For sale: des res, beautiful views, high ceilings, lots of stained glass and a graveyard just outside the door – so at least the neighbours will be quiet.

Or, how does your very own Bronze Age stone circle sound for a garden feature - just one previous owner, albeit one who happens to have an all-encompassing presence?  

From the northern tip of Scotland to its southern-most fringes, the great Church of Scotland sale is underway, with properties declared surplus to stock hitting the market and, in many cases, attracting significant interest.

The ‘for sale’ signs have begun to pop up outside churches which were once the beating heart of the communities they served, in some of Scotland’s most picturesque spots, at the buildings steeped in history, some with rare features in their grounds and sometimes with dearly departed residents still resting in peace just where the new owners might prefer they weren’t.


The Herald: St Martin's Church near Perth is among the properties currently for saleSt Martin's Church near Perth is among the properties currently for sale (Image: Church of Scotland)

On the market is everything from austere kirk buildings designed to withstand Orkney’s wildest weather and which provided solace for anxious families as they waited for loved ones at sea, to grand churches on spots which have held religious significance for hundreds of years.

There’s the small and functional such as the tiny white-washed Bellanoch Church that overlooks the Crinan Canal and just 784 sq ft, to the shimmering granite grandeur of St Mark’s Church at Rosemount Viaduct in the heart of Aberdeen.

Closed last May, it features an impressive granite dome and Greek Portico entrance, three floors and a prime spot between His Majesty’s Theatre and Aberdeen Central Library: the buildings are known locally as ‘education, salvation and damnation’.

The sell-off is the latest chapter in a controversial church closure programme that has left some congregations bereft as much-loved kirk buildings faced the axe and communities were pitted against each other in a fight over which ones might survive.

Parts of the process have been criticised as having been carried out at speed and under a shroud of cover, with claims important meetings to decide some buildings’ futures were in tricky to reach locations and at inconvenient times.

Now the apparent dash to put properties on the market within months of closing is said to have left communities struggling to mount efforts which might have helped them take on much-loved buildings for new uses.

Amidst it all swirl fears the rush to sell may see important church buildings taken over by new owners who may not be fully unaware of the challenges and expense of renovating complicated old buildings.

“The dread is that people will see a church on sale for £50,000, think it’s a bargain but it requires £150,000 to get up to standard so it can be used, and they just don’t have the money,” says DJ Johnston-Smith, director of Scotland’s Churches Trust, who estimates around 550 churches across Scotland are at risk of being closed and eventually sold.

“We want to see these church buildings survive.”

He points to Kilchoman church on Islay as an example of how things can go wrong. Whole and watertight when it closed in 1978, it has since crumbled.

The Herald: Kilchoman Church on Islay no longer has its roofKilchoman Church on Islay no longer has its roof (Image: Scotland's Churches Trust)

“The community wanted to buy it and turn it into a heritage centre, but it was eventually sold on the open market,” he says.

“People on Islay are broken by the fact that they have had to watch for 25 years as the roof caved in and timbers rotted.

“We desperately don’t want to see any more of Scotland’s wonderful historic churches become like Kochoman and hope anyone who takes on one of these special sites fully understands and accepts the serious responsibilities that come with owning such important pieces of Scotland’s truly incredible built heritage.”

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The Church of Scotland, meanwhile, has insisted its rationalisation process has been necessary: “We appreciate many of our churches and other buildings are important to people who have longstanding personal or family connections, but in the face of falling minister numbers, a decline in membership and a reduction in income both nationally and locally, as well as a historical surplus of buildings, the rationalisation process is necessary to ensure we focus on retaining buildings that will continue to meet the needs of mission in the 21st century,” says a spokesman.

With many churches having already closed, the shift is on to move them on.

Some are particularly desirable, such as B-listed Craignish Parish Church in Ardfern on the Craignish peninsula, around 25 miles south of Oban and overlooking the heavenly peace and calm of Loch Craignish.

