THE NEVER ENDING STORY
Kilbryde Castle has been home to generations of Campbells
Few people can claim as strong a connection to a particular place as Sir James Campbell and his wife Lady Carola can to Dunblane. They live just outside the Stirlingshire town at Kilbryde Castle, which has belonged to their family since 1659. ‘We’re the ninth generation of Campbells to be here,’ says Carola.
The house has, of course, gone through some changes since the Campbells acquired it in the 17th century. Originally a traditional Scottish tower house belonging to the Earls of Menteith, there had been a building on the site since 1460. ‘When the roof collapsed in 1877 it was rebuilt and remodelled by my husband’s great-greatgrandfather, and the majority of the house you see today dates from that period,’ says Carola.
While the Campbells have done well to stay in the family seat for so long, not everyone who inherited the place was quite so in love with it. ‘My husband’s grandfather didn’t like living in Scotland so the castle was rented out for nearly half a century, from the 1930s to the 1970s,’ says Carola. ‘For a while in the 1950s it was used as a girls’ school – we often get former pupils coming back to visit.’
In 1970 James’s father, Sir Colin Campbell, took over. He had been brought up in Kent, so this wasn’t a family home for him, but he was determined to restore it as the family seat. ‘He worked in Glasgow and for 15 years he commuted from here until he retired,’ explains Carola. ‘James and I moved here in 1995 and lived in a self-contained flat in the basement. When my father-in-law died in 1997 we moved into the main castle and my motherin-law swapped with us and moved into the apartment.’
Sir Colin and Lady Campbell started the renovation of the castle when they moved in and the gardens they created take full advantage of Kilbryde’s impressive location. Situated on the edge of a gorge through which the Ardoch burn flows, the castle is encircled on three sides by the river. It would have served the original tower house well as a defensive position, but now is simply a stunning backdrop for the events and weddings that the castle hosts.
When Carola and James took up residence, there was still a lot of work to be done to turn Kilbryde into a viable operation that could pay
‘We did the essentials first – the boiler, the plumbing, the rewiring’
its way. ‘We did the essentials first – the boiler, the plumbing, the rewiring. After that we did up the two-bedroom flat downstairs, which is now self-catering accommodation called The Garden Apartment. I wanted to keep a lot of the original features such as the range fireplace and the servants’ bells, which we did; but we were also faced with the dilemma that as this was the original basement all the pipes for the heating led through it. If we boxed everything in it would look ghastly, but choosing a look to complement the awkward features wasn’t easy.’
After a lot of consultation they decided to embrace what was there and make that the focus. ‘The result is a little quirky but guests really like it and I think it works well.’
The next project was the drawing room, but the process of redecorating prompted another avenue for diversification. ‘ Once I’d emptied the room to decorate it, I put some paintings from an art show I’d held in America into the drawing room. The room looked so lovely with all the pictures in it that we started hosting art exhibitions. I used to work for a fine art dealer so I really enjoyed finding and meeting the artists, and we ended up hosting exhibitions there for about seven years.
‘We would empty everything out and then hang about 80 to 100 pictures. My husband is an insurance broker but he’s also really great at hanging paintings!’
Then the credit crunch arrived and suddenly it didn’t make so much sense to do it. That didn’t mean Carola could put her feet up. ‘We decided to extend the self-catering business: we have a farm here and we converted one of the redundant farm buildings into a holiday let. But I didn’t appreciate how much time that
would take, especially as it didn’t have water or electricity.’
Carola has since become something of an expert on property maintenance and renovation. ‘The strong winds over the last few winters have given us a lot of trouble with trees coming down and, of course, with snow.
‘One winter, water was pouring through the ceiling. We had a leaking cistern that we didn’t know about and it had backed up. Now I’m absolutely on the case when it comes to maintenance.’
Self-sufficiency has become a way of life. ‘We’re not on mains anything and are very much on our own out here,’ says Carola. ‘We live two miles down a single-track road, so I keep a shovel and a pickaxe in my car in the winter. There have been times when, if I hadn’t driven to the sorting office in Dunblane, my neighbours and I wouldn’t have had post for weeks. Fortunately, as the result of a couple of very bad winters, my brother-in-law – who is a farmer here now – has acquired a snow plough so he can clear the roads for us.’
Battling the elements and mastering the boring practicalities of property management hasn’t stopped Carola from pushing on with
her interior decoration plans. Using the skills she learned in another former career as a marketing director in London, she realised there was a way to bring in some extra income for t he castle, renting out some bedrooms during last year’s Ryder Cup. The timing, though, was a little tight, as she admits.
‘We spent a few months planning, started the work in March and finished just in time,’ she recalls. ‘I wanted to rent out ten of the castle’s bedrooms but they couldn’t be photographed as the decorating wasn’t finished yet, so there was a bit of “this is what it will look like” going on. Now, though, the rooms look amazing and have been photographed so our intention is to offer exclusive lets for about four to six weeks of the year.’
For most people, the next step would probably be some R&R but Carola has already added another task to her to-do list. ‘I want to try to track down a few pieces of the family furniture through auction houses. James’s grandfather sold a lot of the castle contents in the 1950s so my father-in-law had to completely refurnish the house and I would really like to get some of those original family pieces back.’
Lady Carola Campbell – auction hunter? Just add it to her CV.
Clockwise from above: Lady Carola Campbell, who has happily moved upstairs from the castle basement; one of its elegant bedrooms; a photo display that speaks of family intimacy.
Clockwise from above: The castle’s main room; its handsome staircase; the impressive Scots Baronial exterior.
Top: Paintings in the drawing room prompted exhibitions. Left: Sculpted pieces, too, have attracted admiring guests.
Above and right: More fine art and antiques on show.