Darnick Tower: Nelson woman selling ancestral 15th century Scottish castle
Royalty watched battles from its turrets, thieves plundered its armour and a great novelist roamed its halls.
Now a 15th century Scottish castle owned by a Kiwi is on the market for a good cause.
The Heiton family have owned Darnick Tower, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders, since it was first built in 1425 on land granted by King James I.
Nelson woman Fionna Heiton who inherited the fortress, complete with spiral staircase, battlements and acre grounds, from a distant relative in 2002 is hoping to pass it on for at least £695,000 (NZ$1.2 million).
Until recently she used rent from an elderly tenant of the castle to supplement her life and charity First Steps Himalaya, which supports education in rural Nepal.
But the estimated $175,000 needed to restore the four-storey building to a comfortable, modern living standard meant that, after 591 years in the family, it was time to hand the historic property to another owner.
Although sad to end Darnick Tower's connection to her family name, its sale would cover future living costs for her, partner Durga Aran, and their 14-year-old twins Jamie and Rhona Aran and allow them to focus on their charity work, Heiton said.
"The reality is we don't have the resources to restore it to its former glory so it needs to be sold now.
"It's all very nice hanging on to castles but it needs someone with money to do it up. It just doesn't make sense for our family to carry on with it."
Heiton was 18 when she learned the tower's custodian Juliet Heiton had traced its rightful ownership back to her.
An "eccentric" former flight Sergeant who lived in a run-down farm house and bred Himalayan goats, Heiton thought Juliet would approve of her decision to sell up.
"She used to wear her trousers drawn up with string and her house smelled like animals," she said.
"It was actually rather sad that Juliet never really got to benefit from it."
Juliet opened the tower to the public as a museum and tea room in 1927 but unwittingly caused the loss of many artefacts associated with its long and storied history.
Thieves who told the castle's unsuspecting tenant they had Juliet's permission to collect its entire armoury collection made off with the battle garments some decades ago.
She was also responsible for misplacing a walking stick that belonged to the famed Scottish playwright and novelist Sir Walter Scott.
According to family folklore, Scott, a frequent visitor to Darnick Tower in the 19th Century, had unsuccessfully begged its then-owner John Heiton to sell him the castle and thrown down his walking stick in rage.
"His walking stick remained a treasured artefact at the tower until [Juliet] accidentally left it on a train and it was never found," Heiton said.
Though Darnick Tower is best known for sheltering a teenage King James V during the Battle of Melrose in 1526, it also played a special role in the genesis of First Steps Himalaya.
Heiton was visiting the site during the 2007 Melrose festival when she told a crowd there of her desire to start the charity.
"I made this speech in the pouring rain with ink coming down the page. That's when people came rushing up to say that they wanted to help."
That generosity helped Heiton and her Nepali partner Aran to build their first early childhood centre in 2009.
Since then, First Steps Himalaya has built 23 schools and facilitated the education of 700 rural students near Kathmandu.
Three groups recently left Bhutan with the charity's ancillary tour company Beyond the Clouds and Aran has travelled with 20 others to help rebuild schools following the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Heiton said the charity has grown over the years such that "there's no way we can have another job".
"Our charity is working hard to build a better life for many struggling communities in Nepal, so it feels very worthwhile to harness my family's past in such a positive way."
Darnick Tower would be a prime purchase for a Scottish history buff or company wanting to market a "castle experience", she said.