A Rum deal

4 Jul 2023

Article in the Oban Times, 15th July 2021

A gorgeous castle on a Hebridean island with a world class sea view and a decent skelp of land for sale at possibly as little as a £1. Tempted?

As reported in last weeks newspaper, Nature Scotland (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) is selling Kinloch Castle on the island of Rum, with the sales particulars being shown to a few choice potential buyers by Scottish Development International. The particulars would have you salivating at the beautiful rooms, impressive furniture and the jaw dropping beauty of both the exterior of the building and surrounding scenery.

The brochure reveals the castle as in need of repair, but ‘wind and water tight’. Perhaps these words will have set an alarm bell tinkling in the back of your brain. The truth is, the building has quite extensive wet and dry rot, the chimneys need taken down and rebuilt, and a substantial multi-million restoration project is needed. The photographs are misleading, having been taken well over a decade ago. Some of the rooms now have collapsed ceilings and furniture deep in dust and debris.

In 1957, the 10,000 hectare island, including the castle in good condition and all its contents, were bought by a government body from Lady Bullough. At that time the population on the island was c. 60, recently falling to a low of 22.

In 2003, the castle was runner-up in BBC 2’s Restoration series, attracting 143,000 votes. Griff Rhys Jones described Kinloch as a ‘victim of bureaucratic neglect’, and Prince Charles unsuccessfully lent his weight to a refurbishment plan.

The heritage part of Scottish Natural Heritage obviously did not extend to taking responsibility for the upkeep of a rare ‘A’ Category building, which has been on the ‘Buildings at Risk register’ since 2004. Historic Environment Scotland (formerly Historic Scotland) who have a remit to insist on the preservation of historically important buildings, have clearly given a free pass to their fellow Scottish Government body. In 2019 a report was made that concluded there was 18 months left to save the building.

The Kinloch Castle Friends Association was set up 25 years ago with the role as a critical friend, under the chairmanship of Professor Ewan Macdonald, who has been a member of the Rum Community Trust. They take work parties to the castle, and two years ago in frustration, put forward to Scottish Natural Heritage a fully costed proposal to take over the building, raise the £10m required, manage the restoration and open the building as a hostel, with a café and self catering apartments. It was rejected due to no guarantee of funding and doubt about the viability of the hospitality business.

In my opinion there exists a good opportunity for a hospitality business. These days many holiday makers seek a different experience; remoteness, adventure, learning. The island of Rum is one of the most beautiful and varied of all the Hebridean islands, with massive volcanic mountains, endless sandy beaches, sea eagles, manx shearwater, red deer, dolphins, whales, etc. Hill walkers, mountain bikers, academics, kayakers, artists and many others would give their right arm to visit Rùm and stay in the beautiful castle.

Public ownership has failed Kinloch Castle, and the population of Rum is a fraction of what it should be. It must be hoped that a perfect buyer will emerge with a love of the west of Scotland, pride in ownership of a unique, historically important building, and deep enough pockets to carry through the expensive restoration. We have a final chance to ignite economic regeneration and trigger a significant population increase on this island.

Many thousands of concerned people are craving a good outcome.

Angus MacDonald
Highlands Liberal Democrat Councillor and Westminster Candidate

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