Proposed reconstruction of Castle Tioram

Precognition for Public Inquiry, June 2001

Prof. Denis Mollison, The Laigh House, Inveresk, Musselburgh EH21 7TD

[Document in original pdf format]


The ruin of Castle Tioram is probably the most powerful surviving symbol of the rise and fall of the Lordship of the Isles, and certainly the most beautiful. As such it is a monument of international importance.

It has been seen as such a symbol -- and conserved as such -- for two hundred years. For many years it has been open to the public at all times, and has been visited and appreciated by over 20,000 visitors a year.

Although obscured by mountains of public relations material, the application to reconstruct the castle is simply a private application that seeks to develop Castle Tioram into a private residence or holiday house. This reconstruction would irreversibly damage the castle's cultural, architectural, archaeological, landscape and public access values.

A particular concern is the long term maintenance of the castle, especially given the secretive and disingenuous behaviour of the applicants.

1 Background
2 Cultural significance
3 Architecture
4 Archaeology
5 Landscape
6 Public access
7 Economic and social considerations
8 Long term maintenance

  1. Background

    1.1 My interest in Castle Tioram arises from close knowledge and love of the castle and the area arising from regular family holidays at Dorlin over more than twenty years. I also have a general interest in conservation and community in the Highlands: I was one of the founders of the John Muir Trust, and am currently an elected Council Member of the NTS, as well a being a Trustee of the John Muir Trust, the John Muir Birthplace Trust, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and, most relevantly, of the Clanranald Castle Tioram Trust.

    1.2 The idea pushed by the applicants that they are simply running a conservation project, disinterestedly pursuing what is best for the castle, is dishonest.

    When first questioned by the press after the purchase of the castle in 1997, Lex Brown described himself as the new owner, and spoke straightforwardly of his wish to reconstruct and live in the castle. Subsequently, having had opportunity to gauge likely public opposition to the reconstruction of the castle, the new owners' agents, ARP Lorimer, presented their plans as an open-minded conservation project. When the conclusion of that project is that the castle should be reconstructed and lived in, possibly by Mr Brown as `caretaker', one is entitled to question its openmindedness.

    1.3 The ownership itself remains obscure: the immediate owner is Anta Estates, an offshore company about which nothing has been revealed, except that it is perhaps owned by the Highland Stronghold Trust, an equally unknown quantity, which the owners' agents described as charitable until they were told to desist by the Scottish Charities Office, since it is not registered as a charity anywhere in the UK.

    The key points here are

    1.4 The applicants were aware when they bought the property that it was a Scheduled Ancient Monument and that `full restoration of the Castle to a dwelling is unlikely to be permitted'.

    1.5 The application is to reconstruct the Castle as a private dwelling.

    1.6 The `Tioram Conservation Project' is in essence simply a public relations device designed to assist them in this core aim.

  2. Cultural significance

    2.1 The story of the castle's burning by the clan chief before setting off for the fatal field of Sheriffmuir in 1715 is the best known event in its history.

    2.2 Independently of the events of 1715, the castle's state as a ruin encapsulates its history in a way that a reconstructed building could not. The formidable fortified structure shows clearly that it was once a seat of power, while its ruinous state indicates equally clearly that that time has gone.

    2.3 Reconstruction of the castle would obscure this clear cultural significance. It cannot be `restored to its original use' -- unless the applicants are intending to reestablish rule over the Clanranald lands by force!

    2.4 Further, any reconstruction would have to choose a period to recreate. Would this be the medieval days of the Lordship of the Isles, or the 17th century of its last inhabited phase? Either way, it would only be a representation of part of its history.

  3. Architecture

    3.1 The applicants suggest that the castle is deteriorating rapidly, and that therefore `the status quo is not an option'. This is a gross exaggeration. I have visited the castle frequently - usually several times a year - for more than 20 years, and there have only been the most minor changes. One may contrast this slow rate of decay with the rapid decay that according to the applicants' own historical survey took place while the castle was roofed but unoccupied in the 26 years before 1715.

    3.2 Nevertheless, after 70 years of neglect, the castle is in need of some maintenance. Because of its cultural significance, and in order to cause minimal damage to its architectural and historic features, it will be best conserved if it is consolidated as a ruin.

    3.3 Essentially only stone walls remain, so there are no particular benefits from reroofing that could not be achieved by (if necessary) capping of walls where there is damaging water penetration.

