Castle playground of the idle rich may be turned into flats

Now plans to renovate one of Scotland's most scandal-hit castles could see the island of Rum opening its arms once again to new residents.

Planners on the island are considering an ambitious £6m project to restore part of the once-opulent Kinloch Castle into eight flats, ranging from one to six bedrooms. This would allow Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which has ownership responsibilities for the island and the castle, and the Prince of Wales's Phoenix Trust, in co-operation with the Rum Community Association, to pay for refurbishment of the 105-year-old building and develop a role for the castle in the island's future.

The castle is used as a hostel for visitor accommodation, with catering facilities, and the front of house operates as a museum, with tours of the rooms and artefacts provided for visitors. However, the building needs major repairs.

The idea of creating the flats is one of three ideas shortlisted for consultation by the Phoenix Trust. Although such a plan would limit public access to the castle, the other two options involve maintaining the existing use of the castle, and a combination of different kinds of residential lettings, educational and entertainment facilities along with the commercial and public access to the main rooms which were once considered the height of luxury.

The island, which had a population of more than 400 people in the 19th century, compared to the present 33, was the personal fiefdom of the Lancastrian textile mill owner John Bullough, who bought the island for £35,000 in 1870 as an exclusive retreat. It was his orders for gamekeepers to shoot at passing boats to deter visitors which earned the island its "forbidden" reputation.

His son, Sir George Bullough, who inherited the estate, and his wife, Lady Monica, a beauty who is said to have had many affairs among London society, including being Edward VII's lover, built Kinloch Castle and turned it into a centre for extravagance. London socialites would visit to hunt during the day and dance at night in the castle which boasted hydro-electric power for electric lighting. Central heating was provided for guests and horses, but not servants, and the gardens had heated pools filled with alligators and turtles.

The couple's pursuit of "purposeful idleness" led to the creation of late Victorian extravagance hardly repeated elsewhere, let alone on a remote Hebridean island. Even though Sir George, a handsome Harrow-educated cavalry officer, and Lady Monica, who claimed to be a descendant of Napoleon, only enjoyed their Hebridean idyll for 13 years, they left their mark for posterity.

Their lavish summer parties, attended by politicians, businessmen, Gaiety girls, theatrical stars and the nouveau riche, lasted only until the onset of the First World War, and in the end the couple spent only a few weekends on Rum in a year.

Along with the rich furnishings imported to the island, Kinloch Castle was also the first home in Scotland to have an internal telephone system.

There was even a direct line to Newmarket so that Sir George, who died during a golfing holiday in France in 1939, could monitor his horses.

Lady Monica, who last visited Rum aged 85, said in her will that the castle's £1m collection of treasures should be left in place. She is interred beside her husband at the family mausoleum on the island.

By the middle of the last century, the Bullough family's love affair with Rum had cooled sufficiently that it was sold to the Nature Conservancy in 1957 for £23,000, £12,000 less than they had paid for the island, without a castle, 69 years previously.

The 26,000-acre Isle of Rum, which for a time was referred to as Rhum by Victorians so as to dissociate it from the alcoholic drink, is probably the most important Scottish island for mountains outside Skye and Arran, and is a world-class location for "green" tourism. It has bird breeding colonies and a large deer population. But the island attracts just 8,000 visitors a year, while the castle costs taxpayers £65,000 a year to maintain.

The castle narrowly missed out on winning the £3m prize on the BBC 2 Restoration programme two years ago. After the programme the Prince of Wales met interested parties, including SNH, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland, to consider ways to preserve the building and benefit the community. Now a shortlist of proposals will go forward for more detailed studies.

The SNH's area manager, David Maclennan, said: "The castle offers visitor accommodation and catering facilities. But as well as an asset it is also a liability in terms of the funding requirements that go beyond SNH's normal remit."

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