Fourteen years after Lex Brown became the owner of Castle Tioram in the West Highlands, Historic Scotland (HS) has made a spectacular volte face and indicated that it would be willing to consider favourably the principle of restoring and reoccupying the 13th-century ruin.
The former stronghold of the Macdonalds of Clanranald, which stands in a sublime landscape on a tidal islet in the throat of Loch Moidart, has not been properly occupied since the late 17th century. More recently, it became something of a cause célèbre as the focus of a high-profile debate about whether a ruin is better off as a cultural artefact, or roofed and occupied as it was built to be.
Much of what is now known about the category A-listed Scheduled Monument was discovered in extensive research funded by Mr Brown, who, ignoring a sentence in the sales particulars that read ‘HS… have indicated that full restoration of the castle to a dwelling is unlikely to be permitted’, commissioned ARP Lorimer & Associates to draw up plans to make Tioram habitable. His scheme was supported by The Highland Council, architects, historians, structural engineers, the local community and the wider general public, but HS refused Scheduled Monument Consent.
The decision was upheld at a public inquiry in 2002 on the grounds that the application would not secure the preservation of the ancient monument as required by the 1979 Act. It was also seen not to comply with guidance contained in various conservation charters and Government publications. As HS stated: ‘The castle has an air of being untouched, which contributes to a sensation that what one sees is truly authentic. As a spectacular, complex and, apparently, untouched ruin, Castle Tioram’s inspirational, aesthetic qualities appeal to many, both locals and visitors.’
Mr Brown, a businessman with local roots, had already spent more than £2 million and was determined not to give up. In 2006, he was encouraged by HS to spend a further £25,000 on producing a third Statement of Cultural Significance, but he explains: ‘When assurances that they would engage in positive discussion proved abortive, I decided to turn to the politicians.’ Notable among these was the then SNP Minister for Culture, Mike Russell, who launched the Scottish Castle Initiative (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/scottishcastleinitiative) in 2009.
‘The past few years have seen a welcome sea change at HS,’ says Mr Brown. ‘They now agree that, in the light of Tioram’s ongoing deterioration, a scheme for reoccupation is the only viable means to achieve its long-term preservation and have invited me to reapply for Scheduled Monument Consent. There will be a policy of minimum intervention and every effort will be made to preserve the existing fabric of the castle. Tioram will be publicly accessible and once again it will function as a living building.’
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