The future of Rum's Kinloch Castle Hostel is uncertain, and while a long term arrangement is negotiated new temporary visitor accommodation may be installed on the island to bridge a possible gap in provision.
Most of Rum is owned by the Government-funded body Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and managed as a unique National Nature Reserve of about 41 square miles. Visitors come to the remote island for its wildlife, and to enjoy some of the best hillwalking in the UK. There are few permanent residents and visitor facilities are limited - a big part of the appeal, some would say. Overnight trips are standard, with camping a popular option. But if the rain or midges get too much the island also boasts an unusual hostel - for now, at least.
Kinloch Castle, owned by SNH, is a major visitor attraction and the main provider of accommodation on the island. Upwards of 6,000 people visit the castle every year, which is also well used by people coming to the island to enjoy the National Nature Reserve or to take part in volunteering or contract work. A hostel in the rear of the building provides budget beds, and guests have the option to upgrade to rooms with four-poster beds. The rest of the A-listed Victorian / Edwardian mansion is run as a museum. It was the first private residence in Scotland to have electricity, and took 300 craftsmen about three years to build. With many of the original contents still in place, it gives a fascinating insight into the opulence and hubris of the Victorian landowning set. However the building is gradually disintegrating and now requires major investment, which SNH say is well beyond the reaches of their budget. The organisation has already spent more than £1 million on the castle in the past few years. But despite this and major efforts by staff the hostel is unable to offer accommodation to the standard visitors are said to expect of a modern hostel.
Last year SNH announced it may have to close the hostel part of the castle within two or three years due to increasing repair and maintenance costs, and began talks with the local community about business opportunities in visitor facilities.
SNH is now looking into the possibility of installing high quality temporary visitor accommodation in case the hostel has to close before the community is ready to take advantage of the business opportunity.
Sarah Bentley, SNH operations manager, explained:
'We have had numerous problems with the hostel, including the discovery of dry rot in part of the building, falls and weakness in some of the plaster ceilings and difficulties with the boiler. The facilities require significant investment to bring them up to a reasonable standard. We are therefore exploring the best option to ensure we can continue to provide facilities for people to visit the island and enjoy the spectacular beauty of the national nature reserve and the principal wings of the castle.'
'We have been working closely with the Isle of Rum Community Trust to develop plans for longer term accommodation and facilities on the island. This is progressing well, with a feasibility study due to start in January. However, given time scales for funding, planning, construction etc, it is unlikely that any new facility would be ready for two or three years.'
'Accommodation for visitors next season will either be in the castle hostel as normal or in temporary visitor accommodation of an even higher standard. The temporary accommodation will reduce the risk of an emergency closure leaving Rum with no visitor accommodation. As new accommodation develops it will allow us to focus our resources on conserving the castle itself.'
Vikki Trelfer, the Isle of Rum Community Trust's development officer, said:
'Kinloch Castle and its hostel is a real draw for visitors to the island, but the community has been aware for some time that there is uncertainty over its future. Closure of the hostel will create space for much-needed business opportunities both for private individuals and for the Community Trust to generate an income by providing accommodation and services for visitors.'
Ewan Macdonald, Chair of Kinloch Castle Friends Association said:
'It is important that visitor access to the Castle and reserve is maintained and we welcome the plan to provide alternative temporary accommodation. We are committed to to the conservation of the Castle and its contents and would prefer that its state was such that visitors could continue to use the hostel. We appreciate that SNH has allocated considerable funds to essential maintenance in the past few years, but that has not been enough to prevent deterioration. It is therefore important that this new unplanned expenditure will not divert funds from the necessary work in the Castle.'
Even if the hostel closes, SNH will continue to run tours of the main wings of Kinloch Castle, showcasing the interior. The organisation is also developing a conservation plan for the castle to conserve the fabric of the building. Works are currently being carried out on the castle roof as part of this plan.