SCOTLAND'S heritage body has taken the highly unusual step of giving up its stewardship of a Middle Ages castle allowing it to be converted into luxury hotel accommodation.

Historic Scotland will hand over total control of Rowallan Old Castle, sited on Colin Montgomerie's Ayrshire golf course, to the monument's owner, after 65 years of it being under 'state guardianship'.

The move brings to a close decades of wrangling to renovate the castle, near Kilmaurs. It is the first time in a quarter of a century such a handover has taken place and only the fifth time since the 1960s.

Others have included the 16th Century Castle of Park in Glenluce, Galloway, Inveraray Jail in Argyll, Old Tulliallan Castle, now Police Scotland headquarters, and Culross Palace, both in Fife.

Most of the nationally significant structure has already been turned into a five-star hotel and country club over the years and the latest move, announced yesterday, will see the remaining section of the old castle transformed.

Historic Scotland has said the castle, which dates back to the 13th Century, will be sympathetically converted with the integrity of the building maintained.

It is one of only a handful of times the agency has given up its guardianship of a national monument and insists in this instance it is the best move for the future conservation and management of the building.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, said: "Scottish Ministers remain absolutely committed to conserving Rowallan Old Castle as a nationally significant monument for future generations to enjoy.

"This step will pave the way for an innovative and productive partnership between the national agency, the local authority and the building's owner which will be in the best interests of the monument and the local economy."

Rowallan Castle's owner Niall Campbell has previously worked on several heritage projects with Historic Scotland, including the Rotundas in Glasgow, and received Civic Trust awards for other projects.

His proposal include converting the Old Castle into an exclusive annex of the current Rowallan Castle and Golf Country Club, with double bedrooms, dining room, lounge gallery and sitting room. Work is expected to get underway this summer and take around 12 months to complete.

A 30 year conservation plan has been agreed, which includes conservation and maintenance stipulations as well as public access requirements. The agreement is legally binding and would apply to any future owner or owners of the building during the 30 year period. Guardianship will only be formally rescinded once Scottish Ministers are satisfied that all these terms have been met.

He said: "We've come a long way in getting to this point and there's still a bit of work to be done.

"The end result will be a wonderful new space for visitors to the area, which retains all of the features that make the castle so special, and should be a benefit to the local community for years to come. I'm sure that my distant relation, James Muir Campbell, who lived in the house seven generations ago, would be proud of what we're trying to do."