The incredible history of a Scottish castle hotel
Ghosts, battles, family feuds – Ackergill Tower has many fascinating stories to tell. And even more stories just waiting for you to create them…
No one can be certain when Ackergill Tower was built, but as early as the mid-14th century reference can be found to the ‘lands of Ackergill’ belonging to Sir Reginald de Cheyne who owned nearly half of Caithness. The architecture of the Tower suggests it was built nearly a century later and one of its earliest occupants was Helen Gunn, known as the ‘Beauty of Braemore’, who was abducted from her home on her wedding night and kept prisoner. To escape her captor, she leapt from the battlements to her death. A stone marks the spot where she fell – and you may even see her ghost roaming the battlements during your stay.
Unable to have a son, Sir Reginald de Cheyne handed Ackergill Tower to his eldest daughter in 1350 and it passed through eight generations until the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Here, Sir William Keith of Ackergill fell and the castle became jointly owned by the Keith and Earl Marshall families. In these days, family feuds were common; first Alexander Keith was held prisoner in Castle Girnigoe, then in 1592 Robert Keith seized the house from George Earl Marshall and was declared a rebel. In 1598, another complaint was made by the Earl Marshall family, this time that John Keith of Sister and his two sons had ‘ledderit the walls of Ackergill’ by night and had entered and spoiled the castle, wounded his servants and ‘now keeps the place’.
Over the past centuries, Ackergill, like many castles in Caithness, became neglected. Despite modernisation work and additions in the 17th century (when Ackergill became the first property in Scotland to have wallpaper) the estate fell into a dire state. Between 1890 to 1986, the estate land declined from over 100,000 acres to less than 4,000 and the income from tenant farmers could not support the ageing building. Finally, the trustees of Ackergill Tower put it up for sale. It was bought first by the Banister family but after a two and a half year renovation programme it was sold again, this time to Amazing Venues. An even more enormous renovation project took place until the luxurious castle you see today was opened in 2012.
Every bedroom in the tower and many of the lounges were once hooked hooked up to a bell, each room would have a handle that connected to a bell in the ‘Bell Room’ (which can now be found next to reception). The unique size of each bell meant they all had a different tune; all waiting staff had to learn the difference between each bell sound and know it’s corresponding room so that when the residents of the house rang the bell, they would know which room they were in.
Over time, many of the connections between the 27 bells found throughout the castle have broken, now only the front door bell still remains connected.
Stay with us
Many of our rooms have sea views and all offer you the most peaceful night’s sleep but don’t worry about packing an alarm clock – we’ll wake you gently each morning, ready for breakfast, with the distant, romantic sound of bagpipes drifting on the air.