A GROUP of leading musicians, artists and writers have launched a campaign to halt the sale of a 19th century Scottish castle where many of them received a first taste of their future careers.

World renowned conductor Sir Simon Rattle and singers Fran Healy from Travis and Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue all want to save Castle Toward in Argyll, while actors Brian Cox, Robert Patrick and Jamie Dornan have also backed the campaign.

The castle is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, who have a preferred private bidder in place to buy the site, but campaign group I Heart Castle Toward - made up of more than 100 prominent artists and groups - hopes to stop the sale and enter talks to develop the castle into a hub for youth arts and sport.

A website has been set up to support the campaign which features stories from the campaigners about their time at the site and their reasons for wanting to return it to its former glory.

Sir Simon, who has headed up both Berlin and London Philharmonic Orchestras, said: "I have immensely happy memories of my time in Castle Toward, working with the Glasgow Schools Symphony Orchestra…. it was obvious that the location had a profound effect on all the young musicians.

"It is exciting to think that this great building may once again be a hub for music, such an important step forward.

"I would urge everyone to support this development: It would be a treasure for many generations to come."

The castle, in the Cowal peninsula, was purchased by Glasgow City Council after the Second World War and in 1948 a school was set up for inner-city Glasgow children, offering them the chance to visit the countryside and study short courses in music and the visual arts.

Some 400,000 young students passed through the doors over the decades before its ownership was passed to Argyll and Bute Council in 1996 after local government reorganisation.

The authority has been trying to sell the site for the last few years.

Musician Mr Healy said his happiest memory was the time he spent at the castle as a 17-year-old, adding that it "changed his life forever".

"I and a friend were given our first lesson in songwriting by a teacher there", he said. "Some of us organised a last night show where we performed funny sketches and I sang a song which made everyone cry. It gave me the confidence to believe I could do something with my talent.

"If Toward goes so much potential disappears with it."

The I Heart Castle Toward campaign was set up by Kerry Nixon who went to the castle for six years as a young violinist.

She said: "When I heard what was happening I just had to do something. The place was just incredible, it offered so many young people a great opportunity and through the campaign we hope to highlight the contribution it made to the lives of so many people"

She added that the group wants to work with the council to try to find a way forward for the site.

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said: "It is heartening that there is so much interest in the future of Castle Toward from the campaigners of I Heart Castle Toward, in particular their recognition of the potential the building presents in terms of bringing prosperity and increased visitor footfall to Argyll and Bute.

"It appears the council shares much of the vision of the I Heart Castle Toward campaigners.

"However, Argyll and Bute Council is progressing an offer to buy Castle Toward that brings the potential to create local jobs, and develop the property as a visitor attraction with the involvement of the community, which has received a lot of support."

He added that further information on the prefered bid and what it means for the future of Castle Toward will be made public when a contract is in place.