud that when the holiday park was founded in 1972, Vere was determined that it should be of the highest possible quality in everything that it did and that there was no place for anything other than the best. As a result of this vision, Craigtoun Meadows quickly gained a reputation for high standards and the business grew steadily, winning many prizes along the way. We are still very much guided by his original thinking.”

Lord Cochrane was a keen follower of the turf and trained his horses firstly with Sue Bradburne and for the last five years with Nick Alexander at Kinneston stables. He had a string of winners with Or de Grugy which became a Kelso and Perth specialist. But he also enjoyed success at Aintree and Haydock. Alexander remembers Lord Cochrane with much pleasure, “Vere was a much loved owner at Kinneston for many years and will be greatly missed. On occasions we took his horses to Cults for him to see.”

Lord Cochrane was a local character and part of the social fabric of life in Fife. He acted as a prison visitor at Perth prison and a trustee of the Cupar Savings Bank. His other interests included skiing, sailing and steam engines. Lord Cochrane was a Commissioner for the Rover Scouts in Scotland and a member of the Royal Company of Archers.

His love of horses was seen when he was invited to choose the winner of Miss Caravan Park 1989. Asked how he had come to the decision Lord Cochrane simply said "In the same way I would judge cattle - withers and hocks, haunches, shoulders and clearness of eye."

He married Mary Watson in 1956. She and their two sons survive him.

ALASDAIR STEVEN