Saturday, 17 June 2006

Kinloch Castle and Lews Castle

Kinloch Castle from the ferry. Picture courtesy KCFA
The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles. has visited the Isle of Rum, south of Skye, to see what needs to be done to preserve Kinloch Castle. This red sandstone edifice, erected in 1897, was put up with no expenses spared by an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire. George Bullough had accumulated great wealth through the Globe textile works. These have since closed.

Kinloch Castle in its heyday, before the First World War, was built and fitted out to make your jaw drop. It had heated conservatories and heated pools, in which tropical creatures swam. When guests were shown into the place, the first room, the ballroom, was an image of opulence. A grand piano stands on a tigerskin. Vases from Japan, up to 8 feet tall, stand in the gallery upstairs. A monkey eagle, capable of taking apes, rears up in a frightening pose. A huge orchestrian can blast out any tune that is available on the requisite roll, much like a piano roll. A bathroom with (I think) 14 different types of showers and douches.

Kinloch Castle, picture courtesy KCFA
After the First World War, the Castle fell into decline. The heating was switched off, and the tropical creatures died or were released into the chilly Hebridean waters. The castle was a private residence until 1957, when the last surviving Bullough, Lady Monica, died. She, and other members of her family, are interred in the family mausoleum at Harris, 8 miles away on the southwestern face of the island. It takes 3 hours to walk there, and it takes almost as long to drive there. Doing up the road is virtually impossible, as the vehicles needed for the job cannot negotiate the "road".

Kinloch Castle was handed over, with the rest of the island, to (what is now) Scottish Natural Heritage. In 1996, Kinloch Castle Friends Association was formed to help preserve the castle in its former glory. Dampness and the harsh Hebridean climate are doing their worst. In 2003, the BBC's Restoration programme featured Kinloch, and it nearly won the £3m top prize. Fortunately, the Phoenix Trust (patronized by the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles) has taken an interest, and the Prince's visit is to underline his interest and see for himself the magnitude of the work required. A sum of £5 million has been mooted.

Lews Castle
In Lewis, we have a castle too. Lews Castle. Please note there is NO letter i in the name of the place. This was built by Sir James Matheson in the 19th century, allegedly on the riches of the opium trade. After the Stornoway Trust took over management of this section of the island, the castle was in use as a college (among other things), until its deterioration made it no longer possible to be used for anything. I have seen the original plans, as drawn up by the Glasgow architect Wilson, and they show an equally magnificent building. Lews Castle too needs a lot of money investing in it. Although the background may be resented by some, it is an integral part of Lewis history. Plans are continually drawn up - and continually put in the drawer.

Perhaps the Duke of Rothesay could wind his way to the heart of the Hebrides and take a look round Lews Castle. It would be a huge shame if the building just fell down.

Note: I am NOT begrudging Kinloch Castle the attentions of its royal visitor, on the contrary. It is a magnificent place and a folly if ever I saw one. It deserves all the attention it can get; as does Lews Castle.

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