Hugh Smith’s letter from Islay

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Kildalton Castle
Standing surrounded by woodland north-east of Port Ellen is the ruined Victorian country house known as Kildalton Castle.
It was designed by architect John Burnet in 1867 and built three years later for local landowner, distiller and politician John Ramsay, who had taken out a lease on the rundown Port Ellen distillery.
Ramsay reversed the fortunes of the ailing distillery, improved the island port’s docking facilities and was also a pioneer of whisky exports to the Americas.
His Scots baronial-style home stood then in a 54,000-acre moorland estate and consists of two-storey accommodation wings dominated by a four-storey keep connected to a five-storey tower.
Ramsay also served as a JP, was a deputy lieutenant for Argyll, and was elected as MP for Stirling Burghs in 1868 and as the member for Falkirk Burghs in 1878.
He died in 1892 and the estate and distillery passed to his widow and son who sold the distillery to the Distillers Company in 1920.
Two years later, the Kildalton estate was sold to John Talbot
Clifton, a wealthy landowner from Lytham in Lancashire and whose main interests were shooting and world travel.
Some of the animal species he came across during his extensive travels were new to science and, as a result, he gave his name to a type of Siberian sheep and a Canadian marmot.
Clifton was married to the English writer Violet Beauclerk, whose biography of her husband The Book of Talbot won for her the James Tait Black Memorial prize for literature in 1933.
Talbot Clifton’s last venture was an expedition to Timbuktu in which he was accompanied by his wife. He took ill en route and the couple headed for Santa Cruz in Tenerife where he died of lung cancer in 1928.
Violet had his body embalmed and brought back to Islay, where he was buried on Cnoc Rhaonastil, which overlooks his island home and castle. She eventually left Islay and took up residence in Lytham Hall where she died in 1961.
With her departure from the island, Kildalton Castle’s years of steady decline and neglect began.
In the intervening years, portions of a once large estate have been sold off.
There is little doubt that Talbot Clifton’s lifestyle made heavy inroads into the family wealth and his sons went on to completely dissipate what remained.
Gradually, the castle building deteriorated and the collapse of the floors and parts of the roof leaves only a shell standing. It is now considered unsafe and is registered as ‘a building at risk’.
Various attempts to restore the building by the Middleton family, current owners of the house and its policies, have come to nothing and
it remains today a crumbling reminder of a time and way of life now long gone.

Simon Coughlin is taking over the reins of a new whisky business within Remy Cointreau.
Simon Coughlin is taking over the reins of a new whisky business within Remy Cointreau.

Distiller’s new role
Simon Coughlin, chief executive at Bruichladdich Distillery, is taking over the management of a newly created Whisky Business Unit within the parent group Remy Cointreau.
This follows the French company’s recent acquisition of the Domaine des Hautes Glaces in France and the Westland Distillery in America.
The Domaine des Hautes Glaces, a small farm distillery high in the French Alps, grow their own cereals for distillation, while the much larger American concern in Seattle concentrates on local barley, peat and oak.
The parent company’s expansion will draw heavily on Simon’s experience at Bruichladdich as it moves forward.
Although he has played a vital part in the distillery’s life since its resurrection 2000, he took over the chief executive position when Remy Cointreau bought the distillery in 2012.
While former wine merchant Simon will remain Islay-based, he will be in overall control of the three companies.
Taking over as the new chief executive will be Douglas Taylor, the current global brand director, who has been part of the Bruichladdich team for the past six years.

Hugh Smith,
4 Flora Street, Bowmore,
Islay PA43 7JX.
Telephone: 01496 810 658