Saturday, June 09, 2007

Balnagown Castle, Seat of Clan Ross

"Hells Bells", wrote Sir Charles Ross from New York to his factor at Balnagown , "At the moment I am trying to put the United States of America on its feet. This is a big enough task, and I cannot afford to be distracted by a loafer like you who either cannot read, or is suffering from an alcoholic overdose."

The Earldom of Ross had played an important role in Scottish history. Sir Charles was the last of the Rosses of Balnagown. He had fallen out with many people in the 1930s, particularly with the British Government. His invention the 'Ross Rifle' had been an enormous success in the Boer War, but a disaster in the mud of the Great War and the small issue of tax had still not been dealt with. As a result he was in self imposed exile in the USA (and on his third marriage).

He could not return to his Scotland but his ashes made it following his death in 1942. His widow remarried, but she and her new husband could not sustain Balnagown which fell into a state of decay.

The property was bought by Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1972. He has spent some 20 million pounds on the castle which is now beautifully maintained both outside and in. Some members of the clan are upset that he has incorrectly displayed the crest of the clan chief on the gates. Technically of course they are right, but I would suggest that the renaissance of the castle is a fair quid pro quo.

So it was Mohammed Al-Fayed whom I asked for permission to take Judy Neville, nee Ross, from North Carolina to see her clan castle today. We saw William Wallace's Chair which looked as if it had indeed seen 717 winters, we saw the famous Trophy Room and the fabulous dining room, dominated by a full length portrait of Sir Charles Ross, the malign genius who, extraordinarily, sued his mother for the mismanagement of the Balnagown Estate during his minority!

I am often asked why we let so many of our castles crumble away unprotected. The answer is that there are, or were, about 3000 castles in Scotland - more per head of the population than anywhere else in the world - and the money to stabilise, far less restore them all, just isn't there. Happily there are a few people like Mohammed Al-Fayed, who are prepared to invest heavily for no financial gain.

I started with a quote from Sir Charles. I end with another, this to a farm manager: "I employ Miss Chadwick as my financial secretary. You are going into her office and fuddling her brain up with manure for Garty Farm. I telephone her from New York to talk about finance. What happens? Her head is cluttered up with dung and I get no sense out of her. Keep your dung to yourself or I will come over and rub your damn nose in it."

If you would like to be shown round your clan castle then just drop me an email.


smileymamaT said...

Fabulous article, and funny. I'd have found it sooner if only I'd known sooner that I'm a descendant of the Rosses! Thank you for the services you provide - someday I too hope to visit.

Anonymous said...

I am not really happy about this because I am a part of the Ross family. I wonder why he bought our castle but I dont know how he was able to buy it. I know that the British fought the Rosses and stole the castle so he might have bought it off of them but I am still quite amazed about all of this.

Alan S Ross said...

I am a direct descendant of John and Rebecca/Jane Ross of somewhere in Scotland. They were born ca. 1732 and 1736 respectively. I am coming to Scotland in August of 2010 and hope to find a link in Inverness County somewhere to our Rosses living in Northeast Margaree Cape Breton Nova Scotia, Canada.

Anonymous said...

Well I am a Ross from Ross-Shire and my family have always lived near the Balnagown Estate, I know the History of our Clan well so here we go . . . . the castle was bought because the chief was bankrupt and could not afford to run the estate - therefore rather than see it run into disrepair,they sold it off to a wealthy Egyptian. The Ross Clan was Protestant and as such supported the Government AGAINST Prince Charlie (his attempt to reinstate the Stuart Dynasty to the British Throne) - Along with the vast majority of the NORTHERN Clans, the 45 Rebellion was a Civil war - note there were more Scots on the Government side than on charlies!!!

Anonymous said...

Susie from Tasmania
We too are descendent from the Lockhart-Ross clan and I plan to visit the castle in may 2011. My grandfather and 3 female Douala Seward the next in-line when the chief went bankrupt was chose to sell and run. Not that we had 20 millions pounds to maintain but we can still live the dream. See you in Inverness!

