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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday October 25, 2004

CASTLE LIVING

Duncraig Castle
Duncraig Castle is nestled in 'the jewel of the highlands' - the village of Plockton

Have you ever dreamt of giving up the rat race and retreating into the countryside for a more leisurely life? Well, meet the family who have given up the city life - for a castle in the Scottish Highlands. For these East Midlanders, life is now rather different…

The Dobsons moved to the village of Plockton in 2003, tempted by its dramatic location on the edge of Loch Carron and a few miles from the Isle of Skye.

And there was one other incentive behind the move - the chance to live in an historic castle.

Duncraig Castle, a former domestic college, was home to the television crew on the set of BBC drama "Hamish Macbeth" - but now it's the Dobsons who are in residence.

But how are they settling in? Inside Out caught up with the family to reflect on their experiences of the past year.

A family affair

Some might think you'd be mad to buy a 29-bedroom castle, but not the Dobson family.

Having moved nearly 500 miles from their homes in Nottingham and Leicester, 17 members of the extended Dobson family have made Duncraig Castle their new home.

The move centred around four brothers - Samuel, Greg, Duncan and brother-in-law Brian - and their families, who decided to give up the city life for a more idyllic country retreat.

It took a 12-hour car journey and a fleet of moving vans to get them there, but the Dobson family are settling in nicely - apart from a few teething problems, of course.

Sam and Perlin Dobson, who own a property development business back in Nottingham, came across the notion of buying Duncraig Castle on their honeymoon.

Sam says, "We spotted the castle in the paper and started saying to people, 'what do you think about buying a castle'?

"They were like, 'yeah right,' but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to look into it.

"When we first came up to see the castle we got to Glasgow and we thought we were nearly there but we weren't even halfway - it was like we had come to the end of the earth."

But it seems the bargain price of the castle - £505,000 - was masking a few horrors - a plumbing problem, to name just one.

Teething problems

Sam and Perlin Dobson
Sam and Perlin are doing much of the renovation themselves

"We've got 15 or so bathrooms, but we're still struggling with the concept of running water," Perlin says despairingly.

And it's not just the plumbing that's the problem - the Dobsons also have no central heating.

Perlin continues, "The weather really does you in, the cold and the damp - last winter we spent it in one room of the house, just to keep warm.

"I've thought about leaving lots of times but the journey was too long."

Perlin's not the only one having doubts - Sam's brother Greg wasn't always so sure that the family living situation would work.

He says, "There have been times when we've thought 'maybe we're not cut out for this'.

"Although it works some of the time we still like to keep our independence."

But Greg's wife Elfine explains that life in a Scottish castle has its benefits.

"The kids are our real success story - they are just thriving here.

"They ride their bikes for eight hours a day in summer instead of watching TV for eight hours - just because they can.

"This is the beginning of our journey."

Road to renovation

Having stood empty for 12 years in the possession of the Highlands Council, to whom it was bequeathed in 1946, Duncraig Castle is now being converted into four domestic residences for the Dobson family to live in.

But it could have been very different.

Greg and children walking to school
Greg takes the kids to school - where they share a class

The grade C listed building had previously been earmarked for nearly 20 different uses, including a youth hostel, a private school, a country club and a centre for the disadvantaged.

It was even rumoured that film star Robert Redford was interested in setting up a Sundance-style institute for the performing arts within its walls.

The renovation will be a work of art itself - to fully restore the castle will cost the family around £600,000.

It's a mammoth task, and while the work is being carried out, the Dobsons will have to live without even the most basic amenities - but they think it'll be worth it.

"I can't afford to be daunted - it's overwhelming but it's about pressing forward," Perlin says.

"We've got two and a half kilometres of coastline, a couple of islands, 40 acres, a laundry building, a cottage in Duncraig square… and the castle."

The castle even has its own chapel, and also comes with its very own ghost, an absent-minded builder who forgot to build the staircase to one of the castle's towers and solemnly bricked himself in without anyone noticing - or so it is said.

