Owning the Dunstane Houses is, as you might imagine, a time-consuming job. Running a hotel is the kind of labour of love that can take over your life. Which is why a lot of guests are surprised to learn that, for one of our owners, the Dunstane Houses isn’t the only passion project that gets them out of bed (early) in the morning…
Derek Mowat has been fascinated by wheels since he started to walk. Growing up on South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, he spent much of his childhood in mechanics’ overalls, working with his father who owned the local village garage. Here, he was enchanted by engines, tinkering with an array of vehicles, absorbing everything his dad said and did, and getting a lot more oil-spattered than every other four-year-old on the island.
By the time he turned eight, Derek had seen hundreds of makes and models of car pass through his father’s forecourt, but one day he saw something that was to change his life. As he and his father were driving across the island one afternoon, they sped past a Rolls-Royce. Derek was spellbound by the sight (prestige vehicles were rare visitors to such a small island), and implored his dad to turn the car around so he could get out and admire it.
Face-to-face with the marvel of mechanical engineering, the young Derek Mowat decided that one day, he would buy a Rolls for himself. Every eight-year-old needs an ambition, after all.
Fast-forward a decade and a half, to Derek and Shirley’s arrival in Edinburgh, and Derek was setting up a business in the auto trade. At the beginning, he bought and sold everyday vehicles, but many years and many cars later, Derek bought his first Rolls-Royce. For most people, the story would have ended there, with the realisation of a childhood dream, but for Derek, it was only the beginning of another chapter.
In the years that followed, his collection grew. Bentleys, Jaguars, Aston Martins, Morgans – the most celebrated marques of British automotive engineering passed through his hands, many of them vintage models dating back to the golden age of driving. “British cars may drip oil and they may break down every so often,’ he says, “but they have a heart and soul that other manufacturers cannot hope to recreate.”
Today Derek is one of the most respected independent prestige vehicle specialists in and around Edinburgh – alongside being the proprietor of one of the city’s most beloved independent hotels. And, thanks to the obsession of an eight-year-old Orkney engine enthusiast, guests of the Dunstane Houses now have a fleet of classic cars at their disposal – whether for a bespoke guided city tour or an airport pick-up with style.
You might think that having some of the most iconic vehicles available to use at any time would have gone to his head by now, but Derek believes that the pleasure of driving a classic car is found in the special sense of occasion it evokes. That’s why, day to day, you’re more likely to see him behind the wheel of his VW Passat.
However, if ever gets his hands on that 1920s Vintage Bentley Blower he’s been dreaming about, that may well change…