Alastair Cunningham said...

Hi Susie,

Interesting to hear your connection. We'd be delighted to help with your holiday in the spring if you would like us to do so. But getting in to see Balnagown is not so easy nowadays.

Coldstorageunit said...

My wife and I are travelling from Canada in July of 2011 to Scotland and, being a Ross, I was planning to drive up to see the Balnagown castle.

Is there any way to get access to the grounds, even if to just see the castle from the outside?


-Tim Ross

Alastair Cunningham said...

Hi Tim, sadly they have tightened up on access to the castle. Best advice is to contact the estate - Have a good trip!

babsroos said...

I am Barbara Ross,descendant of the Rosses of Ross-Shire,Scotland.Plan my first trip to Scotland this summer 2012.Would like to learn more about Clan Ross.Can anyone tell me more. March 15 2012

Alastair Cunningham said...

Dear Barbara, there is a lot to be learnt about the Ross clan - connections to the Irish Royal House of Tara, Battle of Largs in 1263, Civil War and imprisonment in the Tower of London, trial for sorcery and witchcraft in 1590, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1902. Come and see for yourself!

Marjorie said...

In the 1960's the property was owned by Francis Desmolyns. His third wife, Dorothy, had been the widow of Sir Charles Ross. Upon Francis Desmolyns's death, his son of his second marriage, Andrew Desmolyns will have inherited.

Unknown said...

When I was 10 or 11, my grandfather Thomas Albert Ross received a letter from Scotland offering him the castle. I know there was something about he was the 7th son of a 7th son. Of course my grandparents didn't have the money to be able to go live there, I was very disappointed. I think this was the late 1960's. I wish I could see the letter now.

Alan Stuart Ross said...

My name is Alan Ross, and was supposed to visit Invernessshire and find out about our Ross's. I didn't make it in 2010, but we are coming next month July 2017. We hope to be in or around Balnagowan Estates on July 15 and 16. Our Ross's came to Cape Breton Nova Scotia Canada from Rosshire Scotland - so I'm told. My gr. gr. gr. grandfather was James Ross b. 1757 who was the son of a Scottish soldier in the Black Watch. - John (and Rebecca/Jane CROSS) Ross. b. ca 1732. Some trails lead to Glenbuchat, but not confirmed. John's father may have the name James also. James b. 1757 Ireland was in the British Military; the 76th Regiment of Foot "The MacDonald Highlanders". It would be wonderful to try to find a record of him in that unit, his place of birth AND a marriage record. Not asking for much am I! My third great grandfather James had at least three brothers; William b. 1768 Ireland, Edmund & David born 1770, 1772 respectively in Hants County Nova Scotia, Canada.
If I find out nothing else on this trip to the highlands of Scotland, I hope to see the Balnagowan Castle and dream about our Ross's from around there.
And if any of this story sounds in the slightest way familiar, or you'd like to hear more, I would very much like to be in touch with you. My email is

Alastair Cunningham said...


To see the castle, contact Balnagoown estate office
Lists of those in the 76th of Foot may be a long search as the regiment was disbanded in 1784.
For your births and marriages go to
Have a good trip!

Anonymous said...

Some with the last name Ross are Catholic others Protestant. Anyone know the history and are there geographic or territorial strongholds?

Years ago, as a medical student, I sought housing to take part in a medical rotation in Scotland, but when a homeowner discovered I was the wrong religion, she refused to have my wife, small son and I as renters.

As an American this seemed so crazy.

Donald Ross, M.D.

Unknown said...

This is amazing to know, I hate the part about theft. I have nothing to commemorate my family. It's so sad to have never been included in everything my family has to offer.

Unknown said...

I am a descendent of the Ross clan. I would love to fly across the waters to tour the castle. Does anyone know how it could be arranged?