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New bid to save deteriorating Hebridean castle which counts Prince Charles among fans

Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum
Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum

A new bid is being made to save a remote Hebridean castle that was once said to be a Royal pleasure palace.

Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum is languishing in a deteriorating state.

Its current owner NatureScot is known to be keen to dispose of the castle and is seeking a “beneficial owner”.

Now Kinloch Castle Friends Association (KCFA) is gathering experts and potential backers together on Monday to try and finally find a solution.

It has been in talks with the nature agency for years concerning the future of the Category A-listed building with the former saying it has no further operational use for the castle and intimating it is to market the site.

Catherine Duckworth, KCFA secretary, said the group welcomes any potential new owner who would be beneficial to the castle, the community and to the surrounding national nature reserve.

“We are convinced a viable and sustainable business can be developed,” she added.

“We have been seeking funding for this but, without agreement over lease or ownership from NatureScot, this has so far proved impossible.”

A webinar, Kinloch Castle, What Next? Restoration, Regeneration, Resilience, is taking place on Monday from 2pm to 4.30pm. It will be chaired by KCFA chairman Professor Ewan Macdonald and features short talks by Kate Forbes MSP, Lord Thurso, chairman of Visit Scotland and Denis Rixson, Highland councillor and chairman of Isle of Rum Community Trust among others. NatureScot and Historic Environment Scotland will also have representatives.

But campaigners fear the castle is to be put on the open market.

NatureScot – formerly Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – last year rejected KCFA taking ownership with a transfer of the property as a community asset.

SNH had concerns the group did not have funds to maintain the castle.

But KCFA applied to Historic Environment Scotland for more than £450,000 towards £1m just to make the building watertight.

Kinloch was highlighted on the BBC2 Restoration series in 2003 but despite attracting 143,000 votes, it failed to win the £3m prize towards the cost of restoring it.

Castle catches Prince Charles’ interest

The Duke of Rothesay during a visit to Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum off the west coast of Scotland.<br />PA

However, the time capsule castle caught Prince Charles’s interest and following the programme he called a meeting at Birkhall, his Deeside retreat, of interested parties, to investigate a possible £12 million restoration package. Charles visited the castle in 2006.

Two years later his plans to rejuvenate the unique castle were drastically slashed by £2 million.

The decision came after the then Scottish Government refused to contribute £4.5 million towards the scheme, which also included luxury flats to help pay for the restoration. But Charles’ project failed to materialise.

However, Charles retains a desire in seeing the building restored.

NatureScot South Highland Operations Manager, Stewart Sandison said: “We continue to work to identify a beneficial owner for Kinloch Castle on Rum.

“Any future owner will need to contribute towards three key objectives; securing the conservation and preservation of the castle, contributing to the sustainability of the Rum community and enhancing nature on Rum – promoting its enjoyment and minimising the castle’s impact on the natural environment.

“We have asked the Kinloch Castle Friends Association to send us their proposal for Kinloch Castle and its grounds, including the walled garden, which we will consider.”

The business plan

KCFA had previously submitted a business plan to support a community interest company take over of the 123-year-old castle where parties were attended by Edward VII.

And it said it can turn it into a money-making attraction and wedding venue.

It had proposed developing part of the castle into a 51-bed B&B and later turning other areas into a museum

But it had warned that “the condition of the castle is deteriorating rapidly and the costs rising exponentially.”

The castle was sold to the state in 1957 but has fallen badly into disrepair. Campaigners want to bring the relic into community ownership.

A transfer would allow the group to request funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish government and others. The Prince’s Regeneration Trust could be another potential source of support and revenue.

Kinloch Castle is currently on the Buildings at Risk register.

KCFA says the first phase of works to the Edwardian edifice is estimated at £6.9m alone.

The castle, which has suffered from water penetration and damp, has been called the most complete example of an Edwardian shooting lodge that there is, with the exception of the Queen’s private retreat Balmoral.

Kinloch Castle was built in 1897 by Sir George Bullough, a Lancastrian industrialist, as an opulent and discreet location to entertain high-society guests.

NatureScot, which owns virtually all the island, has conceded the landmark could be demolished if a new ownership deal cannot be reached. The agency is a reluctant owner as most of its funds are intended for landscapes rather than buildings.

Property used to have staff of 100

On completion in 1901 the property had a staff of 100 and a menagerie of alligators, hummingbirds and turtles. Guests were greeted by a nude portrait of Monica, the owner’s wife, and there were rumours of indiscreet behaviour in the ballroom, where the orchestra sat behind curtains to ensure guests’ privacy. The parties came to an abrupt end in 1939, when Bullough died of a heart attack.

The castle functioned as a hotel until 1996, and then as a hostel until it was closed to overnight visitors in 2013.

TV personality Griff Rhys Jones has described Kinloch as a victim of bureaucratic neglect.

The poet Sir John Betjeman once said that Kinloch Castle “remains an undisturbed example of pre-1914 opulence.”

Even though Sir George, a handsome Harrow-educated cavalry officer, and Lady Monica – who claimed to be a descendent of Napoleon – only enjoyed their Hebridean idyll for 13 years, they left their mark for posterity.

Lady Monica, who last visited Rum aged 85, bequeathed in her will that the castle’s collection should be left in place – except for restoration. She is interred beside her husband at the family mausoleum on the island.

You can register for the event HERE