    3.4 Given the absence of data on the castle's interiors and roofs, any reconstruction could only be conjectural. It could only be generically correct, reproducing details of other buildings rather than details specific to Castle Tioram.

    3.5 Reconstruction would require substantially more alteration to the surviving fabric than would consolidation.

  4. Archaeology

    4.1 Because archaeological methods are constantly improving, it is axiomatic that destruction of archaeological remains is to be avoided where possible. Reconstruction would inevitably require the destruction or removal of significant archaeological material.

    4.2 The introduction of modern services to this island site to allow habitation would cause significant additional damage to the archaeology of the castle and Eilean Tirim.

    4.3 The conversion of the castle to a dwelling place would make it more likely that there would be future applications for further building work on Eilean Tirim, with potential damage to other archaeological remains on the island.

  5. Landscape

    5.1 Castle Tioram stands in a commanding position -- not surprisingly considering its original function -- in the landscape (and seascape) of Loch Moidart. The castle is at the heart of a National Scenic Area and adjacent to Scotland's first Marine Conservation Area and the Loch Moidart Site of Special Scientific Interest.

    5.2 Further, Castle Tioram was the centrepiece of the designed landscape around the 19th century Dorlin House; this includes the `Silver Walk' along the lochside, which offers some of the finest views of the castle.

    5.3 The change from culturally significant ruin to private dwelling house would very significantly detract from views within this highly valued landscape.

  6. Public access

    6.1 Public access was previously unrestricted, as was stated in the 1997 sales particulars. This has been the case for many years, and the castle has been one of the major visitor attractions of the area, with of the order of 20,000 or more visitors annually.

    6.2 In contrast, the applicants plan limited and constrained access, mainly at less popular times of year, which would reduce visitor numbers to a small fraction of the present number.

    6.3 As a justification for limiting access -- and for the present boarding up of the castle -- the applicants have suggested that the castle as a ruin is dangerous to visit. To the contrary, the castle is generally a very safe structure for the public to explore as they have done in large numbers over many years. The higher parts, such as upper floors and wallheads are only accessible to those with climbing skills, and the few dangers at lower levels, such as the sea gate (?) in the north wall, are clear to anyone. My own four children, from the age at which they could walk, have wandered freely around the castle on many occasions, and I have never felt any anxiety for them there, any more than when they were playing on the beach.

    6.4 Similar comments apply to the applicants' suggestion that the paths and ground around the castle are eroding and deteriorating. Over 20 years there has in fact been very little change, apart from the seasonal and climatic cycle in which unmade paths become muddy in winter and dry out in summer. There may be a few places where care from skilled path workers would be advantageous, but the proposal to make up paths is unnecessary and would damage the archaeological heritage more than it would preserve it.

  7. Economic and social considerations

    7.1 As noted above, the applicants' plans will greatly decrease the number of visitors to the castle itself, which apart from these few visitors will be simply another new house, probably unoccupied for much of the year.

    7.2 Other claimed economic benefits, from boat visits and clan gatherings, are dubious -- these events could just as well take place with the castle as a ruin as with it a private house.

    7.3 The applicants have been spending money generously in the community, but whether this would continue once they have the consents they require may reasonably be doubted.

  8. Long term maintenance

    8.1 However it is done, and by whomever, a reconstructed castle would inevitably require more long term maintenance than a consolidated ruin.

    8.2 The applicants have been at pains to conceal from the public both the beneficial ownership of the castle, and the status and aims of the trusts and companies involved (see \S s 1.2-3).

    The real state of the case is that the owners are unknown, and registered overseas, and their real long term aims are equally unknown.

    Irreversible alterations to a monument of national importance should not be permitted without far stronger guarantees of its long term guardianship and conservation.

    8.3 The applicants make much of the alleged deterioration of the building. To a large extent this is exaggerated (see \S 3.1), but insofar as it is justified, responsibility sits firmly with the owners. They had no need to take on this building -- they knowingly outbid a charitable community body dedicated to the its conservation when they bought the castle -- and from their actions and plans they clearly have plenty of money. They must either fulfil their statutory obligations to carry out all necessary maintenance and consolidation, and once more leave the castle open for very substantial numbers of members of the public to enjoy; or, if they are not willing and competent to do this, they must pass it on to those who can.

    8.4 The Clanranald Castle Tioram Trust is a properly constituted charity supported by both conservationists and the local community, and remains ready and willing to collaborate with Historic Scotland and other legitimate interests in the long term conservation of this outstanding monument for the public benefit.

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