Castle Toward, one of Scotland's most renowned residential centres for outdoor education and music and art courses, is set to be sold to a holiday firm.
The Grade A-listed "castellated mansion", situated on the Cowal Peninsula, which has seen an estimated 400,000 pupils through its doors over 60 years, was put up for sale last November by Argyll and Bute Council.
A Bristol-based holiday company, Seasons Holidays, has been named the "preferred bidder" over the current tenants, Actual Reality Learning and Leadership Company Ltd, which had hoped to buy the property and continue its education role.
A spokesman for Seasons Holidays said it was still early in the process and it had "only put together a confidential conceptual development document for Argyll and Bute Council planners and Historic Scotland".
But a spokeswoman for the council said: "Seasons Holidays proposes to create a resort comprising a hotel, spa, conference facility and holiday lodges. Initial estimates are that Seasons Holidays could create more than 200 jobs at the site, and commit some pound;20 million to Castle Toward in the initial development phase."
Christopher Mason, a director of Actual Reality, said his organisation was now in discussions with Argyll and Bute Council with a view to buying the outdoor centre at Ardentinny on Loch Long, some 24 miles from Castle Toward. Actual Reality currently runs courses at both centres and if its purchase of Ardentinny goes through, it would want to carry out renovations to make it suitable for the music residential courses that are currently run at Castle Toward.
Earlier this year, the Sistema Scotland Big Noise orchestra from the Raploch in Stirling spent a week at Castle Toward; the Glasgow Schools Symphony Orchestra has used it as a training venue since 1951.
"We have decided to run all our courses in Castle Toward next year and once we have entry as proprietors to Ardentinny, we intend to spend about pound;150,000 on refurbishing it," Dr Mason told TESS.
The spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute Council added: "Actual Reality occupies both Castle Toward and Ardentinny with the council's consent and without any requirement for payment of rent. The council has in the past worked very closely with Actual Reality and, in providing the properties to them, has supported Actual Reality's ongoing operations. The council will continue to work closely with Actual Reality in this regard.
"The opportunity of economic development that the offer from Seasons Holidays plc provides is considered to be a catalyst in ensuring there is future investment in the property at Castle Toward bringing inward investment and employment to the wider area."
Dorothy Gunnee, senior instrumental instructor at Glasgow City Council, who has accompanied thousands of pupils on music residential courses to Castle Toward, said: "It is sad that the next generation will be deprived of a life-changing experience at Castle Toward. There is no other place that inspires them in the way that Castle Toward does. It's like a time warp - the whole outside world is left behind."
HISTORY OF A RESIDENTIAL RETREAT
The original Castle Toward dates back to the 15th century and was owned by the Clan Lamont. Its ruins now lie close to the present Castle Toward, which was built in 1820 by Kirkman Finlay.
In the 1940s, the building and surrounding 226 acres of land were bought by the Corporation of Glasgow and used initially as a residential school for children recovering from illness or living in deprived home conditions. It then became available for residential education for children from all Glasgow primary schools and operated for 50 years as an outdoor education centre.
With the reorganisation of local government in Scotland in 1996, ownership passed to Argyll and Bute and the centre was threatened with closure. A rescue operation was mounted by Castle Toward's principal, Peter Wilson, and a company, Actual Reality, was formed, which kept the castle in use.