What it's like to spend lockdown at a deserted Scottish castle

The estate roads are empty and the castle sits in a state of still as the usual hordes of cruise ship passengers, travellers and day-trippers stay away.

The Duke and Duchess of Argyll, Torquhil and Eleanor Campbell, at home at Inverary Castle with their three children. PIC: Contributed.

With 1,000 visitors a day normally roaming around Inveraray Castle during the summer months, the deserted 18th century pile has become a family home for the first time for the Duke and Duchess of Argyll over the coarse of lockdown.

Eleanor Campbell, the Duchess of Argyll, who lives at the castle with her husband Torquhil, 13th Duke of Argyll, and their three children, said it had been an unusual time in the history of seat of the chiefs of Clan Campbell.

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“We have been living in this house just the five of us. We have never had it to ourselves before,” said the duchess.

But there have been challenges with a loss of income and a loss of trusted staff.

With more than 30 employees furloughed and another 30 seasonal staff no longer required due to lockdown, the Campbells have gone back to basics and taken on the housekeeping and gardening duties at Inveraray.

The duchess admits to “hating” cleaning but jobs have to be done and the castle maintained, despite its emptiness. Although the family have the run of the Gothic Revival pile, the family do keep the living space limited.

The duchess said: “The state rooms are really beautiful but I have a 16, a 14 and an 11- year-old so I don’t really need them going around touching anything. The more rooms that are open, the more needs cleaned.

“We have cleared out the basements, cleared out the attics. There is a room full of really old and really beautiful sheets from our ancestors that have never been organised. They have now.”

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Gardening chores have delivered mixed results. “We have though definitely killed off a few things along the way. We have these beautiful hanging baskets on the entrance arch which are just full of flowers. We definitely did not do a good job there. Thankfully, our gardener is back very soon,” the duchess added.

Inveraray Castle closed last October and has not been open since. Now, the Argylls have decided to re-open on Friday, 17 July for four days a week to test the new normal.

The duchess said there were mixed feelings about the move.

She said: “We are part of a rural community and people are still very scared about what is out there.

“On the other hand, we are the main tourist attraction for the town and we do think we can re-open safely.”

“People will be two metres apart as they tour the castle and we think we can actually give people a better experience as we have opened up a couple of extra bedrooms to make a one-way system.”

Research by organisation Historic Homes, which represents privately-run heritage properties, said half of its members nationwide planned redundancies, with up to 3,000 jobs potentially on the line.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of pounds of repair work has been postponed.

At Inveraray, the duchess said the roof still leaked – with her children now well-versed in positioning the emergency buckets – with grander plans to revamp the tea-room now on hold.

“Workmen have not been able to get into the castle, and there is no income to pay the workmen,” she added.

An application for grant funding to support the tourist-led business at Inveraray was unsuccessful.

She added: “I think we met the criteria but the view was ‘well, the duke is really rich’.

“Well, the duke isn’t really rich, we are of course extremely lucky to have the house but the house absolutely eats money.

“If the lockdown went on for much longer it would be devastating for Inveraray as it would be for other historic houses.

“Historic Homes by their nature have always gone through tough times.

There was a terrible fire at Inveraray in the 1970s so my in-laws had a different crisis to deal with. This is ours.”

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