Great Places to Stay
Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae, Ayrshire
"Auld Ayr, wham ne`er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses"
The West Coast county of Ayrshire is best known as the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland's great poet, loved and revered the world over. The vast majority of visitors come here to visit the many museums, houses, inns, rivers and sights associated with the bard around Ayr and Alloway. The Ayrshire coast is also renowned for golf, including the Turnberry Championship Golf Course and Royal Troon
With traditional seaside towns, delightful countryside, quaint villages, churches and castles, Ayrshire is an easy drive south from Glasgow or Edinburgh and offers a superb base for those interested in literature, history, sports, wildlife, seafood, and beautiful gardens.
So you've taken my advice and have decided to come. Where to stay? There is only once choice - Glenapp Castle. The story of a young couple's personal pledge to save this beautiful baronial mansion from potential ruin is truly romantic. For that reason alone, you should make the journey to visit for a few days to witness the extraordinary transformation by Fay and Graham Cowan from a dilapidated aristocratic family home into a luxury five star country house hotel. Their long, strenuous journey of painstaking restoration and design has taken over five years; as they themselves would describe the project, it has been a " labour of love" - the creation of their own Castle of Dreams.
The Fairytale Castle
In 1993, Fay and Graham Cowan had been married a year and considering a major career move. Fay was working as the manager of a hotel in Stranraer, Dumfriesshire, and Graham was a country vet. With Fay's background in the hotel industry they were tempted to own and run a hotel of their own. In the autumn of that year they were taken, with no prior warning, to see Glenapp Castle by Fay's parents who had seen the property advertised for sale, and thought the young couple would be interested.
"Just outside the little fishing village of Ballantrae, the car unexpectedly turned off the main road and up a drive, then wound slowly through almost a mile of trees. Rounding the last corner we had our first glimpse of our future home. To us it was completely breathtaking - a forgotten thing like the castle of Sleeping Beauty in the fairytale. The lawns were meadows, the windows were black and peeling and many were rotten away like missing teeth. Huge oak doors hung loose and creaking on their hinges. But we were completely captivated."
Glenapp Castle had been the family home of the Inchcape family from 1917 until 1982. James Lyle Mackay, the First Earl of Inchcape bought the property from the original owner, James Hunter, the deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire who had commissioned the leading architect of the day, David Bryce to design a grand baronial house and estate. During the 1980s Glenapp was owned by an American businessman who used it as a holiday home, but five years later, in 1987, the castle was sold again to a Japanese Corporation.
Tragically (although fortunately for the Cowans), this investment in the Scottish property was left on the back-burner, whatever development or corporate use had been planned. The castle was simply abandoned over the next six years until rain was penetrating broken windows and the storm damaged roof, while the garden became an overgrown jungle.
After that initial visit, Fay and Graham knew it was love at first sight. This was the castle and hotel of their dreams and they were determined to pursue their belief in taking over the property. They arranged a site visit and for the first time were able to wander around inside, admiring superb oak panelling, delicate Victorian cornices, vast drawing rooms, perfect for entertaining guests and upstairs a dozen or more spacious bedrooms. Despite damaged ceilings, damp carpets and serious disrepair inside and out, the potential to create a grand, luxurious five star Country House hotel would perhaps have been a far-fetched fairy tale for most people, but for the Cowans it immediately became a realistic vision.
The Cowans moved into the Castle in June 1994, taking up residence in one large bedroom suite which would be their apartment for the next few years. This was furnished with a four poster bed, a vast fitted wardrobe, and four electric fires. While waiting for local planning permission for the refurbishment, all they could do was to start work outside in the 30 acres of "jungle". The traditional Victorian walled garden boasts a row of delightful old greenhouses for potted plants, tomatoes, vines and fruit trees. Nearly every pane of glass had to be replaced, along with months of joinery work, let alone the weeding, landscaping, turfing, and planting.
The architectural designs were passed and work then began inside the Castle. A virtual army of building consultants and electricians, plumbers and painters, carpenters and carpet layers trooped in and out, from basement to roof, over the next six years. It was not an easy ride however, and they lurched from crisis to crisis, dry rot, power cuts, floods, leaks, on top of the perennial dirt and dustclouds. Living inside a building site can have been no bed of roses but their vision remained as strong as ever, and kept their spirits going. Their castle of dreams was rising up like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes around them.
Over the Easter weekend, on April 20th, 2000, Fay and Graham Cowan stood outside the majestic front porch to welcome their first guests.
Next page > Glenapp Castle - Yesterday and Today > Page 1, 2, 3.
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