State selling Rum’s Kinloch Castle to save it from ruin, after community buyout fails

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Kinloch Castle, a Victorian pleasure palace frozen in time on the Isle of Rum, is being put up for sale by Scotland’s nature agency NatureScot, in a last ditch bid to save it from ruin and demolition.

The sale would end more than 60 years of public ownership of Rum’s ‘nationally significant’ hunting lodge, which has been ravaged by damp, woodworm and dry rot since it was sold to the state by the widow of Sir George Bullough, the English multi-millionaire mill machinery magnate and playboy who built it in 1897-1900.

Kinloch Castle’s servants quarters had operated as a hostel until it was closed by NatureScot’s predecessor, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in 2013. Three years later, SNH warned the Grade A listed building faced demolition unless it could find £20 million for restoration.

‘We have been trying to find an acceptable and affordable future for Kinloch Castle for over a decade,’ SNH explained in a report. ‘In that time, the condition of the building has continued to deteriorate despite considerable sums spent to address the most serious issues.

‘The options are stark: we either find a way to generate significant funds over many years to invest in renovating the building and securing a cost-effective use for the building, or we accept that the castle has no future and should be demolished.’

In response, the Kinloch Castle Friends Association (KCFA), ‘formed in 1996 as a direct result of the gradual deterioration of the castle and the wish to halt the decline’, launched an asset transfer bid to turn the two-storey, turreted, red sandstone mansion into a B&B with up to 51 beds, a bar, and meals. However, in late 2019 the KCFA learned from SNH that its bid to buy the castle for £1 had failed, ‘in the main because the money we had asked for was just not available’.

The castle’s front rooms had remained open as a museum until early 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic meant tours were no longer viable.

‘We have no idea what state it is in now,’ said the KCFA’s chairman Professor Ewan Macdonald.

‘Today the castle is unused,’ explains a sales brochure drafted by NatureScot and seen by The Oban Times: ‘The castle is currently maintained to a wind and water-tight standard. To release the castle’s potential we are seeking an owner willing to invest in its long-term wellbeing.

‘Both NatureScot and the Isle of Rum Community Trust are keen to see the castle contribute to community and island life once again. Hence we are in search of a benevolent owner, an owner keen to play their part in enhancing the island’s viability and sustainability through instilling life back into the castle.

‘This is a unique opportunity to take ownership of Kinloch Castle,’ the brochure continues. ‘It is a rare chance to create a long-lasting legacy from this imposing hunting lodge; to bring it back to life so that it can again play its part in supporting the island and its community; to secure its future for generations to come.’

Professor Macdonald, a member of the Isle of Rum Community Trust, said the KCFA would not be bidding for the castle again. ‘We have not got the money,’ he said. Kinloch Castle’s value, he explained, was estimated by Hugh Garrett, director of specialist building surveyors Smith & Garrett, to be £70,000.

Professor Macdonald welcomed the sale ‘if it finds the right owner. Our view is that it should provide accommodation with a bar and bistro. It could be an asset for the community and provide a lot of jobs. Islands like Eigg have thrived being free from the shackles of a landowner. Rum could thrive as well.’

However, he feared the castle ‘could end up in inappropriate hands’, adding: ‘It is a story of public sector ineptitude. To take eight years to decide to sell it is breathtaking. What has been achieved in this time? The building has deteriorated. It has the stamp of neglect and decline.’

The NatureScot brochure describes Kinloch Castle as ‘an exemplar of lavish, late Victorian living’. The 1,200 square metre property, which sits within seven acres of woodland and fields within the village of Kinloch at the head of Loch Scresort, comes furnished just as it was in its heyday.

Features include a vintage dental surgery, discreet sprung-floor ballroom, air-conditioned billiard room, and a galleried Grand Hall complete with a bronze monkey-eating eagle and Steinway grand piano (apparently still bearing scratches from a dancing lady’s heels).

Another highlight is Queen Victoria’s rare German-made ochestrion: an organ driven by electric motor that plays perforated card rolls, said to emulate the sound of a 40- piece orchestra. The instrument comprises a 45-note piano, 12 bells, mandolin rail, bass and snare drum, cymbal and 27 violin pipes. It is one of three left in existence, and the only one that can still be played. However it is in urgent need of restoration at a cost of £50,000.

In the decayed gardens, landscaped with 250,000 tonnes of imported soil, lie the remains of a palm house, reportedly once full of hummingbirds, turtles and alligators – until they were shot trying to escape.

Tempted? To discuss potential ownership, please email stewart.sandison@nature.scot or dominic.sargent@nature.scot