Balnagown Castle, Easter Ross – Clan Ross
Now owned by the Egyptian-born businessman, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Balnagown Castle is the traditional clan seat of the Ross family and is located beside the village of Kildary in Easter Ross.
A castle was first constructed on the site of Balnagown in the early 14th century by Hugh Mormaer, Earl of Ross, however, after the death of Hugh, the family would lose their royal favour and the lands that came with it.
The castle would come back into the family’s hands, however, in 1375 and would remain with them thereafter with Hugh’s stepson expanding the estate, something that would be continued by later generations over the next few centuries.
During this time, the castle would be transformed, ‘from a humble stone fortress to a castle fit for a laird’, with the first main cosmetic changes to the structure coming in the late 16th century when the 10th laird of Balnagown would transform the castle’s original tower by increasing its height and width.
The Balnagown estate would continue to be expanded over time and after the 12th Laird was captured after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the 13th laird, David, would rebuild Balnagown completely before passing it to the Rosses of Halkheld in 1711 after failing to produce an heir.
The castle would again pass to another branch of the family in 1754 when it came under the control of Admiral Sir John Lockhart-Ross, 6th Baronet. Like his predecessors, the admiral would spend much of his time improving the Balnagown Estate and was said to have been “the most efficient and enterprising Highland estate manager of his day”. The admiral’s son, Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross would also add the castle’s Italian Gardens in the years following his death.
Despite this constant improvement, Balnagown would sadly fall into disrepair by the middle of the 20th century thanks to the mismanagement of Sir Charles Ross, 9th Baronet. Despite having good intentions for the castle-like his ancestors, Ross would sadly be forced to leave Scotland after attempting to declare the estate a territory of the United States of America to evade taxation on his arms business which manufactured the popular ‘Ross Rifle’. This bold move would lead to him being branded an outlaw by the British Government for a time and meant that he would not be able to return to the United Kingdom until his death in 1942, leaving the castle abandoned.
Balnagown would remain without an interested owner until 1972 when, after finding the castle in a dilapidated state, Egyptian businessman, Mohamed Al-Fayed, would purchase the castle after stumbling across it while on a business trip to the highlands.
Mr Al-Fayed would purchase the castle within a week of first visiting it and would renovate the structure twice over the next thirty years while slowly re-purchasing the lands of the estate which had been lost after being sold in an attempt to fund repairs on the castle. In recognition of his restoration of the castle, Mohamed Al Fayed was awarded the freedom of the highlands and still regularly stays at the castle with his family.