A huge early 20th-century castle built for a duchess feuding with her in-laws, and supposedly haunted by a ghost named Betty, has come up for sale, asking the rough equivalent of $1.5 million USD. The 42,000-square-foot Carbisdale Castle in Sutherland, a historic county on the northern shore of Scotland, has a very colorful history, including serving as a sanctuary for members of the Norwegian royal family during WWII and, later, as a youth hostel.
It all started back in 1889, when George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, married his mistress, Mary Caroline Blair, just four months after the death of his first wife. At the time, it was considered socially unacceptable, even indecent to marry within a year of a spouse’s death. In fact, it was speculated that Mary Caroline’s husband, Captain Blair, who was shot “by accident” by the duke while hunting, might have been purposely offed by him. Shock! Scandal!
The duke died in 1892, just three years after his controversial marriage, and his will disinherited all his children and left everything he owned to Mary Caroline. His son, who became the 4th duke, contested the will in court; Mary Caroline was found guilty of destroying evidence in order to secure the inheritance and sentenced to six weeks in prison.
When she got out, her stepchildren settled a large amount of money on her and agreed to build her a castle, as long as it was outside the Sutherland Estate. Mary Caroline chose the site carefully: just outside the family holdings, high on a hill so that anyone traveling south on a train would have to see the house. She added a clock tower, with a clock face on only three sides, with the side facing the family estate blank, so as not to give the time of day to the family. Meee-yow!
In 1933, Colonel Theodore Salvesen, a Scottish businessman of Norwegian extraction, purchased the castle. During WWII, King Haakon VII of Norway and Crown Prince Olav (later King Olav) were took refuge at the castle during the Nazi occupation of Norway.
Upon the Colonel’s death, his heirs gave the castle and its contents to the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) and Betty the ghost —perhaps the specter of a previous servant?—became well known among travelers who stayed there. Indeed, one of the top floor bedrooms came to be known as the “spook room” because Betty, always dressed in white, tended to appear there.
The SYHA opted to sell the castle when it became too expensive to maintain, and the current owner, who purchased the down-on-its-heels castle in 2016 after it was listed for about $1 million, planned to turn it back into a very large private house but has instead decided to sell up.
Listing photos make clear there are still many interesting original features, including dark wood paneling in the billiard room, lots of stained glass windows, a gorgeous carved wood staircase, elaborate moldings, and some florid and rather fabulous marble chimneypieces.
Plans for the 64-room castle call for it to contain a whopping 19 en-suite bedrooms and five reception rooms, along with a home theater, a home office, and a catering kitchen. Plans also include a self-contained staff apartment and a spa facility replete with swimming pool, treatment rooms and gym.
The castle’s pastoral setting encompasses about 20 acres of land, which includes part of a loch stocked with wild brown trout. (This area of the Scottish Highlands is famous for fishing, with a saying going that there’s more trout than people in the area.) The seller considered building a cabin, boathouse and jetty for picnics, barbecues and glamping on the loch but, alas, never did anything about it.
The area is also filled with red deer for stalking, and there are famous golf links, hiking trails and bridle paths nearby.
Interested? Eager to take on a massive renovation and restoration project? Don’t mind ghosts? Well, get on the horn to Robert McCulloch over at selling agents Strutt and Parker.