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Issue 66 - Kinloch Castle - Extraordinary & Eccentric

Scotland Magazine Issue 66
December 2012

 

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Kinloch Castle - Extraordinary & Eccentric

Charles Douglas explores a fantasy palace on the Isle of Rum

Part of the adventure is getting there, but Kinloch Castle, a Victorian and Edwardian entrepreneur's fantasy palace on the Isle of Rum, in the Inner Hebrides, is well and truly worth the effort, involving as it does a ferry trip from the Scottish mainland, either Caledonian MacBrayne's The Sheerwaterwhich runs from Arisaig on three days a week (summer only) or The MV Loch Nevis which sails from Mallaig four times a week, or a charter boat from Elgol on Skye, Sea Knoydart, or the Island Shuttle from Tobermory on Mull.

On stepping ashore it is easy to understand why this, the largest of Scotland's Small Isles, was in 1957 designated as a National Nature Reserve to be managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). All about is rugged mountain scenery populated by golden eagles, shearwaters, red deer and the hardy Rum ponies.

As part of the Small Isles National Scenic Area, Rum is a Special Protection Area for Birds, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and a Special Area of Conservation. It has 17 nationally important ancient monument sites and within the past three years, there has been a phased transfer of land and assets in and around Kinloch Village to Isle of Rum Community Trust ownership.

Coupled with this, a major restoration of the extraordinary and eccentric Kinloch Castle on the shores of Loch Scresort has been taking place. Since it was registered as a Building at Risk, The Kinloch Castle Friends Association was established in 1996 to ensure a new lease of life for the building.

To some extent, this was consolidated in 2003 through its appearance in the BBC Two television series Restoration, after which SNH commissioned the Prince’s Regeneration Trust (formerly the Phoenix Trust) to draw up a proposal and consultation study for a way forward. That way forward has now been found, and Kinloch Castle's future has been secured for the immediate future as a hostel and major Inner Hebrides visitor attraction.

John Bullough was a Lancashire-based industrialist whose immense fortune derived from cotton-processing machinery. A keen sportsman, he rented the island of Rum for a number of years before purchasing it from James Hunter Campbell in 1888. On his death in 1891, he bequeathed Rum, and half of his wealth to his 21 year old son George, with the remainder of his fortune, including Meggernie Castle in Glen Lyon, to George's halfbrother Ian, who was later to marry, as his second wife, the actress Lillie Elsie.

Prior to this, George had sailed his 221ft Clyde built yacht The Rhouma around the world, in particular to Japan where he had struck up a friendship with the Emperor.

Evidence of this friendship survives at Kinloch to this day, notably a bronze Monkey Eating Eagle and incense burners. George was an inveterate traveller and between 1892 and 1895, visited India, Burma and South Africa.

At this stage, accommodation on Rum consisted of Kinloch House (known as Tigh Mor) built 70 years earlier, so on one of his return trips to London George approached the architectural firm of Leeming & Leeming, specifying his requirements for an ideal home. With his annual income now in excess of £300,000, Kinloch House was pulled down and construction of the more spacious Kinloch Castle begun in 1897, using red sandstone imported from Annan in Dumfriesshire. It took three years to build, and more than 300 craftsmen were employed, including stonemasons, carpenters, woodcarvers, and stained glass makers.

To create the surroundings that such an investment merited, 250,000 tons of soil were imported from the mainland; a walled garden and greenhouses were built, water features, bridges and appropriate ornaments installed. The 14 gardeners who were employed to look after them were paid extra to wear kilts.

Being furnished with modern luxuries such as central heating, hydro-electic powered electric lighting, and an Orchestrion, a mechanical organ that plays music and sounds like an orchestra or a band, such extravagance caused a sensation throughout the Hebrides. In the castle gardens, there were heated pools filled with imported alligators and tropical turtles, and a conservatory was filled with humming birds.

With the outbreak of the Second Boer War, George had The Rhouma converted into a hospital ship and sailed it to South Africa for military service. For this he was knighted by King Edward VII in 1901 and shortly afterwards, married Monique Charrington, a divorcee whom he had met several years earlier. George was cited as a correspondent in her divorce case and it was said that she had been the King's mistress, so possibly by taking her off the King's hands he had doubly earned his knighthood.

Lady Monica, as she became known, brought a rather more feminine touch to the interiors of Kinloch, introducing silk brocades, Indian tiger rugs and a portrait of Napoleon, from who she claimed descent. Over the following decade, the couple entertained lavishly (although not always together) until the arrival of the Great War in 1914.

Thereafter, with its owners increasingly in the south of England, and deprived of the extravagant pre-war shooting parties and glamorous guests that it was built for, Kinloch Castle fell into the time warp which today adds so much to its charm.

Sir George died in 1939 while playing golf in France, leaving the castle and island in trust to his wife. She and their daughter Hermione, who in 1931 had married the Earl of Durham, continued to make periodic use of the castle until 1957, when the island was sold to the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) for £26,000, roughly £1 per acre. The castle and the majority of its contents were included in the sale.

Lady Bullough died at her Newmarket home Warren Hill in 1967 aged 98 and is buried alongside her husband in the Bullough mausoleum on Harris Bay.

Today, Kinloch Castle welcomes a very different sort of visitor to those of the last century: hill walkers, bird watchers and nature lovers from all over the world, but it is these visitors who will ensure its survival.