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You can sail up and down the Sound of Mull for a lifetime and never spot this place, I think because one is always trying to get somewhere else and because the anchorage is very much for fair weather. There is an old slipway, a boathouse, a path through rhododendrons to the 19th century Torosay castle with an amazing terraced garden complete with real 18th century Italian statues (bought or stolen I wonder). The attraction is not so much the plants - although the herbaceous border is pretty spectacular - but the setting, the design, the old stone walls, the gargoyles, the trees surrounding the water garden and those decaying statues - a hand off here, half a fish there, an evocation of the fruits of the land being enjoyed in simple rural pleasure. There is even a statue of a man watering his garden. But all of that is now behind closed gates for the enjoyment of the few and the detriment of the many - sounds familiar in these 2014 days of bankers' bonuses and wage freezes in the public sector. I somehow think we are not "all in this together". The castle and gardens were sold in 2011, I think to an American who was said to have a rather dodgy past history. But then, mysteriously, it was back on the market in May 2012 - offers over £1.6 million. Again it was sold, this time to a Swiss family, and the gardens were definitively closed. What is more the footpath from Craignure is becoming impassable for lack of care. And nor did the new owners want the intrusion of the lovely narrow gauge railway that used to run from Craignure, so beloved of countless children, and their fathers. So it was all pulled up and is gone. Shame on them (particularly if they are not going to live there). Much to their credit the previous owners, whose family had lived there since 1865, shared this lovely place with us, the grubby but appreciative public. One had left notes all over the house: "Your presence does much to keep the place alive...we don't do conducted tours which in my view are hell for both guides and guests...take your time, but not our spoons". Bravo David Guthrie-Jones.
The house is very Scottish Baronial, 1856-8, designed by David Bryce who also did the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Fettes College (Scotland's answer to Eton and Tony-Iraq-War-Blair's alma mater). There are rather wonderful Rupert Bear turrets and crowstep gables, and inside it had the feeling of a family home, which it was, with interesting items and charming descriptions of many of the pictures and their family relevance. It was particularly nice to be invited to sit on the chairs. The whole place used to have a lovely feel to it, posh for sure, but nice, and not too cocky. Libby Purves described the same feelings in "One Summer's Grace". But now, all closed and the public can bog off, except maybe for the first Sunday in the month. I can understand the house being closed, but not the gardens - even the Queen opens her gardens to the public in Holyrood in Edinburgh, and her palace, when she is not residence.
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One of the wonderful Italian statues in the
gardens of Torosay castle, now mostly
closed to the public