Scottish island castle scoops top prize after £4m restoration

The castle is on the edge of a loch.
The castle is on the edge of a loch.
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An island castle that is the seat of the chief of the MacLeod clan has scooped a top award.

Dunvegan Castle and Gardens on Skye has been named as the Historic Houses Restoration Award winner for its decade-long £4 million restoration project.

The estate director said the historic castle, which was first built in the 13th century and redeveloped in the 19th century, had needed to transform from being a “medieval fortress designed to keep people out to a place focused on welcoming people in”.

Hugh MacLeod said: “This award comes in the middle of another successful tourism season for the estate despite all the Brexit uncertainty. These high visitor numbers create additional pressures for not only our team, but also the historic fabric of a Highland fortress that was designed to be impregnable.

“But these challenges have been largely addressed thanks to a rolling programme of major capital investment across the estate, totalling £4m since 2008. As one of the largest private sector employers on Skye, I am very proud of what we have achieved since I took over management of the estate in 2008.”

He added: “I would like to dedicate this award to my late father, who had the vision to see that in order to ‘hold fast’ – the clan MacLeod motto – in the modern world, Dunvegan had to adapt from being a medieval fortress designed to keep people out, to a place focused on welcoming people in. Since those early make-or-break days in the 1960s, our dedicated team have extended a warm Highland welcome to millions of visitors.”

The award, sponsored by Sotheby’s, is one of three handed out by heritage organisation Historic Houses over the course of a year.

James Birch, president of Historic Houses, which said: “Dunvegan is both a home and a major visitor heritage attraction, drawing tourists from all over the world, to the benefit of the local and national economy.”

Built on a rock in an idyllic loch side setting, Dunvegan is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. As well as five acres of formal gardens, it also displays the famous Fairy Flag, which ewas believed to protect the MacLeods in battle.