Kinloch Castle, Isle of Rum.

Written by: Mhairi Ferrier.

Majestic, intriguing, remarkable, captivating…

These are just some of the words that come to mind when describing the Isle of Rum, located in the Scottish Highlands. The largest of Scotland’s Small Isles, accessed by ferry from Mallaig, Rum is these days maintained by a combination of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Isle of Rum Community Trust. In 2009 and 2010 there was a transfer of land and assets in Kinloch Village and the surrounding area from the SNH to the Community Trust. This was a landmark change for the island and marked a new phase in its history. Kinloch Castle, located in Kinloch – the island’s main village, is still under the control of the SNH. 

             The Isle of Rum has a deeply rich history, spanning from the Ice Age to interactions with Vikings before falling victim to the Highland Clearances. A piece of this length could not begin to do justice to the comprehensive history of the island, although there are some points in this history which hold the key to the island’s economic future. At its height the Island community was nearly 450 inhabitants; this is, however, before the Highlands Clearances removed these people from their homes. Never again has the Island hosted such a population – today’s island community is made up of less than 30 people. Post-clearances, the Island passed through different owners before becoming the possession of the Bullough family.

            Between 1897 and 1900, Kinloch Castle was constructed on the Island as commissioned by George Bullough. Bullough had inherited a large sum of wealth and the island from his father, John who made his fortune in Lancashire’s textile industry. Extravagantly built, the castle cost £250,000 (today equivalent to millions of pounds) and was decorated in the Victorian fashions of the age. The Bulloughs hosted guests on the island, offering a wealth of activities within the castle and across the rest of the island. Everything from a spot of dancing in the ballroom, to a game of golf or tennis, or perhaps guests of this station would be more interesting in pursuing stalking on the island. Yet life on the island was a tale of two halves during the Bullough years, on one side the extravagant lifestyle of the Bulloughs and their guests, and on the other those working for the Bulloughs for whom island life was most likely a struggle. 

            The First World War put an end to this extravagance, with George Bullough gaining a military position and workers enlisting in the army. After the war drew to a close, less than a handful of the workers returned from the conflict and the Bullough family frequented their island paradise less.  There was little appetite for the lavish pastimes and dinner parties that had been the norm for the privileged during the Victorian period and the beginning of the Edwardian epoch. George Bullough’s death in 1939 led to the Castle being frequented even less; with his widow Lady Monica selling the Island (including the Castle) in 1957 for a sum of £23,000. Sir John Betjeman was largely correct when he predicted that:

In time to come the Castle will be a place of pilgrimage for all those who want to see how people lived in good King Edward’s days.

Kinloch Castle quickly became a staple for any tourist visiting the island and for many years hosted hostel accommodation and a pub. There were, and remain, regular tours for visitors to gain an understanding of the lifestyle led in stark contrast to the pursuits of an ordinary island man or woman. As most know, the upkeep of any historic building is costly, and this struggle led to the closure of the castle’s hostel and pub in 2015. The campaign to keep the castle in its prime continues and is supported by the Kinloch Castle Friends Association (KCFA).  

            KCFA have great plans going forward which include re-opening the hostel with brand new accommodation as well as restoring the museum rooms of the castle to their former glory. This would not only boost the amount of accommodation available for visitors on the island but also help boost the economy for locals. With new housing being built on the island, things would appear to be going from strength to strength. However, there is one snag in this plan: KCFA’s asset transfer bid was rejected by SNH who did not believe the association’s plans to be financially viable. With each delay such as this, the castle is deteriorating, further increasing the sum required to complete the restoration. 

Well what now? 

            KCFA are appealing for further financial support in order to make their plans a reality. Should further funding not materialise, demolition is a stark possibility that SNH are considering. While the demolition of historic buildings is not unusual, it would be a disaster in this case. Kinloch Castle is a unique part of Rum’s fascinating history; a building which tells the story of the decadence and wealth of the most privileged in the early 1900s, truly contrasting the life of the working-class islanders. The Castle is a true symbol of Highland history, it demonstrates what happened on many of the region’s estates after the Clearances. As such, the Castle must remain as reminder for all. Furthermore, the Castle will provide a vital element to the local economy should it remain. With repopulating of the vast Scottish Highlands now taking shape thanks to various initiatives, any available boosts to local economies are vital in order to make it a success. 

            This new decade has the possibility to be remembered as the one in which Kinloch Castle is demolished or it could be the one in which a revitalised and restored castle is able to make a real impact to the community. The combination of new housing, new opportunities under community ownership and a restored castle no longer controlled by SNH would be a monumental development for Rum. 

For now, we’ll have to wait and see.  

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