Dubai couple’s escape to Kilmartin castle

Stef Burgon and Simon hunt in their home-on-wheels outside Kimartin Castle.

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A former Dubai DJ and an ad agency director are living the good life West Coast style after ditching their day jobs to buy a Scottish castle.

Stef Burgon and Simon Hunt bought Kilmartin Castle in 2015 and for the last three years have welcomed about 250 guests, with the Air B&B accommodation proving particularly popular for exclusive hire.

However, the hands-on pair closed their doors to guests in January to start a major refurbishment of the castle with help from a team of skilled Tarbert tradesmen, and they are now living in their trusty van with their well-travelled rescue cat, Frank, until the job is finished.

The couple have until the end of June to transform their turreted 1550 home into a five-bedroom luxury B&B.

Viewers will be able to follow Stef and Simon’s DIY journey this autumn in Escape to The Manor Hotel, a TV show presented by Steph and Dom Parker from TV’s Gogglebox.

Even Dom has been called on to give a hand in helping pull down walls as part of the major makeover work, which has included lifting 93 solid floor slabs, so underfloor heating can be put in, and carrying hundreds of weighty tiles, salvaged from old Spanish villas, up three flights of winding stone steps.

It  was an article in a national newspaper  that mentioned the castle was on the market for the same price as a London toilet block, that originally caught the couple’s eye.

After sending Stef’s parents on a reccie and a flying visit from Dubai, the couple put in a random-figure bid competing against other offers and were lucky enough to succeed – but the last few years have been a roller coaster of highs and lows.

Stef and Simon had to raid their savings to  come up with a hefty deposit, had to wrangle with the bank to get a mortgage agreed, had to patiently get through a year’s delay because the then owner died, and then had to fork out £12,000 in catch up bills because of storage heaters.

And their problems did not end there. The van they used to travel through Europe, filling it up with finds to furnish their new home, was stolen in Birmingham – although thankfully they had emptied it first – and then a container carrying all their belongings from Dubai was sliced open when the ship crashed.

The castle sale eventually went through in 2015 and the couple got married there in 2016. But the  day before the festival-style celebration with 50 guests there was another unexpected hitch when the septic tank system, which turned out to be more like a pond pump, packed up costing them a whopping £3,500.

When Stef and Simon initially took the castle over, it had been used by its previous owners as a family bolt-hole with some work already done, but for Stef and Simon to put their own creative mark on the place, the boutique-sized castle needed a thorough refit.

Copper baths and an island-kitchen with a herb growing extractor system above it were just some of the top-notch goods on the couple’s shopping list to get the unique look they wanted.

Lots of the original features have been kept, including the floorboards. The windows – some still have the original ironwork – will be the last job the couple look at.

The bedroom with the highest ceiling is being named after Carswell, the Bishop of the Isles and rector of the glen who had Kilmartin built as his ‘starter’ castle. He was said to have been seven-foot tall: ‘So we think he would have appreciated this room!’ said Stef.

‘The idea was to keep the old and new separate. We’ve been really careful not to touch the building too much so people can still appreciate it,’ said Simon, who has been drilling through 120cms of stone to fit pipes and workings rather than remove chunks of wall.

A quirky whisky snug will be created next to the grand hall with its huge fireplace. The stone stairwells in the turrets will remain as they are. Downstairs there will be a dining room lit only by candles. The kitchen will have its own chef. Outside in the grounds there is also a secret garden with a raised vegetable bed and herbs growing in sinks damaged on their way over from Greece. The characterful fire doors for the bedrooms have been specially made by the man who produced the doors for the princess castle at Euro Disney.

Kilmartin Castle’s 5,000 followers are being kept up to date on the refurbishment on Facebook and Instagram. Eviivo, award-winning booking software for B&Bs, hotels, apartments and vacation rentals, has named it in its top 15 listings of Scottish B&Bs.