Castle Toward (not to be confused with the nearby 15th century ruin of Toward Castle) lies west of Toward Point, about eight miles south of Dunoon, Argyll, in the Firth of Clyde.
The grounds extend to some 57 hectares, and include other features such as a walled garden, and to the southwest of the mansion, the south lodge or gatehouse. Toward Quay lies on the shore across the road.
The house was requisitioned for military training during World War II, then became a residential school offering outdoor experiences, and then became an outdoor activity centre. The facilities were also used as the setting for a number of children's television games shows.
Described as a fine Gothic mansion on the lower slopes of the Cowal peninsula facing Rothesay Bay, the house was designed and built between 1820 and 1821, attributed to architect David Hamilton for Kirkman Finlay (1773 – 1842), a successful Glasgow merchant. The date places places the building just into the period between Regency (1811 to 1820) and Victorian (1832/1837 to 1901), but commonly referred to as a Victorian building.
Following Finlay's death, the estate passed through several owners until the 1920s, when it was bought by the Coats family of Paisley, famous for the thread. Coats extended the original structure during the years between 1920 and 1924, adding several towers and expanding the building to its final 20th century appearance. These extensions can be seen in early pictures of the front façade held in Castle House Museum, Dunoon. Indeed the differing sandstones which have been used in their construction are still visible in photographs taken today.
In 1947, the Coats family sold the house to Glasgow Corporation, which used it as a residential school. Glasgow was then a large industrial city, and the Corporation used the school as a place where children from the city could be sent to experience the countryside. The school was also used as a place of convalescence, where children recovering from illness could be sent to benefit from the open air.
Kirkman Finlay (1773 – 1842) was born in Glasgow's Gallowgate, and became a successful Glasgow entrepreneur, businessman and merchant, with interests in cotton and textiles. He was also a Member of Parliament, and Lord Provost of Glasgow.
In 1818, while still MP for the Clyde Burghs and Lord Provost of Glasgow, Finlay bought the land at Toward, on the southern part of the Cowal peninsula near Dunoon, including the old Toward Castle which would inspire the name of his new house which would be built nearby.
World War II
As with many great country houses, Castle Toward was requisitioned for military purposes during World War II, and commissioned by the Royal Navy.
Castle Toward was commissioned as HMS Brontosaurus, and began by providing training in basic naval procedures for the operation of major landing craft by officers and crew, in particular, the techniques of loading personnel and armoured vehicles (including tanks) onto all types of landing craft. The castle had its own quay, which was used together with the surrounding castle grounds for training exercises. Infantry training was carried out at Lochailort, at places such as Inverailort Castle.
Personnel belonging to the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Royal Armoured Corps, and other logistical units took place at Toward, and operations developed over time, and would eventually include personnel from all forces involved in Combined Operations, and ultimately in the preparations for operations such as D-Day, when the facility would come to be known as No 2 Combined Training Centre, CTC Castle Toward. Training included instruction in beach landing control, and the logistics of an army once ashore.
Some of the original Nissen huts have survived in the grounds next to the house, and a number of concrete hut bases remain in the grounds between Castle Toward and Toward Castle, largely hidden by trees which have grown in the area. However, some of this forestry has been cleared, revealing partial remains of the huts which once occupied the area.
Toward Quay has survived on the shore, where the local sailing club has its clubhouse.
Since the 1950s, Castle Toward has operated as a residential school, offering children and young people the opportunity to experience the facilities of a residential outdoor education centre. In that time, it has also played host to numerous music, drama and arts groups from across the country.
Since 2002, the BBC children's game show Raven has recorded on location in the grounds of Castle Toward, with further locations in Scotland providing the setting for related productions. Raven: The Island, was filmed at Auchengillan Outdoor Centre, with the final Nevar's Fortress scenes taking place at Mugdock Castle, Mugdock Country Park.
In 2005, following claims that Argyll & Bute Council intended to sell the Castle Toward site to developers for housing and leisure use, the Castle Toward Trust and Friends of Castle Toward were formed in an attempt to raise the money needed to buy the facility, preserve the history of Castle Toward, and allow the existing residential and outdoor facilities to continue. The web site associated with this appeal appears to have been abandoned since 2007, with £10,998 being shown as raised.
