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Disappointment for Carbisdale Castle chatelaine as community rejects third land bid proposal

By Caroline McMorran

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Carbisdale Castle owner Samantha Kane has failed to persuade local people to back her third bid to buy land around the historic building.

Members of Ardgay and District Community Council, of which Ms Kane is vice-chairperson, voted unanimously against the land purchase at an extraordinary meeting last night.

It is a further blow to the self-styled Lady Carbisdale’s hopes of owning land around the castle, with two previous proposals having fallen by the wayside.

Carbisdale Castle was built in 1907 on a hill across the Kyle of Sutherland from Invershin in the Scottish Highlands.
Carbisdale Castle was built in 1907 on a hill across the Kyle of Sutherland from Invershin in the Scottish Highlands.
Samantha Kane, the owner of Carbisdale Castle.
Samantha Kane, the owner of Carbisdale Castle.

The land in question is owned by Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) which maintains and manages it on behalf of the public. FLS places great emphasis on community support when considering applications to purchase land.

Much of the land that originally belonged to Carbisdale castle was sold by its former owners the Scottish Youth Hostel Association.

Ms Kane had initially hoped to buy around 16 acres of woodland around the castle from FLS, but twice scaled back her proposals due to community concerns about access and the loss of public ground.

She presented her third proposal at last night’s meeting which was well attended by local people. The proposal covers around 7.4 acres of steeply sloping land on three sides of the castle.

Ms Kane argued that the area was a largely inaccessible “cliff” and was “important to the castle and no one else”. She said the land was needed for access purposes to maintain the castle’s foundations and services.

She spoke about her plans for the 23-bedroom castle, which would be run as a luxury hotel, and the £20 million investment needed for the building.

Ms Kane said a thriving business at Carbisdale Castle would have economic and financial benefits for the local community with a community interest company to be set up to provide grants to community groups.

Twelve people are currently employed at the castle but it is hoped that this will rise to 25 and then 70 once the business is up and running. A health spa, swimming pool and cinema would be among the facilities offered to guests.

Ms Kane said: “There is not a great deal to object to. I cannot see any rational reason as to why there should be an objection. If you do object, the castle will not survive and it will fall into ruin again.

“This is not about Samantha, this is not about me. I may have upset someone unintentionally, so I apologise. This is about the castle and how to ensure the castle survives and is maintained. This is above us all.”

After her presentation, Ms Kane left the room and an open discussion took place.

Concern was expressed about the lack of information about what would happen to the land – whether it would be fenced off and the trees cut down – and also that the business plan for the castle was not publicly available.

It was suggested that a quid pro quo might be the way forward with Ms Kane giving up another piece of land more used by the public in exchange for the castle site, or allowing local people to use of the swimming pool and health spa.

Andy Wright said: “At the root of this is one of the fundamental problems of the Highland - land ownership. This could set a precedent. We have fought long and hard for the right to go where we want to go. It is a reversal of history that has been fought long and hard for.”

Victor Hawthorne said that the sale of land by FLS to a private individual must have an economic and community benefit, and he did not see what that benefit would be in terms of safeguarding the castle.

“I commend Samantha for what she is trying to do and the task she is undertaking. I wish her well in trying to achieve that but I do not know what the purchase of the land will do to achieve that,” he said.

After the public discussion the four community council members - Dr Buster Crabb, who was coopted onto the council that evening, chairperson Silvia Muras, Sabrina Ross and Anna McInnes - spoke about the issue amongst themselves.

They then took a vote on a motion which was to recommend the sale of 7.4 acres of forestry land around Carbisdale Castle. It was agreed to reject the motion. The final decision on the land purchase will be made by FLS.

Samantha Kane has been asked by the Northern Times for her reaction to the decision.

A spokesperson for FLS said: “We are currently seeking advice on whether or not a potential sale meets the relevant criteria outlined in the Scottish Public Finance Manual and do not anticipate that a decision will be made on this application to purchase land until early in 2024.”

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