For more than half a century, it has been the “jewel in the crown” of Scotland’s network of youth hostels.
More than 20,000 visitors a year have flocked to a remote corner of Sutherland for the chance to stay in 100-year-old Carbisdale Castle.
However, the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) says it may be mothballed indefinitely or even sold off because of the “nightmare” cost of a restoration needed to bring it up to modern standards.
A spiralling repair bill caused by structural problems discovered over the past 18 months may hit £6 million – and that’s on top of some £2m spent on fixing problems after the harsh winter of 2010-11.
A further two years of work is needed, with no indication of when the next phase of improvements can begin because of the lack of available funding.
The hostel, which suffered damage to its ceiling and ornate plaster work after pipes froze in plummeting temperatures, has been closed since February 2011 and the SYHA admits it is “unlikely” it will reopen next year.
Initial repair work in the west wing led to “extensive structural and fabric damage” being uncovered elsewhere and it is understood the entire castle, which dates back to 1906, will have to be overhauled. A decision on its fate has been delayed until next year, and the SYHA, which relies on fees from its 23,000 members to run its 60 hostels, says “all options are on the table”.
Chief executive Keith Legge admitted there were no obvious solutions. He said: “We do want to reopen Carbisdale, but we are not in a position to say if or when that will be possible. We are looking at various options, but it is going to be major challenge. We don’t even know for certain what the eventual cost will be, although at the moment we are looking at somewhere between £4m and £6m, which is over and above the £2m we have already spent, although much of that was covered by our insurance. We just don’t have access to that kind of money.
“It was only when we carried out the initial phase of work that we realised the extent of the work needed throughout the rest of the building. It is not suitable for modern standards and around two-thirds of the building still needs to be brought up to scratch.”
The news of further delays is a major blow to the tourism industry, with up to 18 people employed at the hostel at the height of the season. The hostel also boosts the SYHA’s coffers, as it has become a popular destination for weddings and corporate events.
Scott Armstrong, of VisitScotland, said: “We would hope that a solution can be found to keep this institution open so that visitors for years to come can enjoy this unique experience.”