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A Castle Called Home

Owning a Scottish castle is the ultimate dream for many -- but be forewarned,
it's not for the faint of heart.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

"What would your advice be to anyone who wants to own a castle?" I ask Raymond Morris, Laird of Balgonie, in whose castle hall we're standing, immured in sandstone walls between six and ten feet thick, high above the sunlit farmlands of central Fife. "Don't," smiles Balgonie, as he styles himself, and who at 79 cuts an imposing bearded and tartan-clad figure. "There are three things you can do to have a perfect life -- do not live in a castle, do not rescue large dogs, do not deal with the general public."

Considering that his living room, the laird's hall, is within a 14th-century tower surrounded by a courtyard, battlements and sundry derelict buildings that were once part of a much larger castle complex...that two immense deerhounds are frolicking with prehistoric grace on the courtyard lawn below...and that the castle is about to host its thousandth wedding, Balgonie and his family have broken these maxims countless times over. Twenty-three years ago the Morrises bought Balgonie Castle, one of the finest towers of its kind in Scotland, and set about restoring it as their home. One is inclined to regard Balgonie, his son Stuart, now 44, and wife Margaret as gluttons for punishment -- they had already restored a 15th-century mill on Loch Tay and an 18th-century merchant's townhouse in Cupar, Fife. "Honestly though, this is the last one," grumbles Balgonie. "This is literally a do-it-yourself castle, and Stuart and I do it all ourselves."

Many of us, at some time or another, may have savoured the idea of living in a castle or a tower house, lording it over the surrounding countryside -- and over our friends and neighbours -- and feeling surrounded by turbulent history. Those who venture to turn the fantasy into reality tend to find that it's an indulgence that doesn't come cheap in terms of money, time and sweat. Unless you are prepared to spend a fortune on tradesmen, who may or may not have the required skills to properly restore a historical building, you will have to labour long and hard yourself; and there is planning bureaucracy which can provide awkward, expensive or sometimes unsurpassable hurdles. Then, too, there are the interesting little hidden extras, such as ghosts or swallow droppings....

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2009 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Magic Of Raasay by Terry Williams.

Photo of Lex Brown (bottom left) © Iain Ferguson. Photos of Balgonie Castle (center left, right and upper right) courtesy Stuart Morris; Newmilns Castle (upper left) courtesy John Buchanan Smith.