‘I wanted to create a spooky, eerie, grand and really classic space. It couldn’t just be gothic, it had to be expensive,’ says interior designer Louise Tomlinson, who bought Orchardton Castle, near Auchencairn three years ago, transforming it into Castle Volt, an ‘outrageously quirky events venue with a glam-rock heart’. With its spitfire bar, unicorn, zebra, skeletons, furry-faced Mona Lisa and Egyptian Anubis, it has to be not just seen – but experienced – to be believed, as Carol Hogarth discovered.

If walls could talk, Orchardton Castle’s walls would tell tales of smugglers, Indian tobacco traders, an infant fatality, a poisoned servant, wounded war heroes and a colony of artists. Now, in its latest incarnation as Castle Volt - an “outrageously quirky” events venue - the B listed 19th century baronial castle will have a whole host of new stories to share.

Orchardton Castle, near Auchencairn is now Castle VoltOrchardton Castle, near Auchencairn is now Castle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

“A Scottish Baronial castle with a glam-rock heart”, Castle Volt thumbs its nose at the traditional Scottish country house stereotypes. There are no heavy tartan carpets, Tweed upholstery, conventional stags’ heads or tapestries here.

Instead, you’ll find a bar made from a spitfire aeroplane, a unicorn and a zebra on the walls, a gold skeleton lampstand, a furry Mona Lisa with no face… imagine the most eerie dream you’ve ever had, then add a dash of something even more surreal.

However, in the midst of the madness, owner and interior designer Louise Tomlinson has managed to preserve Orchardton’s original, period features including the oak floors and balustrades, the decorative coving and the stained-glass windows.

Art depicting popular culture is a themeArt depicting popular culture is a theme (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

In her hands, somehow, antique wooden four-poster beds, armoires and genuine crystal waterfall chandeliers are perfect companions for skull cushions, portraits of Batman’s Joker and life-size, black and gold Egyptian Anubis statues.

“I wanted to create a spooky, eerie, grand and really classic space,” says Louise. “It couldn’t just be gothic, it had to be expensive.” Louise bought Orchardton Castle, near Auchencairn, in 2021: “We’d looked at three castles before this, but instantly I knew this was the one. I’d only got as far as the hallway, and I just knew.”

Passionate about interior design, having transformed several other properties, Louise set her sights on a Scottish castle but was adamant she didn’t want a hotel.

One of the bedrooms at Castle VoltOne of the bedrooms at Castle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

“I wanted to create an events venue, somewhere different for parties and weddings. This place has the feel of a family home, which is perfect. It has huge rooms, but it still feels like a house, just over-sized.”

In fact, Orchardton has 45 rooms, including three large reception rooms and 14 bathrooms, three staircases (one with a pulley lift), 36 working fireplaces and every window has its original working wooden shutters.

The original Orchardton House was a small mansion built by Robert Maxwell in 1765 but the estate was bought by wealthy Liverpool merchant, landowner and entrepreneur James Douglas in 1788, and passed down through the family to William Douglas Robinson Douglas in 1881.

Castle VoltCastle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

He had the current castle built on the site of the original house for his wife Francis Mary. Her crest, featuring a heart, appears in decorative coving and other features in several rooms.

Sadly she died before the project was completed in the late 1880s and William moved in with his new wife, Constance.

In 1944 Orchardton became a military hospital for wounded officers before being let as a hotel. It was a residential school in the 1960s and 70s and then a house for residential courses and conferences, and later in the 1980s and 90s it housed a community of artists and craft makers.

Castle VoltCastle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

A private owner who bought the castle in the early 2000s installed heating and carried out other improvements before it went on the market again in 2020.

“We started in the main lounge and sprayed it black,” says Louise. But, with its huge windows looking out towards the castle’s private beach, the Solway and Hestan Island as well as five enormous gilt gesso framed mirrors reflecting a myriad of crystal chandeliers, it is full of light.

“From there we carried on doing one room at a time. With interior design you have to create a feeling, not just a look. Every room has to spark an emotion. I wanted this to be a night time place. At night, when it’s all lit up, it comes alive.” The main hall is a magical mix of traditional features and over-the-top bling.

The grand oak staircaseThe grand oak staircase (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

Red neon stars light up the grand oak staircase and the artwork is modern, oversized and with a horror movie flavour.

Breakfast is served in the original ballroom, which is painted a lighter bone colour but still has the gold theme running through it.

A large wall mural, by a London-based street artist, featuring Castle Volt’s logo – a Knight’s Templar helmet - dominates the bar room, along with a suspended tail fin taken from a private jet. The metal construction of the bar itself re-purposes a spitfire. Seven bedrooms and suites on the first floor have been completed and named after William Douglas, Francis Mary, and other Orchardton connections.

The mural in the bar roomThe mural in the bar room (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

They include James Hubert, the couple’s child who died aged just two; Montague after Lord Montague who used to visit the castle, and Dundrennan, after Dundrennan Abbey which traded its altar for Orchardton’s main front gates in the 1700s.

All of the bedrooms are ultra luxurious, each with wooden, super king size, four poster beds, sumptuous rugs, cushions and armchairs. The opulent ensuite bathrooms feature freestanding copper or enamel baths and waterfall showers. Louise’s next big project is the castle’s top floor which, when renovated, will add another nine bedrooms.

There’s also a resident ghost. “His name is Donald, he worked here, and someone poisoned him,” Louise explains.

Castle VoltCastle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

Having experienced goosebumps and an eerie feeling in this particular top floor room, Louise was already convinced it was haunted but invited Scottish paranormal investigator Ryan O’Neill in.

“I didn’t tell him which room had a ghost and took him into six others with no results. Then he came in here and all his machines went off. He spoke to Donald and made a recording. I could hear the voice with a Scottish accent on the machine.”

Louise says she, and others including tradesmen, have also seen a woman in a white cloak gliding past.

Castle VoltCastle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

While the top floor is, for now out of bounds, guests are made to feel they have the run of the rest of the castle, along with its extensive grounds and private beach.

For groups of 14, it could be a family retreat, a party or wedding venue or simply somewhere for a holiday that will never be forgotten. Castle Volt is largely self-catering, though it does have a bar licence and a catering team can be brought in for weddings and larger events.

For a larger wedding of up to 150 guests, a marquee can be erected on the front lawn.

The staircase at Castle VoltThe staircase at Castle Volt (Image: Courtesy of Castle Volt)

Castle Volt has already been attracting film makers and photo shoots and luxury beauty and skincare brand Charlotte Tilbury’s Scotland team chose Castle Volt as the venue for a makeup masterclass in May.

There is no end of scope for Castle Volt and guests are invited to let their imaginations run as wild as Louise has with her interior design.

Like all of its previous owners, Louise has well and truly put her stamp on Orchardton – though it’s perhaps a bolder stamp than some – something the Douglas family would no doubt approve of.

The last descendant to live there, Jamie Douglas Robinson, in a history of the property, wrote: “Those who have lived here have all contributed to its history and lovingly cared for it according to their means and skills. The castle will always continue to cast a spell of enchantment and romance on its owners, whoever they may be in the future.”