By Sean McGauran
Published: 28th May 2018

Business of the Month: Ackergill Tower

We talk to Amazing Venues’ CEO Suzanne Hurndall about why the North Coast 500 is such a exciting option for both tourist and trader, and waxes lyrical on one of the NC500’s most famous castles, Ackergill Tower.

1. Hello Suzanne! Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your position?

Hello! I am the CEO of Amazing Venues, who purchased Ackergill Tower back in December 2009. The Tower was an exclusive use venue when it was purchased but has more recently transitioned to become the luxurious Highland estate hotel that you see today. As CEO I have managed the business throughout its transition from the ‘exclusive use’ model to its current five star luxury hotel operation whilst ensuring that we kept the historic charm of Ackergill fully intact.

2. Tell us a little about the history of Ackergill Tower.

Ackergill is a stunning building steeped in history. The Tower was built circa 1475 and was originally surrounded by a sea moat, with the entrance on the first floor via a drawbridge. Since its completion, Ackergill has been the scene of bloody battles, savage sieges, political intrigue and even a famous kidnapping. In the late 1840’s, its then owner Sir George Dunbar employed an eminent Edinburgh architect to transform the Tower into the ‘finest gentleman’s seat in the North of Scotland’ (and Ackergill became the first property in Scotland to have wallpaper!). However, after a long and costly dispute over inheritance in the 1960’s, the tower slowly fell into a serious state of disrepair due to lack of funds. The Trustees of the estate put Ackergill up for sale in 1986 when it was sold to what would be only its 4th owner in the Towers long and chequered history. Ackergill has since undergone two substantial yet sympathetic renovation projects to become the luxurious castle you see today.

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

A warm and friendly Highland welcome awaits guests at the Tower where they can experience an unparalleled blend of luxury, romanticism, culture and history. Each of the guest bedrooms and suites are beautifully decorated, all in their own individual style. If you’re looking for something different, you can stay in Europe’s largest Treehouse in the branches of a sycamore tree in the grounds. There are also a further five luxury cottages on the estate providing more versatile accommodation options.

The hotel has a private beach, walled gardens and it’s very own tavern ‘The Smugglers Inn’ on site. There is even a possibility of spotting the Northern Lights during your stay from the comfort of your own room. Ackergill Tower offers a range of activities to try during your stay – some of our guests prefer to relax by a log fire while watching the waves crash against the shore, others prefer to walk along the beach, enjoy clay pigeon shoots in the grounds or fish in our own loch.

We have a fantastic team who are famed for excellent service, including a wonderful chef who creates amazing dishes using the finest locally sourced produce. The team at Ackergill will turn every stay into an experience.

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

The local area attracts tourists for a variety of activities including golfing, hiking, historic tours and
Caithness has lots to offer – from some well-spent family time exploring the seacoast tours where you can discover hidden sea stacks, caves and some amazing Scottish wildlife to a visit to award-winning local distilleries for knowledgeable tours and whisky & Gin tastings.

5. How has the NC500 impacted the local area, and Ackergill Tower?

The NC500 has had a hugely positive effect on both the area and the hotel. It has highlighted the natural beauty of the North Highlands and we are now known as one of the top most recommended tourist destinations to visit. Ackergill Tower has seen an increase in occupancy and we are also seeing a trend of bookings coming to us directly thank you to the NC500 website.

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

The number of overseas tourists exploring the local area has certainly increased and a lot of them are partaking in the North Coast 500 tours, all seeking to experience local food and drink, accommodation, culture, landscapes, heritage and outdoor and adventure based activities. The NC500 is attracting all sorts of different people from different walks of life, people from Scotland, families, couples and even solo travellers – everyone loves it! We feel very lucky to be a part of it.

7. Are you aware of how it has impacted the community and other local businesses close by?

The Scottish Highlands touring route has been named one of the top coast roads in the world. The NC500 has very quickly been able to help businesses thrive by showcasing and promoting everything the Highlands has to offer. NC500 is encouraging visitors to stay longer and increasing spend which contributes towards developing economic growth in the Highlands.

8. How is the NC500 corporate partnership helping your business?

The partnership with NC500 helps the business in many ways. We feature on the North Coast 500 website and we are easily identified on the Interactive maps giving us an opportunity to have a photo gallery and video to showcase the Tower. We are also able to participate in PR and press trips which can lead to national coverage and as I mentioned previously, we have seen an increase in direct bookings. We receive a Monthly Business Newsletter from NC500 and are able to participate in and benefit from the fantastic amount of Social Media coverage, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts which reach over 40,000 fans & followers each month!

9. Do you have any tips for fellow businesses along the route?

Fellow businesses, get on board! Be open minded, be prepared to flex a little – people on the route often travel a long way to be with you so be sure to make it a memorable experience for them.

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

I hope the NC500 continues to grow and raise Scotland’s tourism industry both at home and abroad. We love to see people enjoying the amazing countryside and wildlife and hope NC500 continues to help the many businesses on the route benefit from their expansion of distribution networks and multi-media marketing reach and of course (with our involvement), build customer loyalty so that visitors will return again and again.

11. Is it true the castle is haunted?

Well it wouldn’t be a real Scottish castle if we didn’t have our very own friendly ghost!…One of Towers’ earliest occupants was Helen Gunn, known as the ‘Beauty of Braemore’, who was abducted from her home on her wedding night and kept prisoner at the Tower. To escape her captor, she leapt from the battlements to her death. A stone marks the spot where she fell and if you’re lucky, you may even see her ghost roaming the battlements during your stay….

12. And finally… What does the future hold for Ackergill Tower?

Well as you may have already heard, Ackergill Tower has recently been put on the market for sale. Over the last couple of years our chairman and founder, Mike Clare, has slowly been downsizing his portfolio of unique and unusual properties, most recently with the sale of Stanbrook Abbey and Chateau Rhianfa in 2017. Now his final step into retirement is to sell his remaining property Ackergill Tower and the three forts in the Solent Forts collection. Mike feels it is time to hand over these properties to someone with the energy and appetite to take these incredible hotels to the next step, so that they can achieve their full potential. If anyone is interested in taking on this amazing opportunity, the properties are on sale with Knight Frank who would be delighted to provide you with more information, email Henry Jackson at henry.jackson@knightfrank.com.

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