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.

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