In seven years of writing about property for this paper Knockshannoch Lodge is one of the most amazing homes I’ve seen.
It may not be as beautifully appointed as some, having been an outdoors centre for 20 years, but it is in an outstanding location and its design is unusual, striking and almost magical.
Nestled in Glenisla, surrounded by trees and hills, the former sporting lodge consists of two roundhouses with domed roofs, dormers, cupulas and myriad other Victorian details.
It wouldn’t look out of place in a Harry Potter movie.
What’s in a name?
Knockshannoch Lodge is located a mile or two from the Glenisla Hotel. A track ascends from the B951, skirting round two manmade ponds before depositing me at the house.
Woods climb up the hillside behind me, while the wind faintly carries the rush of the River Isla.
Owners Jim and Susan Muir greet me at the door. They bought Knockshannoch Lodge in 1999 and operated it as Highland Adventure Centre until Covid forced closure upon them.
Knockshannoch Lodge was built by the marvellously monikered William Joseph Starkey Barber Starkey. (“So good they named him Starkey twice,” Jim quips).
Legend has it William Joseph had a wealthy aunt who promised to bequeath him her estate if he would make Starkey his surname as well as a middle name.
He did so, creating the wonderful double-Starkey name, and inherited a fortune.
Some of the money was used to purchase 17,000 acres from the Earl of Airlie, on a portion of which he built himself a holiday home.
Amazing back story
Knockshannoch Lodge was completed in 1888 and, according to local history, construction took only a year – a remarkable feat given the size of the house.
Prior to becoming a soldier and being killed on the Western Front in 1914, Starkey was an engineer.
His love of engineering meant Knockshannoch Lodge was one of the first houses in Scotland to have hydro electric power, with a weir in the nearby Newton Burn supplying electricity.
Over the years Knockshannoch Lodge has been a convalescent home, accommodation for forestry workers, a youth hostel and an outdoor centre.
The design of the house is both remarkable and unique.
The main house consists of two circular buildings, made to look separate but actually connected by a short corridor.
Things are just as astonishing inside. Both buildings have round rooms in their centres with vaulted domed ceilings, dormer windows and cupulas.
Circular corridors surround both central spaces, with rooms off them like the segments of a grapefruit.
The effect is extraordinary, slightly crazy, and completely wonderful. Sadly, both central rooms have had false ceilings fitted, so much of the grandeur is hidden at present.
This is partly down to the challenge of heating such a volume of space and partly down to some cosmetic repair work required within the domes.
Jim affords me a look inside the larger of the two cupulas, through a hatch at first floor level.
Lying on my back gazing upward, I see the sky through four dormer windows and the central cupula. Even from the first floor, the roof is dizzyingly far away.
From the floor of the round room to the apex of the cupula is 58 feet, Jim informs me.
In its original splendour the round room must have been nothing short of magnificent. With a little bit of work it could be made so again.
Even as it is currently, it is a fascinating and impressive room. A large wood burner sits against the wall and chairs face into the centre. Jim says: “We’ve had ceilidhs and concerts in here.
A few times we’ve had more than 70 people in this room. Musicians love it because the acoustics are so fantastic.”
Former PE teacher Jim and former art teacher Susan bought Knockshannoch Lodge in 1999, having returned from several years teaching in Malta.
“We saw it advertised for sale somewhere and it just absolutely grabbed us. In more than 20 years we’ve never once regretted buying the place.”
Knockshannoch Lodge was an outdoors centre
For the first two years the house was their family home, before the couple decided to operate it as an outdoor centre.
“We’ve had schools, colleges, universities and corporate groups in here,” Jim continues.
“We’ve had skiers, bikers and even a group of astronomers from Glasgow University who were here for the dark skies.
“They’d be outside every night from around 1-4am. We can sleep up to 55 people here.”
At ground level the larger of the two circular buildings has a huge dining room, a lounge, a classroom, fitness room, games room, drying room and bedroom.
Upstairs are a dozen bedroom and dorm rooms, along with plenty of shower and toilet facilities.
Through the connecting corridor is the smaller circular building, this one spread over a single level.
The central room houses a kitchen. Jim and Susan have their accommodation here, with three bedrooms and a living room.
There are various stores, a larder, a reception and an office.
Sadly, Knockshannoch Lodge no longer comes with 17,000 acres of land. The rest was sold off to the Forestry Commission decades ago.
It sits in 1.5 acres of garden, however, and is surrounded by the forests and hills that make one of Scotland’s loveliest glens such a fantastic outdoor playground.
From the doorstep you can go walking, mountain biking or even Nordic skiing in the winter.
Old Generator Cottage
A right of way through a few yards of grass and trees leads to the Old Generator Cottage.
Another beautiful roundhouse, this one much smaller and derelict, it has planning permission in place to be converted into a home that could be perfect as a holiday let or guest accommodation.
Now in their early 70s, Jim and Susan have decided to put Knockshannoch Lodge on the market.
“We ran it as an outdoor centre for 20 years, until Covid forced us to close,” Jim explains. “We’re getting a bit too old to be running that kind of business now.
“We lived in Australia for 18 years and three of our four boys are still over there.
“If Covid rules allow us to, we would love to do a bit of travelling. We have two grandchildren we’ve never met and I’d very much like to change that.”
The possibilities for Knockshannoch Lodge will be limited only by the imagination, ambition and finances of whoever buys it.
It could remain an outdoor centre, a luxury holiday let, even a boutique hotel. Or it could simply be a magnificent family home.
Knockshannoch Lodge is on sale with Rettie for offers over £535,000.