While there are many grand castles in rural Scotland Kinloch Castle in Rum stands out as one of the most over-the-top expressions of Victorian wealth. Indeed, according to writer Jim Crumley, Kinloch Castle is “a monument to… colossal wealth and ego and acquisitive greed… It is a building without a redeeming feature.. a loathsome edifice. It perpetuates only the memory of the worst kind of island lairds… a hideous affront, but nothing that a good fire and subsequent demolition couldn’t rectify”.
The imposing castle was built between 1897-1900 at the head of Loch Scrisort from red sandstone imported from Annan, at the massive cost of £250,000. The island was bought by John Bullough in 1884 for the measly sum of £35,000, to be developed as a sporting estate stocked with deer and game birds. (The island’s 400 residents had previously been evicted as part of the Highland Clearances in the 1820s and shipped off to Nova Scotia, being replaced with 8,000 sheep).
John Bullough built the extravagant hunting lodge for his son, George Bullough, and in the early part of the 20th Century it was visited by the Bulloughs and their shooting parties for just a few weeks in every year. Even though this was essentially a holiday home, they still paid for a permanent staff of around 100 people to look after the castle, its grounds and the island’s sporting reserve. Apparently the Bulloughs were not overly keen on having their washing hanging out in public for all to see. Instead, they decided that it would be better to have the washing done elsewhere – in this case, Kilmory Beach at the opposite side of the island some ten miles away. The laundry building and house (in which two laundry staff lived) still stand today, with the cottage now housing an SNH warden in what must be one of the most stunning and remote places to live in the UK.
Today, Kinloch Castle remains largely unchanged from the 1920s and makes for a fascinating visit. Following George Bullough’s death in 1939 the house and island were looked after by trustees until being sold to Scottish Natural Heritage in 1957 to manage as a National Nature Reserve. Daily tours are given by SNH staff which are well worth taking.
While the formal gardens, glasshouses (which at one time housed alligators and hummingbirds), golf course and Japanese garden no longer exist SNH have concentrated in recent years in ensuring that the building remains wind and watertight. A proposal to refurbish the castle is currently with the Scottish Government.
The Castle was a modern and sophisticated building for its time, featuring some of the earliest examples of electric lighting (the island is still powered by the hydroelectric system albeit recently upgraded) and modern heating, plumbing and telephone systems. No expense was spared.
One of the most fascinating aspects is the mechanical orchestrion which sits under the grand staircase just off the Entrance Hall. Using cylindrical ‘rolls’ of music, the orchestrion plays forty different orchestral instruments through its many pipes and while currently in need of repair, it stands as a wonderful period piece. The video below lets you hear the orchestrion in action and also includes some good images of the Castle and island.
I visited Kinloch Castle as part of a longer trip to climb the Rum Cuillin mountains and wild camp in the moutains and beaches: