SCOTLAND IN SEPTEMBER: Balnagown
We'd driven about two hours when Ron and Larry announced we were going to look for Balnagown Castle, my castle, or whatever remained of it. I would have been thrilled for a crumbled wall, a grave yard, or a sign stating the history and "Balnagown Castle once stood here." Instead, when we rounded a curve we saw the sign below over double gates. I couldn't believe it.
We drove through the open gates. In the distance, through locked double gates, was the magnificent castle itself. I can't explain the emotions that ran through me. To the left of us stood a recently constructed building. I thought perhaps someone in the building could give me some information on the castle, so we opened the door and went inside. A lady sat at a desk in an adjoining room.
Poking my head around the door, I blurted, "I'm a Ross; my family's roots are here."
She stood, stared into my eyes for about ten really long seconds. "Would you like a tour?" she asked. "This is a private residence, so you may not go inside, but if security approves, a guard could give you a tour of the grounds." All I could do was nod.
She called security, and within five minutes John, one of the security guards, unlocked the double gates and told us to follow his car. I rubber-necked the whole way. In the security building big German shepherds and armed men stood at the windows.
Each clan in Scotland had a name and a chief; the rallying point for clan Ross was Balnagown in the Highlands. Ross is a Gaelic word for promontory or peninsula, and Balnagown guarded the peninsula called Easter Ross, a very fertile region protected on three sides by the sea.
After the last laird Sir Charles Ross died in 1942, the castle and the estate fell into decline. And then one day in 1972, Egyptian Mohamed Al Fayed drove by the castle, liked it, and bought it and the last 40 acres remaining of the estate. He started renovating Balnagown in 1973. My first thought after learning that this magnificent estate was no longer owned by a Scot bothered me--but only for an instant. If not for Mr. Fayed, the house probably would have become ruins. Over the years, he has bought more acreage so that this splendid property now has over 60,000 acres. More importantly, Balnagown is loved.
Hats off and three cheers to Mohamed Al Fayed for saving my castle.