NOTE: ACKERGILL TOWER HOTEL IS, AS OF 2019, PERMANENTLY CLOSED.
Standing sturdy and tall near John O’Groats on the most northern part of the Scottish and British mainland, the 600 year old Ackergill Tower Hotel offers splendid isolation but with five star luxury, award winning levels of service, and a full 3,000 acres of private estate to be explored which includes miles and miles of stunning coastline.
The hotel achieved five star status in 2012 and maintains extremely high levels of hospitality and service. There are 35 plush B&B rooms and suites to choose from, all of which display vintage sophistication and style, with traditional colour combinations and tartan patterns complimented by antique furniture, and in many rooms, four poster beds.
They have some excellent self catering choices too; 5 luxury cottages on the 3000 acre private estate that offer independence and privacy while still being able to enjoy the superb facilities on offer at the castle itself, including its very highly regarded restaurant.
For something extra special there is the stunning glass ceilinged Tree House; a spacious one double bedroom apartment perched in a 150 year old sycamore tree.
It is nothing like any tree house you may have seen before, from the outside, but especially from the inside, where it can only be described as a large luxury apartment and with a 7ft circular bed.
FACILITIES & THINGS TO DO:
The castle itself is of course full of atmosphere and a brooding sense of history, there are some lovely touches all around and though now a fully functioning luxury castle hotel it has lost very little of its mystique.
Explore the corridors, drawing rooms and halls and soak in the atmosphere complimented by beautiful views from almost every window and vantage point, including the fabled upper towers.
The traditional gardens are beautifully landscaped and tended, including the heart shaped garden, the walled garden and the sundial lawn.
Around the estate there are acres of wild countryside and coastline to explore on foot, or on mountain bike or horse back (both of which can be arranged/hired from the hotel), plus many activities such as archery, falconry, clay pigeon shooting and fishing on the estate loch, or for more adrenaline you can take to the sea on a RIB speed boat trip.
The restaurant at the castle hotel is consistently good and offers one of Scotland’s best fine dining experiences. The chefs source seasonal ingredients from local fishermen, farmers and markets and have some really terrific multi course dinner options.
There is also afternoon tea to be enjoyed plus Sunday lunch, and you certainly won’t be disappointed with the very impressive and generous breakfast. You can also appreciate their extensive whisky collection at the castle plus they also have a very good selection of wines.
One of the most remote parts of Scotland and Britain, the area around the castle, including the castle estate itself, is beautifully serene and atmospheric, and somewhere you can see a huge amount of wildlife, especially coastal wildlife such as seals, otters, puffins and sea eagles.
The nearest village is Wick, an ancient Viking settlement, which is now a tidy little fishing village and makes for a pleasant day out. You can also visit one of the many whisky distilleries in the area and of course you will probably feel obliged to visit nearby John O’Groats; mainland Britain’s most northernly point, then discover that its actually something of a myth as Britain’s most northerly point is actually the nearby Dunnet Head.
Sinclair Bay, named after the famous Sinclair clan who once resided at Ackergill, is another fine spot and one where you can enjoy activities such as wind surfing, sailing and sand yachting.
This being Scotland there are also a few good golf courses around, and this being the northern part of the Scottish Highlands too, you don’t have to travel all that far to find good mountaineering either. You’ll find the staff at Ackergill super helpful and will always be at hand to organize all sorts of activities and tours for you.
The nearest airport is Wick, sometimes known as John O’Groats Airport, which is just under 10 minutes from the castle (airport transfers can be arranged) while the nearest city in this remote part of the country would be would be Inverness, about three and a half hours’ drive away. There is also a train station in Wick with trains from both Glasgow and Edinburgh taking around 8 hours.
The history of Ackergill goes all the way back to 1300s, when reference was made to the ‘lands of Ackergill’ belonging to Reginald de Cheyne an important local chieftain. The tower was believed to be built around a hundred years later after ownership was passed through marriage to the Keith clan under John Keith of Inverugie.
Many old castles have their own ghost stories and Ackergill is no exception. The tower has always been synonymous with a legend from the 15th century which involves a beautiful local girl called Helen Gunn who, after spurning the advances of John Keith, was kidnapped by him on the eve of her wedding (to someone else, obviously!) and locked up in the tower. In a bid to escape she threw herself, or fell, from the top of the tower and died with local legend says that her ghost still haunts the tower to this day.
Whether the details of that legend are fully correct or not, what is known is that clans Gunn and Keith were locked in a bloody feud for some time after that which culminated in what became known as the Battle of Champions sometime in the late 1400s, when the Keiths it seems came out on top.
The next important era for Ackergill was in the 1500s when it was to change ownership numerous times. The Sinclairs of Giringoe were to seize the castle from the Keiths, and have it seized back, on various occasions. After these many bloody failures the Sinclairs were to eventually get their hands on the castle in the seemingly more civilized 17th century, when instead of attacking it they just went and bought it.
More civilized times or not, the attacks were not over for Ackergill; George Sinclair the 5th Earl of Caithness was to become entangled in a feud with Sir Robert Gordon which in 1623 culminated with a siege of the castle and the Sinclairs were to again be relieved of their prize property.
In 1651, towards the end of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell was believed to have become a famous guest when he and his men ‘borrowed’ the castle to help lay siege to former owners the clan Keith’s new abode; Dunnotter Castle.
Possession came and went and it came into the hands of brand new owners by 1676 until they, the Campbells, were to sell it on again in 1699 to Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs.
The Dunbars made some extensive renovations to the castle in the 18th century the mid 19th century, and it would remain in their hands until 1986 when it was sold to the Banister family, who undertook over two years of delicate renovation work before selling it on again to the luxury hotel company Clarenco, for it to become what we see today; one of Scotland’s finest luxury castle hotels.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS SAY:
“Have been traveling all my life, all over the world, but never spent a night in such an amazing place and accommodation. Everything was absolutely wonderful…”
“What a stunning location and you get to stay in a real castle! This was one of my highlights of our Highland trip. We loved the ambiance, the authentic decoration, the drawing rooms with a fire place, the stunning view over the dramatic coastline! Our cottage was equally nice and I loved the Noble Isle amenities in the bathroom…”
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- Ackergill Tower Hotel