Inspection and closure 2009
During November 2009, following an inspection by officers from Argyll & Bute Council and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, the council told the centre to cease operating as a residential facility, on the basis that it was unfit for purpose due to the number of fire related and Health & Safety problems identified.
Argyll & Bute Council’s executive met on December 17, 2009, when the future of Castle Toward was discussed as part of the meeting's agenda, from which the press and the public were excluded. A statement issued after the meeting gave the cost of bringing the premises up to a standard suitable for residential use as being in the region of £595,000, while the cost of restoring the building to an acceptable standard would raise this sum to £977,000.
Consequently, the committee recommended the sale of the buildings and 57 hectares of adjoining land. Actual Reality, the sitting tenant and organiser of events at Toward, were described as possible purchasers.
Following these announcements, a number of web sites opposed to the closure appeared, generally intent on saving the facilities at Toward, including a site targeting the council, a Facebook group, and an online petition.
Reopened and placed on the market in 2010
Actual Reality managed to do sufficient repairs for the council to allow the centre to reopen on a residential basis. The council advertised the estate for sale in June 2010.
South Cowal Community Council announced that it would begin a community buyout.
Four potential buyers 2011
In September 2011, that it was announced that there were four potential buyers, with Actual Reality declaring itself as one, while the other bidders preferred to remain anonymous, however it was announced that the community buyout which had been declared earlier was not one of the four. There was a suggestions that the South Cowal community Council had exceeded the time frame, and their bid was rejected.
Preferred bidder selected in November 2011
Of the four potential buyers, a preferred bidder was selected at the beginning of November 2011:
After considering four bids today (Thursday), Argyll and Bute Council has announced that Seasons Holidays has been named as the preferred bidder for Castle Toward, near Dunoon.
At a private meeting of the council’s executive today, councillors decided to accept the Bristol-based company plans to create a resort comprising a hotel, spa, conference facility and holiday lodges.
Castle Toward is for sale, with offers over £2.25m being sought. The council estimates that Seasons Holidays will spend £20m developing the site and that over 200 jobs will be created.
The proposal is conditional on planning permission being granted.
Castle Toward is currently occupied by Actual Reality Learning and Leadership Ltd, which provides outdoor education activities both there and at Ardentinny near Dunoon, which is also owned by the council.
The company does not pay rent for either property, and remains in occupation with the consent of the council.
A council spokeswoman said: “The executive today agreed to look at ways in which Actual Reality can continue to be supported in providing outdoor education services, with particular regard to Ardentinny.”
- Castle Toward set to become holiday resort.
Back on the market June 2013
Castle Toward was placed on the market in June 2013, after the holiday operator pulled out.
In September 2013, the preparation of a local bid was reported.
Still being unsold in 2015 inspires new law on disputed properties
In March 2015, it was reported that the Castle was still unsold, costing tax-payers £800 per day as Argyll and Bute Council was spending £800 per day on security and maintenance.
The local community accuses the council of holding onto the property in the vain hope of marketing the property to its advantage, rather than disposing of it and ending those recurring costs.
The scenario led to amendments made to a new law introduced in March 2015 which it intended to ensure that, in future, communities groups in dispute with local authorities over asset transfers will be able to appeal to the Scottish Government.
Alan Stewart, chair of South Cowal Community Development Company (the community group which failed to buy the Castle Toward estate) said: "I am very pleased to see that the government recognises the way that the Save Castle Toward campaign was deliberately obstructed by the very people elected to support us, and the amendments to the bill should stop a repeat by any other council." But it was also noted the the new law was not retrospective, so could not be used in the case of Castle Toward, where, despite a strong bid, the local authority ultimately priced the community out of the market and rejected a last-minute appeal on a technical point.
- Castle Toward notes
- CTC Castle Toward
- HMS Brontosaurus
- Actual Reality Centres - Castle Toward Outdoor Education Centre
- The setting for Raven, the TV game show
- Friends of Castle Toward
- Castle Toward Trust Dead link
- Council considers sale of Castle Toward. The Oban Times. January 15, 2010 Dead link
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