The Isle of Rum, long known as the ‘forbidden island’, is one of the most dramatic and spectacular of the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It was for a long time the playground and private ‘kingdom’ of Lancashire industrialist Sir George Bullough. That kingdom came complete with a castle, Kinloch Castle, the most intact preserve of Edwardian high-living to be found in Britain.
Sir George Bullough, Laird of Rum
For much of the 20th century the name of the island became Rhum, a spelling invented by the former owner, Sir George Bullough, because he did not relish the idea of having the title “Laird of Rum”. Rum is the largest of the Small Isles, and the fifteenth largest Scottish island, but is inhabited by only about thirty or so people, all of whom live in the village of Kinloch on the east coast. The island has been inhabited since the 8th millennium BC and provides some of the earliest known evidence of human occupation in Scotland.
Rum is now an important study site for research in ecology, especially of Red Deer, and is the site of a successful reintroduction programme for the White-tailed Sea Eagle. Its economy is entirely dependent on Scottish Natural Heritage, a public body that now manages the island, and there have been calls for a greater diversity of housing provision.
Kinloch Castle: home to turtles, alligators and humming birds
Sir George Bullough built Kinloch Castle in 1900 using sandstone quarried at Annan in Dumfries and Galloway (some sources say the stone was from Arran). At this time there were about 100 people employed on the estate. Fourteen under-gardeners, who were paid extra to wear kilts, worked on the extensive grounds that included a nine-hole golf course, tennis and squash courts, heated turtle and alligator ponds and an aviary including birds of paradise and humming birds. Soil for the grounds was imported from Ayrshire and figs, peaches, grapes and nectarines were grown in greenhouses.
The interior boasted an orchestrion that could simulate the sounds of brass, drum and woodwind, an air-conditioned billiards room, and a jacuzzi. This opulence could not be sustained indefinitely. The Bullough finances gradually declined in the 1920s, and their interest in, and visits to Rum decreased. Sir George died in France in July 1939 — he was interred in the family mausoleum on Rum.
National Nature Reserve
His widow, Lady Bullough continued to visit Rum as late as 1954. She died in London in 1967, aged 98, and was buried next to her husband in the Rum mausoleum. In 1957 Lady Bullough had sold the whole island, save for the Mausoleum, but including the castle and its contents, to the Nature Conservancy Council (now Scottish Natural Heritage) for the “knock-down price of £23,000″on the understanding that it would be used as a National Nature Reserve.
For many years, Rum was closed off by the Bullough family. Used as a private sporting estate, landing on the island was by invitation only. The luxurious Kinloch castle with its ballroom, elaborate Great Hall and, for the time, unique and complicated showers, proved a wonderfully secluded venue for private parties with a glittering guest list. Seclusion and privacy were paramount and guns were often fired at approaching boats to discourage the curious – thus the ‘Forbidden Island’. Rumour and legend abound about the island and the Castle, but are little founded on fact. It is said, for instance, that the family must have tired of the island because after one visit they locked the doors and left never to return. However this is not true and various members of the family visited up until the 1950s when Lady Bullough gifted the island to SNH.
But Rum was already catalogued as ‘forbidden’ long before. The Cuillins of Rum, with their Norse names – Askival, Hallival, Trollaval, Orval – lend an air of mystery to an island that was known as the ‘Forbidden Island’.
Eccentric Wealth, the book
Widely researched and based on new information, Eccentric Wealth, written by Alastair Scott, offers a fascinating insight in to the life and times of one of the richest men of his age who could indulge the most far-fetched of whims. The book investigates the Bullough myths and scandals which continue to make extraordinary reading more than seventy years after Sir George’s death.
Arrival by boat on a drowsy day. What a scenery! Kinloch Castle as seen from Loch Scresort.
Kinloch Castle, up close & personal
One of the double rooms in Kinloch Castle Hostel. Ours was called the ‘Oak Room’. This wing of the castle is sadly run down and the bedrooms are a bit musty, but you get the feeling you’re living life as experienced back in 1901. Maybe something from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. These rooms are no longer available anymore (2013).
Sir George had this metalled road constructed, so he could race his car from Kinloch to the mausoleum in Harris in just fifteen minutes.
The Red Deer population has been the subject of research for many years. These efforts are based at the remote bay of Kilmory in the north of the island. It has been important in the development of sociobiology and behavioural ecology, particularly in relation to the understanding of aggression through game theory.
We encountered Dutch deer stalker Marcel on our way to the Bullough mausoleum. He immediately pointed out that deer stalking is not about hunting -and killing – for pleasure. Indeed, for many people deer stalking is a recreational activity, but it is also necessary to protect forestry (the little there is). Deer, since they are prolific breeders and, if numbers are allowed to increase unchecked, may become prey to starvation and disease. The culling of deer should always take place as part of a deer management plan which considers both the welfare of the animals and the damage they may cause. Read more about the The Kilmory Red Deer Research Project.
The island has small herds of ponies, feral goats and Highland cattle. The pony herd, which now numbers about a dozen animals, was first recorded on the island in 1772, and in 1775 they were described as being “very small, but a breed of eminent beauty”. They are small in stature and all have a dark stripe down their backs and zebra stripes on their forelegs. These features have led to speculation that they may be related to primitive northern European breeds, although it is more likely that they originate from the western Mediterranean.
In 1891 George Bullough built a mausoleum to his father on the island. The first mausoleum, decorated with ceramic tiles, was compared to a public lavatory by a tactless friend, and Bullough had it blown to smithereens, replacing it with the Doric temple which stands today.
Nearby the demolished mausoleum Sir George built a new one which could be confused with nothing but a Greek temple. The sarcophagus rests on a bed of sandstone slabs, surrounded by eighteen Doric columns supporting a stone roof with a cross on the apex of each gable.
Inside Kinloch Castle Museum. Find out more about Kinloch Castle.
The Ballroom. This is a slightly odd space: plush and grand, but the high level windows and tales of drinks being served through a hatch designed to ensure the butler could not see what was going on inside the ballroom (even if the musicians in the high level gallery presumably could) leads to obvious questions about whether in bringing a slice of Belgravia to Rum, the Bulloughs weren’t also interested in importing a touch of Bohemia.
Lady Monica’s Bedroom
Revolutionary showers in Lady Monica’s Bathroom
The Entrance Hall
Amongst the many unique features (inc. air conditioning in the billiard room) is a very special music player called the ‘Orchestrion’. The Orchestrion is essentially an organ driven by electric motor that plays perforated card rolls. Only three exist and the castle example is the only one that can be played. The instrument was constructed by Imhof & Muckle of Vohrenbach near Baden in the Black Forest in or around 1900. Apparently it was built for Queen Victoria who planned to install it in Balmoral Castle, but she died before it was complete. [how long this will be the case is uncertain for there has been a recent and bad attack of woodworm. This sadly has yet to be treated].
- Rum and the Small Isles : A landscape fashioned by geology (pdf)
- The Story of Rum National Nature Reserve (pdf)
- Isle of Rum Red Deer Project