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Issue 63 - Glenapp Castle - A New Lease of Life

Scotland Magazine Issue 63
June 2012


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Glenapp Castle - A New Lease of Life

Charles Douglas visits this glorious Ayrshire home

One of the all too frequent problems for owners of a castle or a substantial country house is that when they run into financial problems, or simply need to move on, the future for their much cherished ancestral homes becomes bleak. Over the past century, so many of Scotland's glorious rural mansion houses have either fallen into ruin or disappeared altogether, but the glorious revelation about Glenapp Castle at Ballantrae in Ayrshire is that it has been given a renewed lease of life.

Owned prior to the seventeenth century by Kennedys of Bargany, whose principle seat was at nearby Ardstinchar Castle, the Glenapp estate was sold in 1814 to the Hamilton Fitzmaurice earls of Orkney, the third creation of that resonant Scottish title. In 1864, it was bought by James Hunter, who at the time was described as “one of the iron lords of Lanarkshire.” In common with other self-made and rich men, Hunter required a showplace to emphasise his wealth and success. He therefore instructed the prominent Victorian architect David Bryce to build him a Scottish baronial home befitting the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire, which he became in 1868.

With extensive views across the Irish Sea to the island of Arran and the sugarloaf-shaped volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig, the setting alone is spectacular.

Time passes and, in 1916, Glenapp Castle was purchased by James Lyle Mackay, one of those extraordinary Victorian/Edwardian entrepreneurs who had by then become one of the most powerful shipping magnates of his age. Born in Arbroath, he had joined a shipping agency in London as a junior clerk when he was 19 years old, and subsequently rose to become Chairman of the P&O Steam Navigation Company As President of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce in 1890, he had been a member of the Legislative Council of the Viceroy of India and in 1897, became a member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India. He was largely responsible for solving India's currency problems at the time, and in collaboration with the Chinese statesman Sheng Xuanhuai, negotiated and signed the Sino-British “Mackay Treaty” in 1902. This anticipated the abolition of extraterritoriality in China.

In 1911, he was created Baron Inchcape of Strathnaver, taking his title from the Inchcape Rock, off the coast of Angus in the North Sea, and the region from which his ancestral clan, the Mackays, had evolved.

James Lyle Mackay was elevated to Viscount in 1924, and to an earldom in 1929. His grandson Kenneth James William Mackay, the third Earl who was born in 1917, was responsible for the complete re-organisation of his inherited shipping empire and other interests in 1958, founding the Inchcape Group of Companies which exists today.

Despite their interests being largely based in Asia, and London, the Inchcapes never lost sight of their Scottish roots, and Glenapp Castle was significantly enlarged with two wings, its sandstone battlements, turrets and towers given a fairy-tale quality.

The second Earl, became President of P & O Banking Corporation and a director of P & O Steam Navigation Company, and married as his second wife Dayang (Princess) Leonora Margaret, the eldest daughter of Vyner Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. He was succeeded by Kenneth James William Mackay, the son of his first marriage.

Among members of the Inchcape family who grew up at Glenapp, and latterly regularly occupied Carlock House on the estate, was the first Earl's daughter, the pioneering aviatrix Elsie Mackay. A spirited girl with aspirations to become an actress, she married the actor Dennis Wyndham and appeared in a series of films under the name of Poppy Windham until their marriage was annulled in 1922. She then concentrated on interior decoration, creating state rooms for the Inchcape shipping interests.

In 1928, despite her father's disapproval, she made an attempt to fly the Atlantic in a single engined Stinson Detroiter, The Endeavour, but the plane disappeared and she was never seen again. She is commemorated in a stained glass window in the chancel of Glenapp Church and such was the affection in which she was held locally that her presence is still said to linger on at Carlock.

The Inchcape family retained Glenapp Castle until 1982, when it was sold to an American family as a holiday home. Some of the remaining land was retained and the current fourth Earl of Inchcape retains Carlock House as his Scottish home.

In 1994, Glenapp Castle and 36 acres were purchased by Scottish hoteliers, the McMillan family. By this time, the property had fallen into a very poor state of repair.

However, the MacMillans daughter and son-inlaw, Fay and Graham Cowan, took up residence and having lovingly restored it to its former grandeur, transformed it into the exclusive five-star luxury retreat that exists today.

Along the oak panelled hallways and corridors are situated lounges, the library, and the Colquhoun and MacMillan dining rooms. There are seventeen highly individual bedrooms and suites furnished with selected antiques and oil paintings. The two master bedrooms – The Earl of Inchcape and The Earl of Orkney are palatial in size and feature spectacular cornice work.

The 36 acre grounds featuring a wealth of rare plants and shrubs, including a seasonal blaze of magnicent rhododendrons, are totally secluded and private, and are for the exclusive use of the castle guests. Footpaths circumnavigate an azalea pond and lead through the woodland to a walled garden with 150 foot high Victorian glasshouse.

There is also an all-weather tennis court and a croquet lawn in the grounds.

Washed by the passing Gulf Stream, this section of coastal Ayrshire is especially blessed with a warm and embracing climate, particularly suited to gentle sea breezes and tropical vegetation.

James Hunter, Lord Inchcape and Fay and Graham Cowan must have certainly known what they were doing when they chose this spot.