Stef Burgon and Simon Hunt purchased Kilmartin Castle, Scotland in 2014. Stef, originally from Newcastle in the North of England and Simon, from Adelaide, Australia were living in Dubai working as a radio presenter and creative director respectively. This is their story of how they came to own, live in and work from a 16th century castle.
“We stumbled into castle ownership. We were always toying with the idea of some kind of joint creative project. Our own small hospitality concept, inspired by the properties we love to visit ourselves. We wanted it to be intimate and all about the experience. We road tripped round Scotland in winter 2013 and just fell in love with the landscape, we realized Scotland was the place, then Kilmartin Castle just popped up and we had to have it! It was the perfect size, a great local pub within walking distance, a café, and a world-class museum as it’s situated in the historically rich area of Kilmartin Glen surrounded by 600+ historical sites including Neolithic standing stones, rock art carvings, stone circles and bronze age hill forts, It was built in 1550, and the stonework fabric of the building is remarkably unchanged from that time because it was a ruin during the period that other medieval castles had Victorian additions like bigger windows, additional entrance halls tacked onto the side”.
How many castles did you view?
Crazily, just the one but we travel a lot so have always been looking for “the one”
Did you view other types of properties too or were you only interested in castles and chateaus?
Something interesting was always the idea; lighthouse, old factory, a mill, anything fortified is always fun.
How much did you pay for your castle and what was the asking price?
It went to sealed bids, our winning bid was 333735.33 pounds. The asking price was 390,000
Did the castle require renovation/refurbishment?
The castle, with walls 4 foot thick, was operational at the time of buying, but it needed a whole lot done to it. We did it all, with skilled craftsmen and builders. We wanted to keep the rustic vibe of the castle alive so went to great lengths to hide modern technology away. Mapping out then pulling up original flagstone floors to neatly hide modern insulation and wet underfloor heating below the carefully relaid stones is one of our success stories. It's amazing inside now, and also makes the castle feel more medieval with no visible radiators.
Did you encounter any significant problems when purchasing your castle?
Banks would only lend 50% of the value due to its age. Which is crazy as they’ll happily lend on cheap new-builds that won't be around in 100 years.
How many bedrooms/rooms are there in your castle?
5 bedrooms each with full en-suites
How much land is with the castle?
It's sitting on 1 acre of its own land and we are surrounded by the historically protected Kilmartin Glen
Is there any history of note related to the castle?
The castle was built for John Carswell the Rector of Kilmartin Glen who translated the first book into Scottish Gaelic, the book of common order. He was then awarded by Mary Queen of Scots to be the bishop of the western isles.
Was the castle income-producing when you bought it?
When we first bought the castle we put it as a basic self catering let on Airbnb. It did OK, but things were always going wrong and costing us money to patch up and the heating was crazy expensive. So in 2018 we decided to close it and spend 1 year fully renovating everything. Now it functions like a modern house with no issues. Our heating bills are less than a quarter of what they were and it's really warm all year round.
Is the castle income-producing now?
Yes. We operate the castle as a boutique hotel concept now, It's our only job and allows us to have a great work life balance.
Would you ever sell your castle and if so, would you buy another castle?
No, not this one, but we would like to possibly buy another one to make a similar concept.
Did your castle come furnished, partly furnished?
It came furnished, we’ve kept some of the pieces we liked, and put our own antiques and art collection throughout.
Do you employ any staff to help you look after the castle?
Yes, we employ local people on a freelance basis, we have a bank of cleaners, a gardener, handyman, a chef and all the laundry is outsourced.
How much of an impact has castle ownership had on your life? Has ownership meant that you could completely change your lifestyle because the property you now own is able to generate an income for you?
Yes, absolutely, we wouldn’t go back. I was an award-winning creative director in the advertising world and Stef was a well-known breakfast radio presenter and we got paid silly amounts of money for doing these seemingly fun jobs. But not working for ourselves was getting us down. Now we have never felt more comfortably stable in our joint job. We’ve met some really nice people during the whole castle process. Our BnB guests are just awesome. They’re exactly the folks we’d hoped to attract – all keen to explore and experience the castle and our historically rich area.
What's the best thing about owning a castle?
It never becomes less of a novelty!
What's the worst thing about owning a castle?
Nothing! We love it.