CAS­TLE IN THE SKY

Kim Munro had the suit of ar­mour but she needed the cas­tle to go with it, she tells Ni­chola Hunter

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

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.

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