They Wear Plaid

by Cynthia English, AustinWoman Magazine

Places exist around the world where moonscape, craggy mountains and crystal clear waters of wild currents appear seemingly the same;  places exist where brisk clean air caresses your face, whips through your hair then embraces you with surprising warmth under wide open skies;  and places exist with unexpected culinary delights sure to taunt strict dietary boundaries and our ‘desired’ waistline. But there is no place on earth where all of these attributes combine with the hearty sound of easy laughter, dry wit, Gaelic and the haunting pierce of lyrical emotion unique to the Highland Bagpipes caught by chance on a staccato wind. This is Scotland … and there is nothing quite like it or the 15th century Ackergill Tower. 

For most of us, visiting a granite castle means either picking our way around the rubble of ruins or standing behind red velvet ropes, gazing into a room trying to envision what life is like – more often than not conjuring a big…cold…dark…still… blank. We see lordly possessions reminiscent of human touch, but there is no life … no movement. Okay, trying, we mentally create a horse or two, picture a short guy in metal astride the horse, we hear the spike of racing hooves upon the grey cobblestone, and see the damsel with a long blond braid thrown out the window … we can even smell the boar roasting on the spit, but…we are now standing in Northeastern Scotland, our mounted man would more likely be tall (as possibly of Norse heritage) and muscular, sporting his clan’s tartan kilt (imagine Liam Neeson or Mel Gibson), and when we consider golf originated in Scotland around the time Ackergill Tower was built … perhaps all visions of swarthy men with naked knees – well, whatever our manifestations of castle life, they usually end there…mere visions set in years past. Unless you are a guest of Ackergill Tower … an experience in the luxurious life of castle living brought to the 21st century. 


This Scottish castle, whose name calls forth images of red haired lassies with ruddy complexions and rugged men in plaid, stands regally in the county of Caithness, district of Castle of Mey, the former summer home of Queen Elizabeth  (Queen Mum). It is not a hotel. But five times per year, long weekends are set aside from the usual 


Corporate or private bookings to celebrate ‘Open House Parties’. Choose from February’s ‘Food of Love’;  Spring’s ‘May Day’;  Summer’s ‘Glorious August’; November’s ‘Wild Goose’;  or the Scottish traditional New Year, ‘Hogmanay’. Each party is filled with special details and timely entertainment. You need not worry about anything but enjoying yourself from the moment you drive onto the estate, past the doocots, entering the castle’s magical environs into the care of the welcoming staff –dedicated and proud of their personalized service – until the time of your send-off, relaxed and happy, hesitant to leave. 


 After inspecting your heirloom appointed guestroom, don your waiting Barbour, hat, gloves and wellies to roam up the three mile beach of Sinclair Bay or sit with a book in one of the living rooms awash with color and warmth from the fires or join one of the planned events. Perhaps a guided nature walk over moors unspoilt beauty is the days’ fare calling your name. Spectacular sights await replete with peat bogs, Gorse bushes and heather above staggering sea cliffs (you might be lucky to catch sight of a nesting Puffin), breathtaking views of The Stacks of Dunscansby and The Knee, of seals and migrating whales, Aberdeen Angus and Highland cows, of small crofters huts sitting empty on the jutt of island visible across treacherous North Sea waters commingling with the Atlantic. Or ride a quad like a wild banshee. It is for you to decide how to spend your time at Ackergill - until dinner. The evening cocktail hour is when all guests (many returning) come together at the end of their day before the delicious fare of the acclaimed chef is presented by candlelight in the elegant dining room under the auspices of your host. There is always the unexpected.


Whether you spend your weekend in contemplation or shooting clays, golfing, learning the ceilidh, fishing, watching the Northern Lights in your kilt or having facials and massages, with friends, family, colleagues or other guests, you will never forget the castle or her people on the edge of the sea … Ackergill Tower.




1) A scenic drive up the coast from Inverness, short flight from Edinburgh or Aberdeen, or fly direct by private jet from New York and be welcomed by staff in Land Rovers on the landing strip apron of Wick  

2) The Tree House is completely outfitted for high-tech corporate meetings  

3) Check out the Norse settlements and Cape Wrath; inspiration to Robert Louis Stevenson 

4) Ebenezer Place; world’s shortest street, as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records  & 

5) the ghost of Ackergill.