By Sean McGauran
Published: 28th March 2018

Business of the Month: Castle of Mey

Our business of the month is Castle of Mey. Once the home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother it is now run by The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust. The Castle of Mey is the most northerly castle on mainland Britain and is afforded beautiful views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney.

We spoke to Shirley from the Castle of Mey to find out more!

1. Hi Shirley! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your position.

Shirley from the Castle of Mey

Shirley from the Castle of Mey

Certainly, I am a Mey girl born and bred and grew up seeing the Castle every morning from my bedroom window.After my secondary education at Thurso High School I attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee where I attained a BA Hons in Fine Art followed by a Master of Philosophy in Public Art.On returning home to Caithness, I was very fortunate to get a job at a local pottery, whilst also helping the Castle team when Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was home during the Summer.This started a long association with the Castle and slowly my job has evolved and changed to the Managing Director position I have today.I have the honour of having seen all aspects of the Castle ‘at work’ from Royal residence to Tourist Attraction.

2. Tell us a little about the history of the Castle of Mey.

The Castle of Mey was built in the 16th Century by the Earls of Caithness as their family seat.Over the years it changed hands and in 1952, the year she became a widow, Her Majesty The Queen Mother bought it.In 1996 she formed a Trust, The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust- a Scottish charity to ensure the future of the Castle and its policies for the benefit of community, education and farming.

3. Aside from the fact it’s a beautiful, historic castle (as if that wasn’t reason enough!), what makes The Castle of Mey the perfect stopping point for those travelling on the North Coast 500?

As you say, if it isn’t enough that it is a such beautiful Castle, we offer so much more!Our Visitor Centre houses a wonderful Tearoom which has home baking made daily and leisurely lunches can be enjoyed whilst looking over the amazing views of the Pentland Firth to Orkney.The Shop has a wide range of gifts to suit everyone, with our best seller still being the Castle Guide Book.

There is a very special Walled Garden which seems to have an eco climate all of its own, and to the South of the Castle we have a newly build Animal Centre, built in the Caithness vernacular style. This provides a wonderful opportunity for children and adults alike to get very close to chicks, lambs, geese and not to mention our very friendly donkey, Alice.

The Castle itself is such a special place to visit, with tours lasting 50 minutes it gives a real insight to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s time at Mey and what it meant to her, and indeed, what she meant to Mey.

We pride ourselves in our fantastic staff, all of whom go out of their way to make every visitors time with us special, nothing is too much for them.

4. What sort of sights and activities does the surrounding area offer?

We are ideally placed on the North Coast of Scotland to enjoy the magnificent beaches, wildlife and local museums.  We are close to other tourist attractions such as distilleries and some wonderful places to sample fresh local cuisine.

5. How has the NC500 impacted the local area and the Castle of Mey?

The NC500 has undoubtedly made a hugely important impact on the local area with us seeing many more independent travellers during last summer.  This has had a fantastic knock on effect to accommodation providers, restaurants and shops.  The visitor spend within the area has a wide ripple effect and is enjoyed across many businesses within the county.  With the longer season, it has also helped seasonal workers gain longer employment.  At the Castle of Mey, we saw an increase of 18% in our visitor numbers in 2017 which capitalised on the 15% increase of 2016.

Due to the increase in tourist numbers we have decided to open for Easter weekend 2018 and thereafter every Wednesday and Thursday 11am to 3pm until 19th April.  The Castle and Gardens of Mey is then open seven days a week from 1st May 2018.

6. What is the biggest change you have witnessed since the launch of the NC500?

I think the biggest change has to be the amount of traffic we see on the roads, both during and out with the tourist season.  It is encouraging to see that NC500 is being very proactive in addressing congestion on the more remote single track roads.

7. How is the NC500 business partnership helping your business?

Our partnership with NC500 helps highlight us as a visitor attraction and pushes more visitors to us during the season and allows us to have access to their social media platforms which helps us reach a very important, wider audience.  Importantly it also pushes the area as a whole, we must remember that visitors want to experience the whole county and NC500 sells this so well.

8. What do you hope for the future of the North Coast 500?

Personally, I think one of the most important and lasting things the NC500 has done is bring the beauty and uniqueness of the far north of Scotland to a much wider audience.  All too often we heard of people travelling as far as Inverness and turning south again, without ever having seen what we have to offer.

I hope that the future of the North Coast 500 continues to grow and businesses work together to ensure visitors to Caithness want to keep returning.

 

9. Do you have a hidden gem you would suggest that NC500 travellers visit?

Just along the coast eastward from the Castle of Mey is a little inlet called Scotland’s Haven – this is well known to locals but not travellers.  It takes a wee bit of a walk over the heather to reach it but well worth the effort to see the seals come in close.

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