Castle Toward sale moves to lock-in stage

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.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • ” The delivery of much needed affordable housing…..” I doubt that any housing will be aimed at the needy, or will it be affordable for most folks. We shall see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

    george October 2, 2015 9:18 am Reply
  • for Argyll; ” here is someone who is of Argyll”. I may well be wrong but is this true ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

    george October 2, 2015 9:25 am Reply
  • Wow! Four, yes four wedding venues within a 12 mile stretch of the Cowal coastline. We now have Knockdow House at the southern tip of Cowal along with the newest addition…Castle Toward. In Dunoon we have Castle House (not quite so upmarket for a wedding venue) and finally we have Hafton Castle sitting on the edge of the shore to the Holy Loch. The problem now is that these establishments have to try to drum up business and, as marriages are on the decline, it will be interesting to see how diverse these venues will become.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

    Aral October 2, 2015 9:34 am Reply
  • “Of Argyll” purrs Ms Henderson. Are we allowed to say she “.. Is not of Argyll” but from a troubled land of red blue and white kerbstones but supports independence for the emerald of that Isle!

    OBN first class, to the editor. A wee free cup of tea no doubt if it ever opens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

    No Cheese Here October 2, 2015 1:37 pm Reply
  • For just anyone who has the real interests of Argyll, and in particular, Cowal in their heart: can we just say let’s welcome these private sector investors and entrepreneurs (injecting so much of their personal finance) who seem willing to embark on taking on such a project which has the ability to restore Castle Toward and make the Estate available for so many people in so may ways.

    Sadly it seems to me that there are many people who consider that public funding is available to make of all of their dreams possible… and no one else so far has been able to put their mouths above the turrets to say ‘I can do this’…. Just a dream for some without any contemplation as to the complicated finances for the realisation of a vision!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

    Argyll Traveller October 2, 2015 8:14 pm Reply
    • If the council had applied as little oversight and due diligence to the community purchase as they did to this deal the sale would have gone through about 18 months ago and SCCDC would be busy proving(or not) their business case(that business case ABC sent back for more detail 3 times, scrutiny the Punlers escaped for no reason I can see).

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

      db October 2, 2015 8:49 pm Reply
    • Keep travelling. The idea that this will not be financed by public grants, subsidies etc with or without guarantees is living in cloud cuckoo land or if you prefer Walsh Morton land.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

      No Cheese Here October 2, 2015 10:01 pm Reply
  • Argyll Traveller. Having read your contribution several times I do believe that you are not fully aware as to what has been happening and, or, not up-to-speed with all the facts to date. SCCDC had an excellent business plan and an outside organisation waiting and willing to take responsibility for the house on a considerable lease whilst spending quite some considerable million pounds refurbishing the house, renewing electrical, water and central heating services suitable for human habitation of this property. I’m sure interest is now awakened to research further for facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

    Alex October 2, 2015 10:44 pm Reply
  • ” Keith and Denise Pulner and the Council have agreed that, at this stage, it would be inappropriate to release details of the terms agreed “.
    They have just sold one of our (the public) biggest assets in Argyll……………..and it is all a secret. What’s to hide ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

    george October 3, 2015 7:23 pm Reply
  • Could it be that two of Cowal’s ‘Prize Plum’s’ are waiting in the wings for their Director’s positions to be finalised…hence the secretcy?
    Further details will be announce d once Castle Lodge has been renovated…so, not long to wait.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

    Alex October 4, 2015 12:34 pm Reply

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