If there’s one thing I LOVE doing, it’s finding abandoned buildings you can explore – and even better if they still have things inside to showcase the history. And even better again if they HAVE a lot of history.
Scotland, luckily, has loads to choose from. Between some 3,000 castles and numerous abandoned stately homes, as well as closed commercial buildings and even old farmhouses, there is no shortage of places to explore both as regular tourists in maintained premises, and as “urban explorers” in completely abandoned structures.
One of my favourites so far? This surreptitious mansion in the middle of the Scottish highlands that’s packed with a history of famous visitors. Oh, and Coco Chanel used to live there.
It’s important to point out that while urban exploring is a hobby with a bit of a cult following, I don’t condone actually breaking and entering someone’s property or making a huge effort to get in (I’ve seen videos of people crawling through tunnels to get into places). There are a few abandoned hospitals and schools in Scotland where local authorities have pleaded for people not to visit. I can understand why – people are idiots (frankly!) and it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt, or does something stupid like set fire to the place.
The bottom line is – if you’re going to explore an abandoned building, always be careful and aware of your surroundings. In derelict houses especially, the flooring can be very rough.
A few years ago, I discovered an abandoned hostel in Orkney. It’s really cool – so cool that I started recommending it to people and even had it published on a list of off-beat things to do in the area. The problem? More people started visiting, obviously. The building, with missing stairs and the entire top of the stairs held together with a plank of wood, belongs to a family friend, and I think they got pretty worried that someone was going to hurt themselves, and it made me question whether I should have mentioned it.
So it’s with some trepidation that I’m sharing this post today, because although the secret is very much out and people will still visit regardless (after all, I discovered it on numerous Facebook posts), do I want to draw yet more attention to it?
But given that it’s made national newspapers and press and been shared worldwide in viral videos, I think it’s safe to say it’s not enough of a secret to be able to protect.
Plus, this may be one of the last chances we have to visit in its current state – although there have been plans to convert it into a hotel since 2007, it went back on the market in 2015 and didn’t sell until last year, when plans were unveiled again to convert it.
Read more: the Coco Chanel mansion is a detour from the North Coast 500, but if you’re visiting from the route, check out my great camping itinerary for the NC500!
Welcome to Rosehall House
Rosehall House has been standing since 1823, shortly after the original building burned down. In the 1920’s it met its glory days after it was acquired by Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke Of Westminster. It was here that he brought his mistress, someone you may have heard of by the name of Coco Chanel. At one point, they even had a certain Winston Churchill to stay!
What makes this house even more incredible is that Coco Chanel designed some of the interior herself, replacing wallpapers in her signature chic style. Most of these, including a floral wallpaper that she had handblocked in France, are upstairs which is pretty inaccessible, and it’s sad to watch history fall into such decay. It’s funny though, as much of the house is in her simple beige style, which would have been seen as “radical” back in those days.
There’s also a rumour that the house contains Scotland’s first bidet (very posh!) although nobody can confirm this – the information is from locals, but it could just be a “local legend”.
However, my favourite part is that there is still furniture. EVERYWHERE. Really gorgeous furniture, too.
I am AMAZED that this hasn’t been looted. This chaise lounge was probably my favourite thing in the whole place.
This wardrobe was the first thing I saw that I immediately said, “wait – this could ACTUALLY have been Coco Chanel’s”. The wallpaper in here was really peeling too, and in her signature beige colour it was probably one of hers.
These headboards too, were something to behold. Modern additions like that suitcase really threw me off though – where did this stuff come from?
One thing that actually made me shout “WOW!!” as I walked into the room was this amazing wee fire cart:
There are even fire hoses still inside!
The mansion has been abandoned since 1967; close to 40 years after Coco Chanel left, so it’s really hard to tell if any of the artefacts left there were ever hers.
However, look at this sewing machine table! Imagine if she had used that for some of her designing?! It’s actually pretty mind-boggling to think about. Scotland is a haven for creatives letting off steam, after all.
Regardless of whether any of this belonged to her, it was pretty incredible to think about the history that’s passed through these walls – the people, the parties, the fish that Coco caught, cooked and ate. (Churchill mentions in his letters numerous times about Coco’s fishing skills, which I’ve got to be honest I didn’t really have her down for).
We didn’t venture upstairs as one of the first things we noticed as we wandered the ground floor rooms was the multitude of massive holes in the ceilings. Instead, I contented myself with going to the top of the stone steps and peering around the corners.
The house is about as remote as you can get in Scotland, and the woodland area surrounding it felt like you’d stepped into a fairytale. In fact, I may have let my imagination run too wild as we walked through the woods to a creepy, abandoned house, wondering what fortunes were in store for us.
Churchill described it during a visit in May 1927 as “a very agreeable house in a Highland valley. Well-equipped with salmon, trout and snipe. The air is most exhilarating, keen and yet caressing. It is quite different to England. Coco got three fish yesterday.”
Getting to Coco Chanel’s mansion
The name of the house gives it away – it’s in a wee hamlet near Lairg called Rosehall!
It’s actually pin-pointed on Google Maps, so it’s pretty easy to find. I’m not going to give you too many directions, because if you want to find it, you will.
However, here’s a little clue, as we did park up in the woodland walks car park and slipped through an open part of the wall next to another small abandoned house (which we didn’t explore – it was pretty inaccessible!). Half way down, we realised we’d taken a very wrong turn, or perhaps it was just because it was wet, but we found ourselves in a swamp and had to turn back.
It’s also important to note that a lot of the doors were locked and it took us a while to find a way in. A family who were inside as we got there had climbed in through an open window, but I don’t really recommend this. We managed to find an open door.
And on that note, it’s REALLY not suitable for young children. I feel like this shouldn’t even have to be said, but given that the family had at least six brats running around (!!!) and jumping on the chaise lounge (!!!!!) unfortunately I do feel the need to mention it. They contributed to my wariness of sharing this place. But honestly, at some point you need to take responsibility for your stupidity.
I do feel like this is one of those go-and-see-it-while-you-still-can places. I’ve seen photos and videos from mere months before we visited that have subtle differences. I think things have been stolen, broken or at least moved, despite the unwritten rule of urban exploring: leave everything as you find it.
And if they really do go ahead and turn it into a luxury hotel, it’ll no longer be accessible to us peasants. So I do genuinely recommend it for a tiny, if not wholly accurate, insight to some very interesting lives. It’s probably the most well-preserved abandoned building I’ve ever been to, and the furniture is fascinating.
I’m looking forward to sharing some more abandoned places in the future, as Scotland has quite a few stately homes currently being reclaimed by nature that are begging to be explored!
Do you love exploring places like this? And do YOU think that wardrobe belonged to Coco Chanel?!
WANT SOME MORE SCOTLAND INSPIRATION?
⭐ Check out nearby Assynt, one of the highlights of the North Coast 500 and one of my favourite areas of Scotland!
⭐ Explore the North Coast 500, one of Scotland’s best road trip routes
⭐ Take a ferry over to Lewis & Harris for a relaxing island break steeped in history
⭐ Want another island experience without a boat? You can’t go wrong with Skye!