The Herald: Craignish Parish Church in Ardfern

Part of its lure could well be the price: at offers over £50,000 for accommodation that includes the sanctuary, a small vestry arranged over ground and gallery floor levels, set in an acres of grounds – with the village war memorial at its edge.

At St Martin’s Church, seven miles north of Perth, there is the benefit of deathly quiet neighbours.

Although the church was built in 1842, old gravestones in its yard suggest it replaced an earlier church dating as far back as 1600, while records point to a church building on the site as far back as 1189.

For the prospective owner, there’s the slightly morbid view of the local authority-owned graveyard, with stones carrying mortality images such as coffins, angels, crossbones and skulls.

Others, such as the gravestone of James Tasker, a blacksmith, who died in 1791, are carved with symbols relating to the dearly departed’s role in life. His features a hammer and anvil, neighbouring farmers’ memorials have carvings of ploughshares, and there are remains of two delicate immortelles – dome covered memorials of fragile china flowers, birds and other objects.

It is currently being advertised for offers over just £40,000.

For househunters seeking to get away from it all, there is the isolated beauty of the simple stone church on the island of Flotta, part of Orkney’s southern islands in Scapa Flow.

The C-listed Flotta Church, with two dazzling stained glass windows overlooking the altar, dates to the early 1780s, when its roof would have been thatched with heather.

Also for sale is the C-listed St. Columba’s at Longhope, an island to the south of Hoy. Built in 1832, and half a mile east of the pier, for decades it has been the focus for services to commemorate to the deaths in 1969 of seven men from Longhope lifeboat who died trying to save the crew of the 2,600-ton Liberian registered steamship Irene during a storm.

Properties span the country: from 18th century B-Listed Dunrossness Church, just 10 minutes from Shetland’s Sumburgh Aiport, to Glencorse Church in the Midlothian village of Milton Bridge near Penicuik. A majestic late 19th century A-listed church, it has a dramatic brick arched interior and grand bell tower.

There are churches which dominate the skyline and tell long tales of worship. Gothic style Monigaff Church in Newton Stewart towers above its kirkyard, where there are two cross slabs, one possibly dating from the 8th century, and the remains of an earlier 13th or 14th century church within its grounds.

The Herald: The Bronze Age stone circle in the grounds of Midmar ChurchThe Bronze Age stone circle in the grounds of Midmar Church (Image: Church of Scotland)

One of the most remarkable currently on the market, Midmar Church in Aberdeenshire, is set alongside the Bronze Age Midmar Stone Circle, constructed over 4,000 years ago and said to be one of the most well-preserved Recumbent Stone Circles in the north east of Scotland.

According to its sales brochure it is “perfect for anyone who needs to commute to the city”.

Sometimes what makes churches particularly unusual can be a hindrance to their next phase of life, however.

Morham Church in East Lothian’s sale has been affected by a dispute over nine people interred within its crypt more than 300 years ago.

Moves by the Church of Scotland to disinter the bodies have been challenged by one of their descendants.

And at Foveran Parish Church, on the market for more than £120,000 in May last year, the new owner’s hopes to convert it into a home have been impeded by the presence of the medieval Turing Slab.

Once part of a medieval church on the site, it depicts two knights thought to have died in battle.

While permission has been sought to move it so redevelopment can take place, Historic Environment Scotland has raised concerns, arguing it may raise issues of “national importance” with adverse impacts on the A-listed slab and character of the B-listed church.

The Church of Scotland, meanwhile, says it is hopeful buildings it no longer needs can be reborn.

“Many of our properties do attract considerable interest from potential buyers, whether because of the location, historical or architectural interest or potential future use,” said a spokesman.

“As the Church of Scotland is undergoing a process of rationalising our buildings estate, surplus properties of all kinds are continually coming onto the market and we anticipate that new properties will continue to appear on our website with a level of regularity.

“We hope that our buildings will have a successful future use under new ownership and we have a strong track record of working with community groups who are interested in purchasing our properties, as well as a range of other buyers.”