Castle Toward yesterday, 30th September 2015, saw Argyll and Bute Council finalise the commercial terms of its sale – which is now in the ‘lock-in’ phase – to husband and wife team, Keith and Denice Punler [with Denice otherwise well known as local business woman Denice Purdie].
The partnership, which has a strong track record in business and in restoring historic buildings, plans to create an up market wedding hotel, with shop and café
Denice Punler says ‘We are delighted to have reached this stage, and we can now get on with the finalisation of our proposals to reinstate the wonderful estate to its historic splendour, and move to become a major tourist attraction and a significant local employer.
‘We are thrilled that Castle Toward has been secured, as I have always been passionate about it as a venue. Castle Toward is our most exciting project to date, and represents a wonderful opportunity to deliver a unique vision which will benefit both the local community and the wider Argyll area. We will be working to a phased programme of upgrades. However we have already appointed a management team whom we are confident will deliver a first class destination. A dedicated website will soon be live, creating a communication forum for all interested parties to participate in delivering this vision.
‘Since the announcement our appointment as preferred bidder by Argyll and Bute Council, we have received huge support both locally from neighbours and businesses, and internationally from Scots around the globe, many of them happy that the Castle and its magnificent grounds will not be allowed to fall into disrepair.’
With a detailed master plan already at an advanced stage which would see the estate returned to its former glory, works could start within months.
Not someone to let the grass grow and not someone who does not plan well ahead, Denice says: ‘We have already appointed a leading design team, including architects who are specialists in the restoration of historic buildings. We have also appointed a renowned historical landscape gardener who has been given a brief to oversee the restoration of the designed landscape, returning the gardens to their original glory which is why Historic Scotland registered the estate under its Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. The team that we have assembled will not only respect the heritage of the Castle and estate but will ensure that it once again takes its rightful place amongst Scotland’s finest Estates.
‘The next stage of our plans will be to engage with all stakeholders who might share our vision to see Castle Toward once again become a jewel in Argyll’s crown. Various parties have expressed a desire to see the castle become a vibrant place once again and we are hopeful that these groups will positively engage with us in going forward.’
The Castle and grounds require extensive investment which will commence in the coming months with a multi-million pound refurbishment programme, initially focused on restoration of the estate’s mansion house and grounds.
Full details of the master plan have yet to be released – some of the elements are subject to receipt of necessary consents – but are to include:
- A hotel, spa and specialist wedding venue with a restaurant open to non-residents;
- Self-catering holiday cottages;
- The ‘Purdies of Argyll’ cosmetics production facility and visitor centre;
- A deer farm – which will appropriately grace the grounds and supply the larder;
- Designed gardens, which will include a kitchen garden to supply the restaurant with fruit and vegetables with its own brand of organic products – and also with developed food products;
- A garden centre;
- A venue for the performance of the arts, including an outdoor amphitheatre;
- A café, shop and bistro;
- An information area for the Estate – with a guide to the walks available.
- The reinstatement of lost gatehouses and cottages, the foundations of which are all that remain today;
- The delivery of much needed affordable housing in peripheral parts of the site.
- Educational courses for both children and adults.
The Council is now working with Keith Punler and Denice Purdie to finalise various details to complete the sale of the property.
Councillor Dick Walsh, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council and Dunoon Councillor, says: ‘We’ve reached another important milestone in securing a prosperous future for Castle Toward. This ambitious development plan is set to benefit both the local and wider community, by creating Castle Toward as a key attraction for local, national and international visitors.
‘As well as exciting investment and development plans, Keith and Denice bring great personal commitment to Argyll and Bute.
‘This progress is to be welcomed as an opportunity for local prosperity and investment in the future of the area as a whole.’
Keith and Denice Punler, and the Council have agreed that, at this stage, it would be inappropriate to release details of the terms agreed.
Both Denice Punler [nee Purdie] and Keith Punler have previously been Scottish Entrepreneurs of the Year and both are well known in the Scottish business community. Denice runs Purdie’s of Argyll, Scotland’s first organic cosmetic manufacturer.
They are people with the heart, stomach, know-how and determination to take on genuinely ambitious projects. This is the mark of the entrepreneur – vision, confidence, will and focus on sheer gut-busting hard work.
Parochial politics being what they are, South Cowal and Dunoon have exercised themselves – sporadically – on the future of Castle Toward over many years now.
Such occasions get territorial and entrenched – but no other bidder has come up with a restoration plan so respectful of the integrity of the estate in its entirety, so businesss-headed in knowing how it might be brought to a stage where it can earn its keep – and so prepared to make the major investment the property now very badly needs – and on which it cannot quickly not return on that investment.
We would imagine that this will be a phased recovery and development programme but, from the cut of the Punlers, they are likely to take on the major challenges first. South Cowal is bound to see action in the shorter term.
Other frustrated local ambitions, including, signally, those of South Cowal Community Development Company, may feel wounded – although they were never in competition with the Punlers – but For Argyll is certain that they will come to be relived not to have to carry the burden of so substantial an enterprise and will find that they end up with the best of all worlds for South Cowal.
Here is someone who is of Argyll, whose first – and successful – business carries the name of the place and who is investing hugely in the place she comes from – and helping to lift the local economy of a beautiful but run down area that matters to her. In the terminology of today, this is called ‘making a difference.’ It will.