Five of Scotland’s most beautiful privately owned castles

Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven. Picture: WikiCommons
Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven. Picture: WikiCommons
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They are landmarks that tell Scotland’s story over hundreds of years and chart rebellions, land grabs and the lives of those who held onto title and privilege through time.

While many of Scotland’s castles are now owned by public bodies for the good of the nation, many are still held in a small network of private, wealthy hands.

Blair Castle, Blair Atholl.

Blair Castle, Blair Atholl.

Here we look at who owns some of Scotland’s best-known castles and those who hold them in their name.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

This clifftop fortress on the North East coast belongs to one of Scotland’s most substantial landowners, Viscount Charles Pearson, whose Dunecht Estates covers around 55,000 acres in Aberdeenshire and Deeside.

His family home is in West Sussex.

Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland/ Photo:Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland/ Photo:Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Dunnottar Castle has been in the family since 1919 when purchased by Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray, the great-great grandfather of the current landowner, following years of neglect.

Cowdray was a Yorkshire oil industrialist and Liberal politician who went on to found the Pearson conglomerate, now best known as a publishing house.

Dunnottar Castle is owned by UK registered Dickinson Trust Limited, which lists Charles Pearson and his half-brother, Michael Orlando Weetman, 4th Viscount Cowdray, as trustees.

Viscount Cowdray is also a Buddhist, a UKIP supporter and a film producer with the Rolling Stone’s Sympathy for the Devil his main credit.

Balmoral Castle, the Scottish holiday home of the Queen

Balmoral Castle, the Scottish holiday home of the Queen

Pearson made his children, George, 21, an Oxford history student and Carinthia, 23, an art history student, the beneficiaries of the trust although it is not clear if this is still the case.

Dunnottar now welcomes around 90,000 visitors a year, its popularity boosted by its association with Pixar’s Brave.

READ MORE: Eight beautiful but lesser known castles of Scotland

Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Perthshire

Dunnottar Castle also has a link to Blair Castle, set deep in stunning Highland Perthshire, in the way it is owned and run.

The pile, parts of which date from the 13th Century, is now held in the Blair Charitable Trust after the 10th Duke of Atholl effectively disinherited a distant cousin in South African before his death in 1996.

The Dickinson Trust Ltd - which holds Dunnottar (see above) - is listed among trustees of the Blair Charitable Trust with landowner Charles Pearson and Viscount Cowdray among the directors.

The Blair Charitable Trust’s income was £4.74m last year - around £94,000 more than it spent.

Its subsidiary, Blair Castle Estate, made a profit of £226,173.

The trust was set up by the 10th Duke of Atholl, who never married, amid claims he was not happy with the attitude of his third cousin John Murray, a land surveyor based near Johannesburg, towards the castle, fearing he viewed the estate as a commercial proposition rather than a home.

However, Mr Murray, the 11th Duke of Atholl, still inherited the title as the peerage had been separated from the land in an earlier legal agreement.

He died in 2012, with the title passing to his son, Bruce, a former tea plantation manager and boss of a commercial sign business.

Eilean Donan, Kyle of Lochalsh

No castle fits the romantic Scottish mould better than Eilean Donan on the Kyle of Lochalsh.

It has been a stronghold of the MacRae family since the 1300s but Eilean Donan as we know it was only created around 100 years ago.

The castle lay a shell following the 1715 Jacobite uprising but in 1912, Major Jon McCrae-Gilstrap, the second son of the MacRae family of nearby Conchra, went on a mission to establish himself as hereditary Constable of Eilean Donan.

MacRae secured £250,000 to buy and rebuild the cast from his wife Isabella Mary Gilstrap, the wealthy heiress of her uncles Suffolk malting business.

It took more than 10 years to build, with MacRae adding the famous curved bridge to ease access to the castle.

His grandson John MacRae opened the castle to the public in 1955 and set up the Conchra Charitable Trust to own and maintain the landmark.

John MacRae’s widow, Marigold, who has since remarried, remains one of the trustees along with her daughter, Baroness Miranda Van Lynden, head of the MacRaes of Conchra.

Papers show the trust had an income of almost £2.2m last year with the castle attracting more than 300,000 visitors.

READ MORE: Scotland’s landowners hit out over looming land reform

Balmoral Estates, Deeside

Balmoral has long been linked with the Royal Family since Queen Victoria fell in love with her “dear paradise” in the mid 1800s.

Now, it appears to be owned by a company called Canup Ltd as a trustee for Queen Elizabeth II.

David Ogilvie, the Earl of Airlie, is one of the three directors of the company.

He was the former Lord Chamberlain, the senior officer of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, and owns Cortachy Castle and Airlie Castle in Angus.

James Herbert, the Earl of Dalhousie, owner of Brechin Castle and Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse at Buckingham Palace are also directors.

According to land reform campaigner Andy Wightman, Balmoral was first leased from the trustees of the Duke of Fife and purchased by Prince Albert in 1852 with it withheld from the Crown Estate as a result.

Canup Limited is listed at Companies House but is classed as a “dormant company” with no income recorded.

Dunrobin Castle, Golspie.

Elizabeth Sutherland, the 24th Countess of Sutherland and Baroness of Strathnaver, owns around 90,000 acres of land in the north of Scotland in an estate that includes seven golf courses - including Royal Dornach - and Dunrobin Castle.

The castle has been the official family seat since the mid 1500s but was first built some 200 years earlier.

It is a flamboyant expression of power and dominance, which sits overlooking the Moray Firth, part in the style of a French chateau but also influenced by the same architect behind the Houses of Parliament.

The 1st Duke of Sutherland, key player in the Highland Clearances, died here in 1833.

The castle is now held in the Sutherland Dunrobin Trust which registered an income of £625,000 in 2014. Among the trustees are the Countess’ son, Alistair Charles St Clair Sutherland, Lord Strathnaver, heir to the Earldom, and his wife.

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