Barnbougle Castle lies on the shore of the Firth of Forth on the Rosebery Estate and is a prominent landmark and important heritage site.
The Grade 1 listed castle dates back to the 13th Century and from 1662 has been owned by successive generations of the Primrose family, the Earls of Rosebery. A picturesque ruin by the late C19th, Barnbougle was rebuilt in 1880 by the 5th Earl, a leading Victorian politician and briefly Prime Minister, who used it as a place to work, practice his speeches and entertain, 2019 marks 90 years since the death of the 5th Earl, after which the castle was closed up just as he left it, and it will be first time in its history that the castle will be used for private events.
In March 2010 a storm caused significant damage to the sea defences, sea wall, balustrade and terrace surface and marked the start of an intensive restorative project lasting nine years. After the storm, it became evident that a decision needed to be made on the castle’s future and its preservation.
In 2014 sea defences were repaired with rip rap stone taken from the quarry on the estate. The terrace and balustrade were repaired from 2015 -2016.
In Spring 2017 external work began on the castle including repointing the entire building, chimney repairs, roof repairs (including leadwork and slating) and window and door repairs and repainting, to make the castle watertight.
The full conversion of the castle to a private events venue began in March 2018 and was completed this Spring, making the necessary changes to modernise the building.
The Rosebery family, led by Lady Jane who managed the project throughout, have been fully committed to restoring and renovating the castle to the highest standard, sensitively updating the interior, whilst also preserving original artefacts and features. The brief can be summarised as: "Change everything but change nothing" and all modern catering and WC facilites restricted to what was formerly the caretaker's flat.
Key projects included installing a lift, rewiring, new heating system, sewage treatment plant, new WCs, catering kitchen, fire suppression, redecoration, standby generator, Wi-Fi, fibre optic cable, CCTV, new window blinds, a new water main and electricity supply, as well as cleaning all the wall coverings, panelling, heraldic stained glass windows, carpets, paintings and other contents, including over 10,000 books. Throughout the restoration process there has been a conscious effort to use skilled local tradesmen and specialists to carry out the work, altering, conserving and restoring the building to its former glory. For example: Craig & Rose replicated the original paint colours, the Scottish Conservation Studio cleaned all the original wallcoverings and repaired the carpet in the Banqueting Hall and Sean Diggin, a local craftsman, made bespoke furniture including panelled benches which cover this carpet when guests are dancing.
Barnbougle is a unique castle and its many quirky features have been carefully restored and showcased. The marble bath used by the 5th Earl is in working condition (although no longer with a seawater option) while the modern cloakrooms have been cleverly concealed behind a wall of faux books giving the appearance of another library. The walls are hung with family portraits while space has also been found to display some of the 5th Earl's extraordinary collection of historical artefacts: a life-size statue of Pan stands at the bottom of the staircase, next to a boneshaker bicycle and a lump of stone from the Auld Brig of Ayr. Cabinet contents include Rob Roy’s dirk, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s pistols, Robbie Burns’ punchbowl, a Venetian carnival mask, a crocodile skull, a boomerang and some splendid C18th Chinese porcelain painted with Scotsmen in kilts.
The castle held its first event, the 7th Earl's 90th birthday party, in February 2019 but officially opened for business as an exclusive venue for corporate events and weddings in May 2019. The first wedding took place that month when two of the Estate employees got married in the Castle. Two new full-time and one part-time job have already been created on the Estate with others expected to follow.
Coinciding with the restoration of the castle, Mangalitza pork and Highland beef reared on the estate is being used in the castle’s catering, with flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables from the estate’s walled garden will soon be supplying the castle. The estate’s own award winning Wermod Great British Vermouth is already being enjoyed by guests.
The restoration of the castle is also having a positive impact on local businesses, from the use of a catering company, Honeycomb & Co, wedding and event suppliers. The castle does not offer accommodation, but local accommodation and services are actively promoted.