THE very many tributes paid to Alasdair Houston, who died recently, referred to him being a gentleman and many enhanced this accolade prefixed by ‘perfect’ and a ‘complete.’

Making this description all the more remarkable was that he was also a successful businessman outwith agriculture – which he freely admitted remained his first love. As the driving force behind the development of Gretna Green into one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions, he had demonstrated his resilience in rebuilding and adding to the business in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alasdair had previously shown this same ability to pick up a business after it had been hit with a totally unforeseen disaster when his famous Gretnahouse pedigree cattle were culled in the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Although none of his cattle were infected with the virus, he watched them being slaughtered as part of the wider disease control plan. It was a 'sore' with Alasdair for many years.

He did as he promised back then and rebuilt the herd from scratch, making the Gretnahouse name once again, renowned in the farming world with his chosen breeds, Charolais and Aberdeen-Angus cattle, though he had one time also bred one of the greats of the Simmental breed, Gretnahouse Supersonic.

In rebuilding the herds post F and M, Alasdair scoured the pedigrees and sought out cattle from throughout the UK, as well as using embryo that he already had 'in the tank'. This was all done with his trademark determined, honest, and competitive energy. Over the course of 35 years, he had made his own definitive mark on the world of pedigree cattle breeding, as well as in the wedding, hospitality and tourism industries.

Alasdair’s main interests in farming were well known. In breeding pedigree cattle, his attention to detail and well-researched bloodlines brought his cattle to prominence. Initially, he worked with two Continental breeds, Charolais and Simmental, both of which his father had imported in the 1970s.

Alasdair took over the cattle in 1985 after returning from education, latterly gaining a degree in agriculture at Edinburgh and, after a decade and a half of careful and well thought out breeding, Gretnahouse cattle were at the top end of the trade. Not content with making the Charolais a success, in 2010 he moved into breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle, though he did briefly consider introducing Beef Shorthorns at that time, hitting the jackpot in 2014 with the aptly named Gretnahouse Blacksmith, a highly influential bull with a much sought-after bloodline.This bull was a game-changer not just for Gretnahouse but also for the breed in general and there will be few herds that do not have some cattle related to this bull in some way.

Alasdair was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. In May, 2021, shortly before his death, Alasdair admitted he was 'honoured and overwhelmed' when awarded the Sir William Young Award by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the world of cattle breeding.

He enjoyed meeting people both professionally and, along with his wife, Lucy, in his personal life. They and their children, Tara and Rafe, hosted some legendary parties.