THE “nostalgia pendulum” refers to the 30-year trend cycle so often observed in pop culture. In the case of Discovery Land Company’s plans for Taymouth Castle and grounds, it’s more like a three-century cycle. This is not the first time that an ultra-wealthy absentee landlord has sought to market Taymouth and the village of Kenmore for a cadre of travelling elite to the direct detriment of the local community.

Taymouth Castle, located at the northeast end of Loch Tay, was one of the late 18th and early 19th century’s must-see destinations along the Petit Tour. It was one stop alongside other highly-managed aristocratic estates such as Inveraray Castle and Blair Castle.

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Travellers on the Petit Tour sought to revel in the illusion of wilderness created by the combination of estate “improvement” and population clearance, and to experience the romantic ideals of the sublime and picturesque. Notable visitors included Thomas Pennant, Robert Burns, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, and Queen Victoria with Prince Albert (below).

The National: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in May 1854. (PA)

To better accommodate this flow of high-class tourism, Taymouth’s owner, the third Earl of Breadalbane, made plans as early as 1754 to divert the public road away from the castle’s pleasure grounds. For centuries, people had used the many fords of the River Tay on the estate and the drove roads skirting the loch for daily business and the movement of cattle for sale in southern markets. Now, the mutually exclusive domains of the “private” and the “public” were being written into the landscape.

Local small landowners opposed this diversion into the 1820s, citing the inconvenience of the new route and the dangers of its steep slopes. The fourth Earl of Breadalbane, John Campbell, was fantastically wealthy, sat in the House of Lords, and was a Lieutenant-General in the British Army. To no one’s shock, when a court case was lodged in 1823 the law did not side with the small landowners.

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As part of his desire to cater to a certain calibre of clientele, Campbell’s predecessor, the aforementioned third Earl, ordered that the village of Kenmore be “red up” and returned to the status of an “ornamental village”. To this end, he ordered the tenants in Kenmore to get rid of their byres, outhouses, and other amenities essential to their day-to-day lives. With aristocratic spenders inbound, it simply wouldn’t do to have reality on his doorstep. Far better to have a Highland Potemkin village for his guests to fawn over.

In 1769, the third Earl commissioned detailed surveys of his estate, with every corner of his lands described and valuated. The fourth Earl, second only to the Duke of Sutherland in his zeal for turning common and rented lands into sheep pastures, used these surveys to conduct large-scale clearances. By 1850, of the 3500 people who once called Loch Tay’s shores home, only 100 remained.

The manufactured fantasy of a Highland idyll, at least according to visitors with no understanding of the devastations that preceded them, was taking shape.

The National: Loch Tay

By 1850, of the 3500 people who once called Loch Tay’s shores home, only 100 remained

Ironically, it wasn’t long before Taymouth’s lairds were complaining about what we today might call “overtourism”. Fed up with the number of people freely wandering about Taymouth’s grand grounds, the third Earl issued orders for access to be controlled with ticketing, inspired by the Duke of Atholl doing the same at the Hermitage of Dunkeld in 1762. This pay-to-play system’s intentions were explicit: to keep the “lower classt [sic] people from making repair to it”.

In 1797, the fourth Earl doubled down on denying anyone without a title to their name the privilege of accessing the grounds surrounding their community. In a letter to his grounds officer, Hugh Cameron, he wrote: “I desire you to proclaim after Church this day that as I find the Terraces and Walks in the Pleasure Ground have been very much hurt of late by the number of people who walk on them, I require all the keys to be delivered up, and if any one is found walking on them without my order or permission, they will be prosecuted as the law directs.”

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Now, in 2023, signs of life in Kenmore are again being strangled for private profit. Public paths have been blocked, Kenmore’s village shop and post office has shut, and a £300 million-pound redevelopment plan for Taymouth Castle is pressing ahead while affordable housing in the area is nearly non-existent. All this to further inflate the wealth of a mega-rich absentee owner whose neo-colonialist fantasy of Scotland was already a harmful cliché at the beginning of the previous century.

Will history repeat itself at Taymouth? The Protect Loch Tay Group are fighting to ensure it does not, and it is up to us all to support their efforts. We like to think of modern Scotland as far removed from the days of the ultra-wealthy uprooting communities for their leisurely whims. What happens next at Taymouth will prove, for better or ill, how far we’ve really come.

David C. Weinczok is the author, historian, and presenter known as the "Castle Hunter". His first book, The History Behind Game of Thrones: The North Remembers, was published in 2019.