Ballone Castle sits out on the wild and windswept Tain Peninsula, near the village of Portmahomack. The area is so far pushed out in to the North Sea that it forms a favourite spot for spotting dolphins and whales (and if you ask my daughters, mermaids). Even though we live only a few miles away in Tain, to venture out to the tip of the peninsula at Tarbet Ness (with it’s famous candy-striped lighthouse), or to Portmahomack or the nearby cliff-nestled village of Rockfield still feels like true adventure.

Despite living in the area for ten years, I had only ever admired Ballone Castle in it’s cliff-perched location from afar, across neatly farmed fields and framed by clouds scudding down the Moray Firth. My husband, as one of the local Posties, often has a close up view (mail in hand) but had never ventured inside it’s golden-randered walls.

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Me, outside Ballone Castle, caught in the wind.

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As part of Doors Open Day (coordinated nationally by the Scottish Civic Trust), I was privileged yesterday to gain access to the castle and join a tour guided by owner Lachie Stewart who, with wife Annie, oversaw it’s restoration from ruin to family home through the Nineties and Noughties.

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The castle dates from the late 16th century and comprises 4 floors with a slightly later two-story gatehouse wing. A newly-added but sympathetically-crafted wall now protects visitors from the precarious cliff drop a few feet from the front door, and forms a new courtyard entrance area.

Lachie tells a story of obvious personal passion and determination: of long negotiations with Historic Scotland and other authorities as to the best way to renovate and protect the building, and much thought about the best ways of making it a living and livable home whilst still preserving it’s history and unique character. Underfloor heating took two years to dry out the castles walls, and allows the building to be comfortably habitable (with out the visual distraction of radiators) and traditional lime render wall finishes are both sympathetic to the buildings heritage and also beautiful in their own right.

The renovations have made much use of the skills of traditional craftspeople, to the benefit of the historical record and the beauty of the fabric and finishes of the building.

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The Stewarts home has a warm and harmonious feeling, with an abundance of natural-finished wood, love-worn antiques and tartan accents. It’s no surprise then to realise Annie and Lachlan are also proprietors of Anta, who have arguably played a huge part in exciting tastes worldwide for a modern Scottish aesthetic in interior design.

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I actually didn’t want to take too many photos of the castle interior – it felt a little voyeuristic and an impolite in view of the hospitality of being invited into someones family home – but it was wonderful to be able to gain a view into castle living.

I can’t profess to have even an iota of the Stewarts design-credentials, however I adore that they share my taste for curation of domestic and decorative objects into interesting vignettes.

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As a side-note, during the tour Lachie mentioned that the Tain and Easter Ross Civic Trust are keenly seeking new members. They do good work in the local area to encourage the preservation, development and improvement of the local architectural environment (for example, they will be an important voice in how the new Tain super-school will look). If you’re a local lad or lass and could spare a little time, I’m sure they’d be delighted to hear from you.

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