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The History of Ackergill Castle

Ackergill Tower is a beautiful castle located on the coast of Sinclair’s Bay. It is roughly 4km north of Wick, Caithness, in northern Scotland. As of now, the tower is a category A listed building.

Built in a five-storey oblong shape, it has also been known as Ackergill Castle over the years. With many additions being added to the castle over time, it is not like it was many years ago.

The history of Ackergill Tower

Ackergill Castle is a beautiful seaside castle that sits only one mile west of the infamous Sinclair stronghold of Girnigoe Castle. It has an amazing history hidden behind it that people, even now, can’t help but marvel at. Once upon a time, it is said that a large moat surrounded the castle.

However, no trace of this can be found nowadays. Ackergill Tower is absolutely fascinating and is one of the most picturesque castles in Scotland.

The early history

In 1354, the Clan Keith, under John Keith of Inverugie, inherited the beautiful lands of Ackergill from the Cheynes family. It is suggested that Ackergill Tower was likely built by his son in the early 15th century. However, it was first mentioned in 1538.

Wide angle shot of Ackergill castle
The castle sits beautifully along the coastline. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Seizing of Ackergill Castle

In 1547, the Sinclair’s of Girnigoe attacked and seized Ackergill Castle. Mary of Guise, the Regent of Scotland at the time, granted the Sinclair’s remission for this and soon returned Ackergill to the Keiths. She also later installed Laurence Oliphant, 4thLord Oliphant, as the keeper of Ackergill in 1549.

The Sinclair’s didn’t stop there. In 1556, the Sinclair’s once again captured the castle for which they were granted remission again. In 1593, Robert Keith, the brother to George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (who rightfully owned the tower), seized Ackergill by force, for which he was declared a rebel, and the castle was returned to the Earl.

The attacks on the castle didn’t end there. In 1597, John Keith of Subster attacked the tower in the dead of night. He climbed the walls with ladders which took the occupants by surprise. The surprise factor is what helped him capture the castle.

The Sinclair’s return

In 1612, the Sinclair’s manage to acquire Ackergill Tower once again. However, this time it was through legal means after it was sold to the Earl of Caithness by the Earl Marischal. However, when 1623 rolled around, the castle was under attack once more when it was besieged by Sir Robert Gordon during his feud with George Sinclair, 5th Earl of Caithness.

File:Ackergill Tower from the sea - geograph.org.uk - 1015243.jpg
The castle was built in the early 15th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Sinclair’s surrendered the castle before any serious assault took place. In 1651, Oliver Cromwell may have used Ackergill Castle to garrison his troops during his siege of Dunnottar Castle when he was hunting for the Honours of Scotland. In 1676, John Campbell, 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Holland took possession of Ackergill.

This was done in repayment of debts owed to him by the Sinclair’s.

Ackergill Tower for Sale

In 1699, John Campbell listed Ackergill Tower for sale. It was then bought by Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs. The Dunbar family began extensive renovations right away which included the addition of a lean-to-shaped extension to the tower. Further renovations were carried out in the mid-19th century which included a cap-house made by the architect David Bryce on behalf of George Sutherland Dunbar, 7th Lord Duffus.

In 1963, Maureen Blake, who lived with her mother and C.S. Lewis for around twenty years, became the eighth baronetess of Hempriggs as well as the steward of Ackergill Tower until it was once again sold in 1986. Afterwards, the castle underwent a long two-year period of restoration.

The restoration saw the introduction of the Ackergill Tower hotel and business venue.

The current day

In 2009, the tower was once again sold and the new owners, AmaZing Venues, part of Clarenco LLP, acquired a five-star rating in 2012 after spending around £2 million upgrading the facilities.

The tower was then sold in 2019 to a private owner. Still under private ownership now, the castle is no longer open to the general public.

You may be interested in other Scottish castles located in the Highland area such as Dunrobin Castle and Dunvegan Castle.

File:Ackergill Tower (geograph 2432134).jpg
The castle is surrounded by miles and miles of farmland. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Ackergill Castle Timeline

  • 1354- The Clan Keith, under John Keith of Inverugie, inherit the beautiful lands of Ackergill from the Cheynes family
  • 15th century- Ackergill Tower is built
  •  1538- Ackergill Castle is first mentioned in literature
  • 1547- The Sinclair’s of Girnigoe attack and seize Ackergill Castle
  • 1556- The Sinclair’s once again capture the castle for which they are granted remission again
  • 1593- Robert Keith, the brother to George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal (who rightfully owned the tower), seizes Ackergill by force, for which he is declared a rebel, and the castle is returned to the Earl
  • 1597- John Keith of Subster attacks the tower in the dead of night
  • 1612- The Sinclair’s manage to acquire Ackergill Tower once again this time through legal means
  • 1623- The castle is under attack once more when it is besieged by Sir Robert Gordon during his feud with George Sinclair, 5th Earl of Caithness
  • 1651- Oliver Cromwell may have used Ackergill Castle to garrison his troops during his siege of Dunnottar Castle when he was hunting for the Honours of Scotland
  • 1676- John Campbell, 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Holland takes possession of Ackergill Tower
  • 1699- John Campbell lists Ackergill Tower for sale
  • Mid-19th century- Further renovations are carried out
  • 1963- Maureen Blake becomes the eighth baronetess of Hempriggs as well as the steward of Ackergill Tower
  •  1986- The castle is sold once again
  • 2009- The tower is once again sold
  • 2012- The new owners, AmaZing Venues, part of Clarenco LLP, acquire a five-star rating after spending around £2 million upgrading the facilities
  • 2019- The castle is sold to a private owner

Ackergill Castle facts

  • A moat once surrounded Ackergill Castle though all trace of it is now gone
  • Ackergill Castle sits upon 30 acres of land
  • The castles driveway is a mile long
  • The castle was previously on the market for £3,900,000
  • There is a 150-year-old Sycamore tree in the garden

Featured in TV and Film

  • The Crown (2016)

Who owns Ackergill Tower?

In 2019, Ackergill Tower was purchased by US philanthropist, Dr. Betsee Parker. He is reportedly using the former stronghold as a holiday home as the castle no longer operates as a hotel.

Tourism

After being purchased by Dr. Betsee Parker, the castle is now under private ownership. This means that it is closed to the general public and is likely to remain that way permanently. Unfortunately, you cannot view it from the road either due to the long driveway and hidden location.

However, nearby you can visit the Wick Heritage Museum, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Duncansby Head, and Old Wick Castle.

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