MORVERN lines

The Oban Times - - News - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

KIN­LOCH CAS­TLE, sit­ting at the head of Loch Scre­sort on the is­land of Rum, is one of the finest ex­am­ples of the Ed­war­dian age to be found any­where in Europe.

The much-pub­lished pho­to­graph of the front hall and gallery, with its red car­pet, por­traits, an­i­mal skins, stags’ heads and rich fur­nish­ings, is recog­nised the world over.

The cas­tle was erected in 1897 for its wow-fac­tor and, boy, does it still have it, no mat­ter what you might think of it or Sir Ge­orge Bul­lough, who built it. It stands along­side Fin­gal’s Cave, the Cuillins, In­ver­aray Cas­tle and the Palace of Holy­rood­house as one of the must-see places in Scot­land on the globe-trot­ters’ lists. But just how much longer is it go­ing to be around?

When the is­land of Rum and vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing on it was sold in 1957 by the Bul­lough fam­ily trus­tees to the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy Coun­cil (NCC) for not much more than the price of a fam­ily camper­van, there was a con­di­tion at­tached. NCC, and pre­sum­ably Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage, its suc­ces­sor, were to main­tain the grade A-listed Kin­loch Cas­tle and, at Lady Bul­lough’s ex­press wish, its con­tents were to be kept as they had been in their Ed­war­dian hey­day.

The fa­ther of a friend of mine knew Lady Bul­lough. In the early 1950s, she of­fered him the en­tire 26,500-acre is­land and the cas­tle for £18,000. He tried hard to per­suade his fa­ther to ac­cept it but in the end they felt that, al­though the deer stalk­ing in those days was sec­ond to none, the up­keep of the cas­tle would even­tu­ally beg­gar them.

Al­is­tair Scott, in his fas­ci­nat­ing book, Ec­cen­tric Wealth – The Bul­loughs of Rum (Bir­linn, 2011), writes that it was thanks to Max Ni­chol­son, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the NCC, who won Lady Bul­lough’s trust, that she vir­tu­ally gave away the is­land and the cas­tle to the na­tion in the knowl­edge that both would be con­served.

Now, how­ever, con­cerns are be­ing voiced on Rum and else­where sug­gest­ing that SNH is not look­ing af­ter the cas­tle as well as it might.

In a Rum Work­ing Party re­port dated March 1975, it was rec­om­mended by its au­thor that the cas­tle be razed to the ground which, if im­ple­mented, would cause less of an uproar than al­low­ing it to de­te­ri­o­rate and slowly dis­ap­pear.

De­mo­li­tion was clearly not a se­ri­ous op­tion at the time but its de­te­ri­o­ra­tion to its present state 42 years later sug­gests that blow­ing it up when it be­comes un­in­hab­it­able may still be on the cards.

It might go some way to ex­plain­ing SNH’s re­luc­tance to move for­ward with a pro­posal in 2014 un­der­taken by the Prince’s Re­gen­er­a­tion Trust for a £9.5 mil­lion con­ver­sion of the cas­tle into nine apart­ments which would have trig­gered other sources of pub­lic fund­ing.

SNH has al­ways said that it is not in the busi­ness of look­ing af­ter stately homes and one can sym­pa­thise with it to a cer­tain ex­tent. But why, in 1957, did its pre­de­ces­sor un­der­take to main­tain the cas­tle when it must have been well aware of the high run­ning costs and the dif­fi­culty of get­ting trades­men to such a re­mote lo­ca­tion to work on it?

Clearly, the NCC wanted the is­land for a na­ture re­serve for what­ever rea­son but, as Scott said, ‘they can have had no se­ri­ous in­ten­tion of hon­our­ing the com­mit­ment in the case of the cas­tle’.

The tragedy in all this is that when, in March 2003, Scot­tish min­is­ters an­nounced their de­ci­sion to trans­fer SNH’s head­quar­ters and around 270 jobs from Ed­in­burgh to the High­lands, they set­tled on Great Glen House, a £15 mil­lion pur­pose-built head­quar­ters build­ing in In­ver­ness.

If they had cho­sen Kin­loch Cas­tle (which they al­ready owned) and spent this huge sum on restor­ing the roof, ex­pelling the damp­ness by in­stalling a wood-fu­elled biomass boiler and con­vert­ing parts of it into of­fices, lab­o­ra­to­ries, lec­ture halls and ex­ec­u­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion, it would not be in the sorry state it is now.

Such a move would have seen the build­ing of dozens of fam­ily cot­tages, shops and a new pri­mary school, thus en­sur­ing a vi­brant and thriv­ing com­mu­nity on Rum for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

If only the then First Min­is­ter Jack McCon­nell had been a bit bolder, Mal­laig would have be­come a throb­bing sup­ply hub; the rail­way line to Fort Wil­liam would have been as­sured and the en­tire In­ner He­brides marine trans­port sys­tem up­graded and en­hanced.

What a coup for the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment and, more im­por­tantly, what a boost for the lo­cal econ­omy.

The last word must go to Alastair Scott. He wrote: ‘Rum’s nat­u­ral beauty and unique ge­ol­ogy will al­ways at­tract vis­i­tors, but that alone will not be enough. With a cas­tle that sleeps 55 and is it­self an ed­i­fice of ex­cep­tional his­tor­i­cal value, the com­mu­nity has a hope of a bright fu­ture.

‘I would ar­gue that Kin­loch Cas­tle is Rum’s great­est as­set in its po­ten­tial for pro­vid­ing a fi­nan­cial ba­sis for a sus­tain­able fu­ture, and that with­out it the is­land’s econ­omy is mori­bund. And for as long as records and mem­ory ex­ist, to lose it would stand as a bench­mark of short­sight­ed­ness, ad­min­is­tra­tive in­com­pe­tence and na­tional shame.’

Photographs: Paul Barker Kin­loch Cas­tle and its world fa­mous front hall and gallery.

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