A brighter outlook on the horizon for Fatlips

Luke Comins of the Tweed Forum outside Fatlips Castle near Minto. The castle has received money to be restored.
Luke Comins of the Tweed Forum outside Fatlips Castle near Minto. The castle has received money to be restored.

AFTER years of vandalism which has left it close to ruin, one of the Borders’ most iconic landmarks is to be saved for future generations to enjoy, writes Mark Entwistle.

Fatlips Castle sits in a commanding position atop Minto Crags, near Denholm, and enjoys panoramic views of Teviotdale. But it has been beseiged over the decades by those intent on breaking in and creating mayhem, including hurling slates from its roof and pushing stonework from the parapets.

But now a joint effort between the Tweed Forum and Minto Estate, which has taken several years to come to fruition, has resulted in a financial package worth £200,000 being put together to pay for repair works.

Tweed Forum is a charitable trust with the aim of conserving the natural, built and cultural heritage of the Tweed catchment and has been co-ordinating the project on behalf of the Minto Estate.

Tweed Forum director Luke Comins told TheSouthern this week the project heralded a significant moment in the history of the castle and for those local people who enjoy its enormous contribution to the landscape.

“Tweed Forum has been working for a number of years with the Minto Estate to build a financial package that would enable such works. Some £200,000 has now been secured from Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council, SBC Landfill Credits Fund and Lord Minto, which is enough to initiate the works, and we are extremely grateful for their support,” Mr Comins explained.

Fatlips Castle was originally built by the Turnbulls in the 16th century, but was completely rebuilt by the Elliots of Minto, the current owners, in 1857 and further re-modelled as family museum by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1897.

Mr Comins added: “The Minto family has been trying to stop the incessant vandalism for many years, but with limited success and it has now got to the stage where there is an urgent need to save the roof from complete collapse. This is a great opportunity to start afresh and help secure it for future generations to enjoy.”

Due to funding reasons, the works will take place over a number of phases and be completed by mid-2013. The main aims are to make the building safe, replace the roof and the parapet, consolidate the masonry, and make the building windproof, watertight and vandalproof.

Timothy Melgund, the seventh Earl of Minto, is a trained chartered surveyor who now heads up the stationery firm Paperchase.

He explained: “Up until the 1970s, the castle contained a family museum and was locked up. But if people wanted a look round, the key used to hang on the wall at home and people could just ask my father to borrow it and have a look round.

“But times have changed. After the vandalism started it was no longer possible to allow that and it is a great shame that certain people have caused a level of destruction that has brought the entire roof close to collapse.

“It is no longer safe to walk round inside. People have continued to break into the building over the years, despite our best efforts to make it secure. They have virtually deconstructed the roof, throwing slates from the top, while stones have been pulled out and rolled down the hill.

“Attempts were made to make it secure by erecting breeze-block walls, but these have been knocked down and vandals have even arrived with cutting equipment to force their way into the castle through the locked doors.

“So my long-time hope has been that a proper restoration would one day be carried out to secure the castle and make it wind and watertight – and secure – so that future generations can continue to visit it in safety.”

Asked if there would be any possibility in the future of the public being allowed access inside the castle, Mr Melgund says there is no longer anything to see inside the building and that its special quality is the position it occupies, standing sentinel over some of the finest views in Teviotdale.

z The origins of the name ‘Fatlips’ now seem lost in the mists of history. However, Mr Melgund said, while growing up, he heard two different versions of how the castle might have acquired its famous moniker.

“The first was that you were always welcomed with a kiss on the way in,” said Mr Melgund.

“The second was that there was a goat that lived on the other side of the river. It was called ‘Fatlips’ and it was said if it ever crossed the river, it meant the English were coming,” he added.