Bruce Walker ‘let his heart run away with his pocket’ when he took on two west coast castles, but it was worth it in the end.
Taking on one castle is a big undertaking, but two takes courage and deep pockets.
Bruce and Nicky Walker bought Knock Castle near Largs in 2000, although they had looked at it previously.
“It was riddled with dry rot, so we reduced our offer and somebody else stepped in and bought it,” says Bruce.
“Six years later the new owner came back to us and we bought it. He’d done a lot of work but there was still plenty to do.”
The couple spent several years getting rid of the rot, repairing the stonework, rewiring, replacing the leadwork and generally bringing the house back to a state of good repair and making it a comfortable family home.
“The house is Grade A listed but Historic Scotland were marvellous,” says Bruce. They didn’t turn anything down and we’ve made a lot of changes. They were extraordinarily helpful.”
But the impressive Walker family home is just one part of the story.
“When we’d finished the new Knock Castle, we turned our attention to the old castle which had its origins in the 14th century,” says Bruce.
“It was a crumbling historical pile of rubble, but we were aware that if we didn’t do something soon, it really would be a lump of stone at the end of the garden.
“It had been a massive great thing but somehow between 1603 and 1851 when the new castle was built it had become just a romantic ruin with a tower.
"The roof had fallen in and there were no floors. We started the project in 2012 and it’s taken about five years to complete.
"It’s been a labour of love and cost me rather more than I anticipated but the whole idea of doing it was a) to save it and b) to have a place to lease out as a holiday let and, touch wood, so far it’s gone reasonably well.”
“Reasonably well” is an understatement – the refurbishment of Knock Old Castle is more reminiscent of a phoenix rising from the ashes and it’s a stunning and unique sight.
"While much has been built on to the basic structure to create this luxurious four-bedroom, three-bathroom holiday let, it’s the attention to detail both inside and out that makes it so special.
Asides from the timber frame, all the wood is from the estate and has been used to make everything from ceilings, window frames and sills to more decorative pieces such as beds, towel rails, shelving and tables.
“We had a number of oak and elm trees that were blown down in a storm several years ago and instead of burning them, we saved the wood and incorporated it into the castle.
"The project definitely evolved as time went on,” says Bruce, “particularly as I discovered what we could do with the oak and elm and the capability of the stone masons and the carpenters.”
The finished castle has four storeys. On the ground floor is the snug with a vibrant, hand-painted ceiling created by a local artist, as well as a WC and the kitchen/dining room.
From here, an oak spiral staircase leads up to the main living room with stunning elevated views, and you can walk through to the first twin bedroom with an en-suite shower tucked into the walls. Along the corridor is an original Thunderbox WC.
Up again to floors two, three and four, each has a further bedroom and en-suite, unique in colour and style.
While you might be running out of puff by the time you get to the fourth storey, it’s worth the climb.
Open the door and step on to the Barmkin wall walkway, and in the turret you’ll find what you would least expect – a sauna.
With a beautiful mosaic ceiling and Hemlock and Aspen-clad interior, it’s certainly a surprise.
And it’s not the only one. The final top turret is Bruce’s pièce de résistance, a 360-degree rooftop lookout point.
There’s definitely a “knack” to climbing the ladder, as Bruce explains, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy these views.
The project also evolved with Bruce and Nicky’s imagination and it’s the little details that are the most fun.
The family pets, Waffle the dog and Ripper the cat, are immortalised in gargoyles.
In the stained-glass entrance to the sauna, Baloo from The Jungle Book invites you to “bear all”, and tucked away in the corners of the staircase are hand-carved wooden mice.
In the bathrooms, hand-painted tiles adorn the shower cabinets, beautiful fabrics warm up the exposed stone on the bedroom walls and on the turf roof there appears to be a grazing sheep.
“My day job is doing up old buildings in Hong Kong and Singapore so it’s something I enjoy doing but in a more commercial sense,” says Bruce.
“When I’m doing it abroad, I stick to very strict financial guidelines. Here I rather let my heart run away with my pocket a bit.”
Knock Old Castle (property ref UKC868) is available to let through www.cottages.com, tel: 0345 498 6900.
Words: Nichola Hunter