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Since the late 1400s, Balnagown has seen many changes which have transformed the building from a humble stone fortress to a castle fit for a Laird.
The first cosmetic changes appeared at the end of the 16th century, when the 10th Laird heightened the original tower and extended it to the north. Later, in the 1600s, under the aegis of the 13th Laird David and his wife the Lady Anne Stewart, a major programme of building works was instigated, remodelling the castle and adding a new wing extending from the north eastern corner of the structure, to create an L-shape building. The flamboyant couple also introduced other cosmetic improvements, including the installation of glass windows, parapets, crenallations, turrets and the carved coat of arms that can still be seen on the exterior of the building to this very day. Over time, with the felicitous intervention of Mr. Al Fayed, it is hoped the castle can be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.
In the 1760s, the then Laird, Sir John Lockheart Ross, filled the space between the two wings at each end of the building by creating a square structure with a projecting south facing bow. Lockheart also had grand schemes for a complete redevelopment of the site to build a new mansion, although mercifully for the castle, his plans were never implemented.
In the first half of the 19th century Lady Mary, wife of General Sir Charles Lockheart Ross, remodelled the Castle again, updating it with Gothic extensions which were very much the fashion of that period. Her vision included the addition of the loggia and conservatory around the western end of the building, a portico built on the southern side, an entirely new castellated window constructed on the eastern side and larger windows on the northern side.
The Estate slid into disrepair after the Second World War, when the last of the family with claims on the Estate died, and then slowly disintegrated further during the following decades, as acres of the estate and its outlying properties were gradually sold off to pay for an ever-increasing repair programme. By the 1960s Balnagown was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Only when Mohamed Al Fayed happened to chance upon the estate when on a business trip to the Highlands with his shipping company did its fortunes change for the better.
Falling in love with the dilapidated building and what was left of the Estate and lands, Mr. Al Fayed secured Balnagown the same week that he first discovered it. As his first home in the UK, Mohamed was determined to restore the once mighty castle to its former glory, and also to rebuild the portfolio of adjoining land and properties so that the estate was once again a profitable entity, employing local people and boosting trade for the community. Above that though, Mohamed was entranced by the magic and romance of the building and the beautiful scenery and wildlife, and felt it would make a wonderful home for his growing young family.
Over thirty years the Castle has been renovated, not once, but twice, to ensure not only is it structurally sound, but also that the interiors reflect the property’s heritage. The Estate, which had dwindled to just a handful of acres when Mohamed purchased it, has now been painstakingly restored, with adjoining land purchased whenever it came onto the market. This programme of redevelopment has seen the Estate grow to over 65,000 acres, stimulating the local economy and providing jobs for those living in the nearby area, just as Mohamed envisioned.
In recognition of his sensitive restoration of Balnagown and his contribution to the local economy and preservation of such a historic site, Mohamed Al Fayed was awarded the Freedom of the Highlands. To this day, he regularly stays at Balnagown with his family, and has vowed to ensure its continued security and preservation for future generations to enjoy.
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