The Stately Homes of England Part 3
I hope you’re enjoying this series of monthly visits to some of the beautiful old houses in Great Britain that I visited on my trip to the UK in spring of 2017. I say Great Britain advisedly, because this month we’re going to a place just south of the Isle of Skye, to visit the haunting (and I suspect haunted!) Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum in Scotland.
Actually I’m not going to give you the best stories about Kinloch because they’re going to pop up in a work or two over time – but I hope what I do say and the pictures will persuade you that this odd (very odd!) building is well worth a visit. Although if you’re thinking of going, my advice is to get your skates on. The place is literally falling down about our ears as we speak.
Firstly a word about the Isle of Rum. This very spectacular island in the Small Isles group is home to a herd of 900 pedigree red deer, various other wildlife including otters and eagles, and about 20 permanent residents. It’s the beautiful mountainous island I looked at from my bed and breakfast on Eigg (you can see photos here in the Favorite Things I did back in September). In the late 19th century, it was the property of Sir George Bullough, a Lancashire industrialist who was one of the richest men in the world at the time. Sir George owned the largest yacht in the world and intended to build his castle to fit the same dimensions – sadly for him, two streams on either side of the castle prevented him from achieving his ambition, but the castle is still pretty impressive.
Sir George ran Rum as a hunting estate and used to host small, very exclusive house parties there for his society friends. It’s stuffed to the gills with glorious and rather grotesque items, including a huge Japanese bronze of an eagle killing a snake (there’s two photos of that), faded tiger and leopard skins from his hunting trips, and a magnificent Steinway piano that I itched to close up so the dust doesn’t get into it. That rather odd, pink light is thanks to the rows of stained glass windows with their gloomy colors. I was there on a glorious day but I imagine on a cloudy day, it could be rather grim. It’s like an Edwardian gentleman’s hunting box on steroids!
Having built his castle between 1898 and 1901, Sir George looked around for a suitable wife and found one in Monique Lilly de la Pasture, the daughter of a French aristocrat with family connections to Napoleon. The gossip is that this was a ‘white’ marriage, for the sake of appearances and with both participants free to pursue their interests elsewhere. While that may or may not be true, it’s certainly true that Lady Monica and Sir George never stayed at Rum at the same time and there were no children from the union. Lady Monica was horrified at the boys’ club atmosphere of the house and renovated a wing to fit her tastes for delicate French style. The hand-embroidered silk wallpaper is gorgeous, but sadly the water damage on that end of the castle is worse than anywhere else. Lady Monica’s rooms are bright and airy with lovely windows looking down to the loch. They seem to belong in a different building to the rather oppressive style of the rest of the castle.
Sir George was well ahead of his time when it came to building the castle – it’s the first private home in Scotland powered by electricity (a dam in the hills behind the house supplies hydro-electricity); there’s a magnificent early sound system called an Orchestrion (sadly out of commission when I visited); and air conditioning. He commissioned the architects who built his factories to build Kinloch to the latest modern principles. And therein lies the source of the disaster – Sir George imported tons of porous red sandstone from Arran much further south and used it to clad a cast iron frame. Unfortunately the water has got in through the sandstone, and the frame is rusting away. There’s not very much holding Kinloch upright at all which adds an extra frisson to a visit. It’s sad to see the damage, but the decrepit state of the castle definitely contributes to the spooky atmosphere. You don’t feel like Kinloch was ever a happy house, but you definitely feel that some ghosts from those wild Edwardian parties still linger in the air.