Kinloch Castle has been seeking a buyer for years, but as its condition worsens the renovation and repair costs for this magnificent Scottish property are estimated to be in the region of £20 million. Can a new owner be found?
A benevolent buyer is sought to save Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum — which Betjeman called ‘an undisturbed example of pre-1914 opulence’ — put on the market by NatureScot (formerly Scottish National Heritage (SNH)).
Lancastrian multimillionaire Sir George Bullough built the turreted, red-sandstone house in 1897–1900 on the Inner Hebridean island to host stalking, fishing, shooting and high-society decadence and the rooms are still as they were in its heyday, with a Steinway grand complete with scratches from dancing ladies’ heels, four-posters, a sprung-floor ballroom with gold-damask walls and even a vintage dental surgery.
The world’s last functioning orchestrion remains in situ, a complicated instrument that belonged to Queen Victoria and emulates a 40-piece orchestra, which alone requires a £50,000 restoration.
Intestine-like pipes of sophisticated Edwardian plumbing can be seen, together with decaying landscaped gardens with the remains of a palm house that was once full of hummingbirds, turtles and alligators.
Kinloch, set in seven acres, remained open as a museum until last year and its servants’ quarters were a hostel until 2013. Numerous fundraising efforts have hoped to tackle the leaks, dry rot and woodworm — including one by The Prince of Wales’s Regeneration Trust — but they failed to amass enough for restoration, now estimated at £20 million. A recent report rejected an application from the Kinloch Castle Friends Association to take the castle, citing funding problems and and worries over the proposed business plan for turning the castle into a tourist destination. The report listed the castle’s value at a ‘nominal figure of £1’, but the new owner will have to prove that they have the resources to save this Category A landmark.
‘We have been trying to find an acceptable and affordable future for Kinloch Castle for over a decade,’ explains a SNH report of 2016, which adds that, if the building can’t be restored and a cost-effective use found for it, it ‘should be demolished’.
‘Local feeling is very anti private landlord,’ explains Mary Miers, author of Highland Retreats and former Country Life Fine Arts & Books Editor. ‘The people of Rum don’t want it to be another millionaire’s playground, rather an asset for the community—they suggest a bistro and bar with accommodation. But the challenge is to find a buyer.’
Speaking of his fear that the castle should fall into ‘inappropriate hands’, Prof Ewan Macdonald, chairman of the Kinloch Castle Friends Association and member of the Isle of Rum Community Trust, blames ‘public-sector ineptitude. To take eight years to decide to sell it is breathtaking… The building has deteriorated’.
‘The most important thing is the interior,’ adds Miss Miers. ‘It’s not all necessarily in great taste, but this is an outstanding ensemble of turn-of-the-century furnishing and technology that has survived against all odds.
It represents the golden age of that curious phenomenon, the Highland Season, when all of privileged and nouveau-riche society flocked north each summer to be entertained in luxurious palaces in the wilds. Few of these grandiose shooting lodges were more romantically situated than Kinloch, which stands at the head of Loch Scresort, backed by volcanic peaks.’
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