Castle Tioram is one of the most remarkable castles on Scotland's western seaboard and, given the nature of the site and Scotland's part in "dark age" and medieval european history, is a monument of European dimension and importance.
It is also a castle of great beauty, whose ruined state poetically sums up its history. Once a centre of power of the medieval Lordship of the Isles, and later of the Macdonalds of Clanranald, it was burnt on the orders of the last chief of the direct line when he set off to join the doomed Jacobite rising of 1715.
The Clanranald Castle Tioram Trust is a charity representing conservation and community interests, which raised the £100,000 purchase price of the castle when it was for sale in 1997.
Unfortunately the Trust was outbid by Anta Estates, who bought the castle, paying over three times the asking price, with the intention of developing the castle as a private house -- despite the clear statement by Historic Scotland, the guardian body for Scotland's buildings and monuments of historic importance, that such reconstruction would be inappropriate for Castle Tioram. [For an eloquent personal view on the imappropriateness of reconstruction, see Muriel Gray's `Let's avoid making monumental disasters' in the Sunday Herald.}
Anta Estates is an offshore company which has been extremely secretive about its ownership, refusing even to name the country where it is registered, until required to do so during its planning applications. [It is apparently registered on the island of Nevis.] The beneficial owner appears to be Lex Brown, who currently describes himself as owner of the castle. He also describes himself as having made his fortune in the air cargo business. Private Eye (19 Aug 2004) describes him as `arms dealer of choice for those other well-known conservationists, Executive Outcomes and Sandline, that provided "military services" to Sierra Leone, Angola and Papua New Guinea'.
Anta Estates spent a great deal of money on its so-called `Tioram Conservation Project' in an effort to dress its plans up as public-spirited rather than selfish. Although this Project claimed to be altruistically looking into the best solution to conserve the castle, noone was surprised when this best solution turned out to be a six-bedroomed house for Mr Brown, with occasional limited public access.
Scottish Ministers' decision to refuse Scheduled Monument Consent for these proposals was based on the very clear recommendations of the independent Reporter from the exhaustive Local Public Inquiry held in Acharacle in 2001. This Report was ground-breaking, both ethically and technically, in its evaluation of the proposals against national and international standards for the care of monuments.
The clear implication of the Report was that consolidation was both viable, and preferable to reconstruction from a conservation point of view. The work involved would offer similar economic benefits to the community, and full access could be restored.
Mr Brown announced his intention of appealing to the Court of Session, on the grounds that the Inquiry was unfair, but his case was thrown out by the Court of Session in December 2003, with costs awarded against him. He however shows no signs of accepting the outcome of the independent Inquiry, despite his promise in 1998 that he was open-minded, and committed to doing whatever was best for conservation of the castle.
Meanwhile the castle remains boarded up, as it has been for 6 years because of a Dangerous Buildings Notice. However, it is understood that the work required under that Notice is complete, and local representatives have called on the Council and the owner to re-open access to the ruin as a matter of urgency.
Following meetings with various interested parties, Frank McAveety, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, has commissioned work on a Statement of Cultural Significance for the castle, and a report on its present structural state.
More about the castle -- Clanranald Castle Tioram Trust -- Why reconstruction is inappropriate