This is the most northerly castle-hotel in the world. It was the summer home of the Balfour family from the mid-nineteenth century until 1960, when the last of its heirs died. The castle was bought by Polish cavalry officer Captain Tadeusz Zawadzki and is now run by his Scottish wife and two of her daughters.
Despite the change of hands, the castle still oozes heritage. Log fires roar amid Victorian antiques. Stags’ heads adorn the walls; gas used to be pumped through their antlers to illuminate lamps upon the tips. In the library, false bookshelves give onto a secret passage through which, legend has it, the Balfour family used to scurry when unwanted guests rang at their door. The laird’s bedroom features a magnificent four-poster bed into which is carved the Balfour family’s coat of arms. Another of the bedrooms adjoins a turret in which a shower room is housed.
The dining room serves local meat and game, fish caught in the surrounding Atlantic and North Sea waters, and fruit and vegetables grown in the castle’s own kitchen garden. Guests who wish to catch their own dinner can help the hotel staff to haul in the lobster pots. The romantically inclined can wed in the castle’s tiny chapel, which holds just twenty people.
History buffs can visit the 5,500-year-old village at Skara Brae, and for bird-watchers the Orkney Islands are paradise. Puffins nest here from May to July, and visitors commonly see razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, skuas, eider ducks, and Arctic terns. For those who want to get up close to the wildlife, it is said that the local seals swim toward those who whistle.