Back from the brink

Ardnamurchan Estate

Mingary Castle, near Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, has been an important historical landmark on the west coast of Scotland for more than 800 years. Over the past 150 years it had fallen into disuse and ruin… but thanks to the efforts of Donald Houston, the castle has been fully restored and brought back to life as a luxury boutique hotel.

Since acquiring the 12,000-hectare Ardnamurchan Estate in 1996, Donald has enjoyed the view of the imposing ruins that look out over the sea to the Isle of Mull. However, four years ago, he noticed that the condition of the rock the castle was built on was deteriorating, and was progressively getting worse.

After consulting a mining engineer, he was told that if remedial work was not done immediately then the castle would very soon collapse and fall into the sea.

Donald felt a sense of duty towards the preservation of the castle and decided to act. He said: “The castle has stood here for 800 years, so I felt I could not let this happen on my watch. Although I could consolidate the foundation, the castle was in such a poor state it would probably require more remedial work in 10 years’ time. That’s why I decided on a plan for the full restoration so the building would be used and maintained – there was no point throwing good money at it just to preserve a ruin.”

Donald contacted Historic Scotland (now known as Historic Environment Scotland) to explain the situation. Officials said they could not provide funding as the site was too far off the beaten track to provide public benefit from investment, but they were happy for him to go ahead with a restoration plan. Historic Scotland was involved at all stages of the restoration process up until completion when they delisted the building from scheduled ancient monument status to that of a listed building.

Once the underlying foundations were stabilised by rock bolting, the renovation work could begin, but not before historic Scotland sent in its archaeologists to survey the site. They found a number of interesting historical items, like a cannonball and ammunition, and also discovered hidden rooms and passageways that had been sealed up 500 years ago.

Since the archaeological survey showed that the last renovation had been carried out in the 18th century, it was agreed between Historic Scotland and Donald that it should be restored, both internally and externally, in the style of that period, which included oak panels and a hand-carved wooden staircase.

In just three years the castle has been transformed from a crumbling ruin into an exquisitely finished five-bedroom hotel with panoramic views of the coast from the battlement walkways. In April 2016, Mingary Castle once again lowered its drawbridge to welcome guests after a gap of more than 150 years.

The hotel is now welcoming guests from around the world, and has also created jobs for five local people to help run the luxury holiday retreat.