Sun sea sand

Sun sea sand

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Loving Kellie's Folly

Castles call to me; something about the romanticism of being a princess, with a room in the tallest tower. Disregard, of course, all the cons of life in the olden days - short life span, no dental care, the restrictions of royal life, etcetera etcetera - and the little girl's princess dreams come to life when walking around turrets and up stone spiral stairs and resting cheek upon hand on the window sill looking out at the view [or daydreaming about a prince].

There are not many castles in Malaysia, and certainly not ones open to the public, so one man's folly is truly a fortune for someone like me. This is Kellie's Castle, set in Batu Gajah, in the state of Perak north of Kuala Lumpur.

Also known as Kellie's Folly, it was built by Scotsman William Kellie Smith for his family, but abandoned following his death [read the tragic backstory here]. It's not a real castle, of course, but a wealthy plantation owner's dream of a magnificent mansion for his heir, and as some say, to be the Joneses of the time.

Whatever his reasons, Kellie's Castle stands as beautiful in its bare bones as it would have been if completed. To me maybe even better, as the rough bricks, crumbling mortar and unfinished windows give it the air of a true European castle. An expert architect suggests that finished, the mansion would probably have looked a bit different, and completely painted over, so I do like it this way.

Built in the early 1900s [work started in 1905], it's also just magnificent in its architecture and layout. There is a six-storey tower that would have been serviced by the country's first elevator, while the main part of the mansion features rooms with high ceilings plus accompanying decor details like corniches, secret stairwells and arches. The flat roof gives me the chills standing near the edge, but imagine what a rooftop party would have been like!

In a time when not many buildings in the country would have been made from stone, it's also a wonderful feat of engineering, and of the vision of the man who had to import most of the luxurious materials and even the artisans to create his masterpiece.

I first went to Kellie's Castle as a teenager, and I have returned to the site several times over the years and still enjoy each trip. And I haven't even fully explored the grounds, nor the secret tunnels that have been discovered. On every visit, I find something new to marvel over, though the last time I was there I felt an odd chill that I refused to attribute to stories of sightings of the spirit of William Kellie Smith himself or the labourers who died there. Regardless, Kellie's Castle or Folly continues to hold a fascination for me in terms of history and romance. Maybe it also does for the restless owner who never saw his dream come to fruition.

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