Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Opulence, wealth, eccentricity and scandal - the amazing Kinloch Castle

 Douglas and I managed to contact Rachel, the manager of the Kinloch Castle Hostel, who we'd met by chance on the slipway the previous day.  Rachel showed us to our room and also the adjacent bathroom, featuring a bath which was over 2 metres long and nearly a metre deep!  It was to be the first of a series of superlatives at Kinloch.

Before dinner we wandered across to the community shop (which doubles as an unofficial gathering place) to buy a couple of items - specifically some sports recovery drinks.  These came in handy sized  containers and were Guiness flavoured :o)

We cooked our dinner in the self-catering kitchen and over our meal met up with Gordon, a contractor carrying out infrastructure works on the island.  The conversation flowed along with a couple of drinks; we were joined by Rachel and her assistant Abby later on and spent a really pleasant evening hearing some of the history of Kinloch and much about the more contemporary affairs of the Small Isles.

There was another fortuitous meeting too.  We'd asked about accommodation options on the next island we planned to visit, Eigg.  Alastair, one of the folks working with Gordon is a resident of Eigg and was happy to recommend a B & B.  We also enquired about eating options for an evening meal and were told that the proprietor of the B & B, Sue, did evening meals.  We were informed that Sue was an excellent cook and that we'd be well looked after.  Douglas asked if Alastair ate there often... to which he replied "Well, you could say that, Sue's my wife!".  So, our lodgings for the following night arranged, we retired for the evening having been offered a quick tour of the castle in the morning.

After a fine Hostel breakfast, Abby showed us some of the truly astonishing Kinloch Castle.  Started in 1897 and completed in 1900, it is a monument to opulence in every way, but in many ways was also at the cutting edge of the technology of the day.


Nothing is "ordinary" about Kinloch Castle.  At today's prices, the building would have cost £15 million to construct and decorate - and that's before the hundreds of art and collectible items are added in!

It's just as well that Sir George Bullough was an extremely wealthy man.  His grandfather had made a fortune in the spinning business in Lancashire, the family fortune was greatly expanded by his father; and essentially, Sir George spent it.  George's father bought Rum and built a shooting lodge on the island, but George wanted something altogether grander.

The main hall is decorated with stags heads, stuffed game fish in cases line the halls and there are innumerable objets d'art.  The building is made of red Arran sandstone - not the best choice as Kinloch is sheltered from drying winds, has a moist microclimate and sandstone is very porous.  Right from the outset there were problems with damp in the building which continue to the present day.  Sir George imported Lancashire stonemasons to build the castle, paid them extra to wear kilts then paid extra again for the workmen to buy tobacco in order to deter the midges!  This was the typical Bullough solution to everything - just throw more money at a problem until it went away.

This rather tatty lion was shot by Sir George on an African safari.  He owned a 221 foot steam yacht, "Rhouma" on which he sailed around the world.  There is a portrait in the castle of his wife, Lady Monica Bullough, sitting naked on this very lion pelt.  George married Monica, a society beauty of French extraction in 1903.  She was a divorcee and Sir George was named in the divorce proceedings.  Theirs seems to have been a marriage of convenience in many ways; each had their own lives and (it is widely rumoured) lovers to stay at Kinloch - which was only ever used for a few weeks each year.

At the end of the Hall, one of the more jaw-dropping items is this bronze incense burner in the shape of a monkey-eating eagle.  It seems that Sir George outbid his friend, the Emperor of Japan, for this item......

The Dining Room has the finest panelling in the castle; both panelling and dining table came from the "Rhouma" and were fitted into this room precisely.  The chairs (also from the yacht) have swivelling bases to allow the ladies to sit and stand more easily.

The Billiards Room was one space where cutting edge technology was employed.  It had the first air conditioning in Scotland to remove tobacco smoke - the castle as a whole was the first private residence in Scotland to have an electricity supply; and this was generated by a hydro-electic scheme.

The castle also had one of the very first telephones in Great Britain, linked to the mainland by a specially laid submarine cable.

At the far end of the Hall is a musical device known as an "Orchestrion".  The Orchestrion at Kinloch is probably the best preserved example in existence and CD's of music can be purchased.

As part of the marriage "deal", Lady Monica essentially got half of Kinloch Castle to do with as she wished.  The result is an almost schizophrenic arrangement where one half of the building is resplendent in bold red and heavy wood panelling, while the other half is much lighter and has original silk wall coverings.  Lady Monica was canny enough to opt for the sunny side of the building and the difference in the auality of light is remarkable.

She also had the only en-suite bathroom adjoining her bedroom.  This is no ordinary shower, there are water jets absolutely everywhere!  It still works (the whole castle is still operating the original water heating and central heating arrangements) and we were assured that a shower here is an unforgettable experience!

Parts of the outside of the castle were glass colonnades containing tropical plants, hummingbirds and (amongst other exotic species), alligators in heated tanks.  After one of the glass panes broke the unfortunate hummingbirds died of cold - Lady Monica had them stuffed and placed in a glass case.  One of the Alligators also met an untimely end when it escaped and wreaked havoc among the guests.  Sir George promptly shot it.

Perhaps the most intriguing space in the castle is the Ballroom.  It has a sprung floor, silk wall hangings decorated to match the stars embellished on the ceilings and lighting designed to give an impression of being out in the open under the stars.

Colourful and salacious stories abound concerning the goings-on in the Ballroom; reputedly there was somewhat more than dancing indulged in by the Bulloughs and their wealthy guests.....  The windows are certainly arranged in such a way that the ballroom is not overlooked from any other part of the castle, and there is a unique serving hatch arrangement which prevented the Butler from seeing into the room!

Sir George died in 1939 whilst playing golf in France, Lady Monica lived until 1967.  She stayed in the castle on and off but in 1957 sold it to the Nature Conservancy Council along with the rest of the island.  Rum (or Rhum as the Bulloughs tried to have it renamed) was strictly off limits whilst they owned it.  The NCC (which later became Scottish Natural Heritage) initially sought to maintain the discouragement of visitors but the stance gradually chaged and altered completely with the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in February 2003.  Rum is still a nature reserve, there are studies of Red Deer population dynamics underway and the island has also been the focal point for the reintroduction of Sea Eagles to Scotland - which is probably the very best legacy possible.

Responsible access is now encouraged and the castle can be visited in summer - we were extremely grateful to both Rachel and Abby for their hospitality and for giving us a glimpse into the crazy, opulent world of the Bulloughs.  If you get chance to travel to Rum, do visit this amazing place.

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