CASTLE IN THE SKY
Kim Munro had the suit of armour but she needed the castle to go with it, she tells Nichola Hunter
Castle Levan is a medieval manor in the heart of Gourock
Kim Munro and Maria Hockin bought Castle Levan in Gourock in 2015. After Maria had taken voluntary redundancy from her job as a social worker with Ealing Council, it started a discussion as to what to do next. ‘I’m a software engineer,’ Kim explains. ‘I’d been working for the same company my whole life and I was bored of the corporate world. We were kicking around the idea of running a B&B but it wasn’t all that serious.
‘However, one day I was thinking, if I could live anywhere in the UK where would it be? Cruising through Right Move I looked at the Lake District, the Peak District and Loch Lomond and when I put in Loch Lomond, this castle came up and when I looked at it I thought “this is amazing, I can’t believe this is actually for sale”.’ Two weeks later Kim and Maria were on a plane from London to Scotland to view it.
‘The owners offered their B&B, so we arranged to stay with them which was a really great opportunity,’ said Kim.
However, first impressions didn’t live up to their expectations. ‘It wasn’t a no brainer by any means. The castle is located on a residential street surrounded by 1980s houses and they’re really quite close. It wasn’t what we expected.’
The castle was also rather run down, but there was nothing structurally wrong with it and over the course of their stay Kim and Maria started to see the potential. ‘My concern was
that people would drive through the neighbourhood like we had, anticipating a castle in the middle of nowhere and that’s not the case.
‘However, the great thing is you enter the castle grounds through a stone archway and when you walk down into the sunken courtyard and see the castle in its entirety, it transports you back in time to the 15th century and all you can hear is the waterfall on Levan Burn running beside it.
‘Being only 19 miles from Glasgow Airport and in a town, the location is actually a real benefit for us and our guests. Restaurants, shops – everything you need – is on your doorstep.’
Negotiations commenced, and Kim and Maria moved in on 15 December 2015. The only problem was that the
owners hadn’t moved out. ‘When the only access you have to the upper storeys is via spiral staircases and they’re coming down while you’re trying to go up, it really doesn’t work.’
The fact that the previous owners also left rather a lot of their things and that some of the couple’s furniture wouldn’t fit up the staircases meant that the first few weeks were spent clearing out and moving things about.
Although it wasn’t the best start, the new year brought a new look for Castle Levan and a second reincarnation. ‘The castle was built in 1457 but at some point, thought to be about the beginning of the 19th century, it was abandoned and became a ruin until 1980 when reconstruction began. Between 1984 and 1987, art collector David Pearson and his wife Sheila carried out a full refurbishment, bringing the castle back to a habitable dwelling and they did a fantastic job.’
Whilst the initial refurbishment had created a castellated interior with beautiful features – exposed beams, painted ceilings, flagstone floors and generously-proportioned fireplaces – what Kim and Maria had bought needed a good helping of TLC if they wanted to turn it into a successful B&B.
‘Eventually we found a fantastic local builder, Scott Gage from Ecosse Joinery, and he helped us create the space we have today. More importantly, he helped us move our furniture up the outside of the castle and along the battlements, so we could furnish the top floor.’
Starting with the guest
The castle was built in 1457 but was abandoned and became a ruin until 1980 when reconstruction began
accommodation the couple added an extra bathroom so that the two ground floor bedrooms became en-suite. The first floor accommodates the great hall and kitchen and above is the stunning laird’s bedroom and bathroom which have been completely transformed. Finally, on the top floor are Kim and Maria’s private quarters which include a bedroom, bathroom and a family and friend’s bedroom.
‘There was actually an extra fireplace in our bedroom that we only found after we moved in. It had been boarded up and hidden behind a bookcase. We were thrilled when we found that. Our bedroom also has amazing views across the Firth of Clyde. The top floor was the only area that hadn’t been finished very well. It had been clad in pine and painted and it was looking tired. It also had a false roof which made the ceiling quite low.
‘We applied for planning permission to remove the ceiling and now the beams are exposed and the room is open to the apex. We did the same in the guest bedroom and we installed a new bathroom with a spa bath that again overlooks the Firth. I bought stone cladding which matches the stone that Pearson used and clad a feature wall in both bedrooms with this.’
The laird’s bathroom was another huge undertaking but the end result was worth it. ‘Whilst Pearson had fitted underfloor heating throughout the castle there was no plan of where hot water tanks and pipes were, so all plumbing work was a voyage of discovery. The new bathrooms had to look amazing and work well and Scott was great. I could draw him pictures of what I wanted and he would add to it and create it. In the laird’s bathroom we decided to build the Gothic arch that goes over the shower cubicle. It was inspired by some mirrors I had bought from a reclamation yard in London.’
For many people moving into a castle, achieving a medieval ambience would require a long shopping list and extensive visits to auctions and antique shops, but for Maria and Kim this wasn’t the case. ‘The funny thing is both Maria and I have always liked castle-like stuff. The tapestries in the castle are
There was a fireplace in our bedroom that we only found after we moved in
ones that I brought with us and I’ve had them for years. Even the suit of armour. Maria bought that for me as a Christmas present when we were still living in London. Many of our things suited the castle without even trying. In fact, I would say probably two thirds of the pieces in the castle are things we’ve had for years. Many friends have commented that I’ve finally found a house that matches my furniture.’
It’s obviously a look that works as the castle has won several awards, including Quirkiest Place to Stay in the UK and a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. ‘We’re really proud of what we’ve done but ultimately we really want our guests to love our castle as much as we do.’
Friends have commented that I’ve finally found a house that matches my furniture
Clockwise from topleft: Kim brought the tapestries from her London home; a gothic arch frames the shower cubicle in the laird’s bathroom; Kim and Maria enjoying downtime; a claw foot bath adds glamour under the vaulted ceilings.
Top: The laird’s bed chamber. Above: The kitchen has a medieval ambience.
Above: The peaceful courtyard. Left: Kim and Maria already owned most of the furniture and ornaments they’ve used to decorate the castle.