Western Isles opium castle given £4m Lottery boost

THE restoration of a historic castle built in the Western Isles for a Scottish opium baron has been handed a Lottery boost of almost £4 million.

Lews Castle and park in Stornoway will be restored with the help of a £4 million Heritage Lottery grant

The £18m development of Lews Castle in Stornoway involves the transformation of the category-A listed building into a massive tourist attraction.

Lews Castle, which has been closed to the public for around 20 years, was built between 1847-57 as a country house for Sir James Matheson, who had bought the island of Lewis with his fortune from the Chinese opium trade.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In 1918, the Lewis, estate including the castle, was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family. He gifted the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923.
Lews Castle Grounds is the only historic park on the Western Isles and is ranked as ‘Outstanding’ in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

Iain Maciver, factor of the Stornoway Trust, welcomed the Heritage Lottery Grant (HLF) of £3.9m.

He said: “This exciting news offers the trust an opportunity to manage the restoration and regeneration of an outstanding asset.

“We are indebted to HLF for allowing us to further progress our vision for the revitalisation of our wonderful legacy.”

The park, which forms the iconic backdrop to Stornoway Harbour, is owned by the community. It includes formal gardens, ornamental planting, carriage drives and paths and extensive woodland making it dramatically different from the rest of the rugged island landscape.

The castle, now owned by the council, is being restored to provide a museum, archive for the Outer Hebrides and a hospitality venue.

Meanwhile, Dean Castle Park in Ayrshire has been awarded an HLF grant of £3.34m.

The park is one of the most visited in Ayrshire and with both formal gardens and woodlands, has a 14th century castle as its focal point.

The project plans to rejuvenate both the built and natural heritage of the park: a new civic space will be created for outdoor theatre, music and crafts.

The designed landscape of the formal gardens will be restored and the visitor centre will be improved. A new bridge and 6km of path will also be created so that people can better explore it.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said: “This is incredible news for Dean Castle Country Park, a place that is hugely important to the people of Kilmarnock and beyond, and we all wish to see it protected and enhanced for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

“The added features of a new market space, new landscaping, bridge and footpaths, as well as improvements to the visitor centre, will allow us to expand the events and activities we can offer with the aim of encouraging even more visitors to what is already one of Scotland’s most visited scenic locations.”

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “Our parks, and the historic features in them, are a wonderful legacy from our ancestors.

“They are enjoyed by all ages and are often a community’s only green space in which to relax away from the pressures of daily life. Using funds raised through the National Lottery, HLF is able to protect these precious places helping make a difference to the quality of life for millions of Scots.”