The ornate and extravagant Kinloch Castle stands framed by mountains at the head of Loch Scresort, which bites deeply into the east side of the Isle of Rum. It is a no expense spared confection of pink sandstone intended to create an impression: and create an impression it certainly does.
Anyone wanting to visit Kinloch Castle must first get to Rum, and ways of reaching the island are described here. You will probably arrive on Rum at the relatively new ferry slipway built on the south shore of Loch Scresort. Until it was completed in Autumn 2004, visitors to Rum had to transfer from the ferry to a flit boat out in the loch before being landed at an older jetty. From the ferry slipway it is a little over three quarters of a mile along a land rover track to the castle, which you approach from the south through a tunnel of trees. Visitors either walk or, if available, use the castle minibus.
You will have seen the castle from a distance, both from the loch and the slipway, but your sudden emergence from the trees brings home just how ambitious a project Kinloch Castle really was. Guided tours of the castle take place at times designed to tie in with the ferry timetable from the beginning of April until late October, and visitor and contact information is set out on the right. There will probably be a sign on the front door of the castle setting out the tour times, or you can enquire at the reception for the hostel: this occupies the rear half of the castle, which originally served as service and servants' accommodation.
The hostel attached to Kinloch Castle is one of the few places to stay on Rum, and it also has a bistro and bar open to non-residents. But for most visitors it is the front half of Kinloch Castle which is the real attraction, built and furnished on a truly sumptuous scale and now serving as a time capsule that opens a window into the holiday lifestyle of a single generation of a single very wealthy family in the decade and a half before World War One.
The story of Kinloch Castle is the story of the Bullough family. James Bullough was born in about 1800 near Bolton. He began working in the cotton mills at the age of 7 and over the following three decades devised a series of improvements to the process that made his fortune and allowed him to become a mill owner. The business was eventually taken over by his youngest son, John Bullough, who combined his father's inventive flair and keen business sense with the benefits of a first class education.
John became interested in acquiring land in Scotland and purchased Meggernie Castle and estate in Glen Lyon. In 1888 he decided he needed an even more secluded holiday retreat, and for £35,000 he purchased the Isle of Rum, which the Marquis of Salisbury had started to develop as a sporting estate in 1845. During his holidays here John lived in Kinloch House, near the head of Loch Scresort. In three years he oversaw the planting of 80,000 trees around Kinloch, and invested heavily in bringing in high quality deer to improve the stock on the island. He did not live to see the fruits of his efforts, however, as he died in 1891 at the age of 53.
On his death, Meggernie Castle and estate passed to one of his sons, while Rum passed to another, George Bullough, then just 21 years old. After an education at Harrow School, George had been destined for an initial career as a cavalry officer. His father's early death left him heir to part of a vast fortune and a director of a hugely successful textile business. He responded by building his father an extravagant mausoleum on Rum (and then a second when people said the first was too vulgar), and commissioning a 223ft long steam powered yacht from a Clyde shipyard, the Rhouma.
George then moved on to the grandest of his designs, and between 1897 and 1900 oversaw the removal of Kinloch House and the building of Kinloch Castle. Everything about Kinloch Castle was done on an extravagant scale. The architects selected were Leeming & Leeming, an English firm known more for commercial projects than country houses. During the construction of the castle, a workforce of some 300 men was brought in, mainly from Lancashire and from the neighbouring Isle of Eigg. It is said that they were paid an additional shilling a week by George if they agreed to work in Bullough tweed kilts, plus an extra tuppence each day if they smoked, which helped deter Rum's infamous midges during construction.
Meanwhile, a steady procession of steamships arrived in Loch Scresort carrying pink sandstone quarried at Annan in Dumfries and Galloway. A common myth is that the castle's stone came from Arran. This seems to have originated with a simple typo in an early guide book. Other steamers arrived carrying a total of 250,000 tons of garden soil from Ayrshire.
By the time the project was finished in 1900, some £250,000 had been spent on the castle, and on its furnishings and gardens: which is equivalent to about £15 million in today's terms. Amongst the innovations installed were electricity supplied from a wind generator, central heating, and hi-tech plumbing. Kinloch Castle was also the first private residence in Scotland to be equipped with an internal telephone system. A conservatory was used to grow exotic fruit, while a palm house was home to humming birds and, briefly, some small alligators, which were later shot while trying to escape.
Within 3 years of initial completion, major alterations were needed. In 1903 Sir George Bullough, as he now was, married Monique Lily de la Pasteur. Claiming descent from one of Napoleon's sisters, Monique (or Lady Monica as she became known at Kinloch Castle) had married an heir to the Charrington brewing fortune in the 1890s, but is said to have taken a number of wealthy lovers before Sir George was cited in her divorce. Lady Monica's arrival on the scene led to the addition of an upper floor to the originally single storey west range.
Each summer the Bulloughs would spend three weeks at Kinloch Castle, hiring a private train to bring themselves and their house guests up from London to Mallaig, where they would board the Rhouma for the 15 mile crossing to Rum. Kinloch Castle only really came alive for these three weeks each year, with the gentlemen gathering in Sir George's strongly masculine billiard and smoking rooms (complete with air conditioning to clear the smoke) or spending their days hunting, while the ladies gathered in Lady Monica's very feminine south range.
Also available for entertaining guests was the hugely impressive galleried main hall, complete with a variety of conversation pieces ranging from the beautiful to the grotesque, collected by the Bulloughs on a series of world tours. Guests in the hall could be entertained either by the Steinway piano (which still bears the scars inflicted by a lady dancing on top of it in stiletto heels) or the remarkable Orchestrion, an elaborate contraption driven by electricity that was said to emulate the sound of a 40 piece orchestra. This still plays today, though in truth sounds more like a fairground organ than a real orchestra.
Other public rooms included the splendid wood panelled dining room, Lady Monica's drawing room and the empire room, a library, and the ballroom. The last of these is is a slightly odd space: plush and grand, but the high level windows and tales of drinks being served through a hatch designed to ensure the butler could not see what was going on inside the ballroom (even if the musicians in the high level gallery presumably could) leads to obvious questions about whether in bringing a slice of Belgravia to Rum, the Bulloughs weren't also interested in importing a touch of Bohemia.
After World War One the family visited Rum less and less often. George Bullough died in France in 1939 on a golfing holiday. In 1957 the Bullough Trustees sold the whole of Rum except for the family mausoleum for £23,000 to the government agency Nature Conservancy, and the island became a National Nature Reserve.
Kinloch Castle is at once both magnificent and a little sad. It offers a truly unique insight into a very different world that disappeared almost without trace in 1914. Decades of inadequate funding have combined with architects who didn't appreciate that flat roofs were not a great idea in Rum's wet climate to produce serious problems of water ingress in places. Kinloch Castle deserves every possible support to ensure it survives the next century in slightly better shape than it has survived the last century. One small way you can help is by ensuring that when visiting Rum you take the superb guided tour. This allows visitors to seen all the main public rooms and many items of particular interest, plus a number of bedrooms and the castle's only en-suite bathroom on the first floor.