A new life

Like most Brits, Samuel's parents Alan and Sybil never imagined they would end up living in a castle.

Alan says, "We had never really considered changing our lives until this came up - actually we were thinking of downsizing to a much smaller house."

Alan's previous job working in a sandwich factory seems like another world.

Alan and Sybil Dobson
Alan and Sybil take a stroll on their new land

"I never thought I would end up living in a castle at the top of Scotland and picking mussels on my own beach. It's like a dream."

But it's not all been easy and actually living together has proved the most difficult task of all.

Sam says, "The family living together under one roof has been more of a challenge than the castle.

"I look through everything with rose-tinted glasses and I did think it would be a lot easier than it has been."

But the family are sure that everything will work out for the best.

Head of the family Alan Dobson says, "When you've sunk everything you have ever worked for, every penny you've got, into a project, you've got to make it work.

"There is no going back."

And son Sam agrees, saying, "I'm looking forward to the point where we've got paying guests so we're covering the cost of living here.

"It has been a major piece of work, getting the finances in place, but touch wood, we're just about there now."

It's all about compromise - and it seems this family have got what it takes to make life at Duncraig Castle a real family affair.

See also ...

Inside Out: East Midlands
More great stories

On the rest of Inside Out
Castle Drogo

On bbc.co.uk
BBC - Great Castles

On the rest of the web
Plockton Web - Duncraig Castle

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Ian Renwick
My grandfather, a doctor was stationed at Duncraig in 1941 when I assume it was a military hospital/ rehab unit. I have photos of the place in snow, with a staff and patients cricket match in the summer and of various recovering patients. Have passed Duncraig many times on mountaineering trips to the Highlands and never knew the family connection until I looked at his old photo album recently.

David Johnston
I viewed Duncraig Castle while it was for sale. The view over the loch is unsurpassable - a full and dramatic 180 degrees. The vast scale of the building and the signs of lurking dry-rot, were the "only" factors that stopped me making an offer. The legacy of being a domestic college gave rise to some odd encounters:- a 1960's style hairdressing salon amongst the Victorian splendour and girlish teenage grafitti: "Get me out of this hell hole!". The quirky restorer should keep both. I wish the Dobsons the best of luck. As sad as having to pass up such a magnificent place was for me, I must concede that occupancy by an extended family is a perfect way to bring life back to the building ... and if you want any "before" photographs ....

tanya dobson
hiya im another grandaughter of Sybil and Alan who still lives in leicester with my dad(Sybil and Alans son) my mum and my brother. I absoloutely loved watchin my family on telly,it was brilliant,its very weird though!!! I really enjoyed the program and my family have put a huge amount of work into the castle,were all very proud of them.

cindy spencer
I've always wanted to live in a Castle; Its my dream one day to live in one. I think you are very lucky, and I wish all the best to you and your faimly. My great great grandfather was a stone masion from England. Perhaps he may have built a few castles in his day!!!

olivia brennan
I found the program exremely interesting, the way its produced and how its not too over the top.The Dobsons have made a fabulous decision in choosing the country side rather han the city life it must be so relaxing. I feel that they have made a special place in their heart for that castle and I can see they are determined to get it ready for Christmas!

Gina, Joel, Harry & George-Valencia Espania
Hello to our former neighbours from Leicester. We watched the programme here in Valencia. Greg and Elfine had described the castle and area as wonderful but until we saw it on TV we had no idea of just how stunning it is. Anyway, you hit a nerve with us too. Elfine said that relocating has huge highs and lows and we understand that completely. We were without electricity for three days last week! Like you the real winners are joel and Harry-our boys- who we hope will be bilingual and are also going to the local village school. We know we did the right thing and I think you did too. How can you compare where you live now to Leicester? Best of luck.

Shirley Smith
It was a really interesting programme and very well produced - very natural. It makes a pleasant change to see something on TV that isn't 'put on/up' or totally 'ott'. I take my hat off to all of the family - it takes some guts to embark on a project like that but I am sure they will do it - they have got the right kind of determination and obvious love for it.



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