NEW YORK: Living like a prince just got easier.
Earlier this month, Prince Charles’s charity, the Prince’s Foundation, opened Granary Lodge on the grounds of the Castle of Mey, one of the Prince of Wales’s favourite getaways. The luxury bed-and-breakfast is located in Caithness, on the rugged northern coast of Scotland.
Built in the 17th century, the lodge has gone through many transformations, including serving as a grain storage facility, animal house, and garage, but sat vacant for several years. Two years ago, Prince Charles led the effort to renovate the building into 10 guest rooms, plus the construction of a lounge, reception area, and breakfast room.
“It’s got real character,” Shirley Farquhar, administrator of the Castle of Mey Trust, says of the lodge. “It had to be done in the right style and sympathetically toward the castle.”
The new, bright rooms have a homey feel, with floral accents and pastel colours. The lounge area serves as a gathering spot with its large sofas and stone fireplace, overlooking the Pentland Firth to Orkney, while the dining room’s dark wood tables and grandfather clock transport guests to the 1600s.
Robert Lovie, director of outreach for the Prince’s Foundation, says Prince Charles was very closely involved in the renovation efforts and wanted everything to be done “properly” – down to the colours of the bedrooms and the fabrics used.
The Castle of Mey is a special place to Prince Charles because it previously belonged to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Lovie says, and Charles grew up visiting during the summer.
To continue honouring his grandmother and the castle’s history, he decided to adorn the walls with a gallery of portraits of the Queen Mother and at least 80 frames with clans of Scotland throughout the lodge.
Originally, the granary was a three-story multipurpose agriculture building and collection point of the threshed grain grown by the tenants of the Mey Estate.
The Castle of Mey has had a rocky history since it was built around 1570 by George, the 4th Earl of Caithness, for his second son, William Sinclair. In 1573, William was killed by his older brother John, who was in turn murdered, and the castle went to a third brother, George, who founded the family of the Sinclairs of Mey and whose descendant succeeded to the earldom in 1789.
When George, the 15th Earl, died at the age of 30 in 1889 without an heir, the castle changed hands a few times before Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother purchased it in 1952.
In 1996 she gifted it with an endowment to the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust, of which the Prince’s Foundation is now the sole trustee. The opening of Granary Lodge was a joint effort between the two.
The Queen Mother visited the estate every year, and Prince Charles continues to do so each summer for at least a week – the only time the castle and Granary Lodge is closed to the public.
The Caithness experience
Aside from the castle, the coastal town of Caithness is known for its rough northern landscape and jagged cliffs on the edge of Europe. Aberdeen, the nearest big city, is 225 miles away. During the early medieval era the Picts occupied the area, before Norse settlers arrived in the 10th century.
The area is filled with historic places to visit, including the Achavanich Standing Stones erected almost 4,000 years ago, as well as the Whaligoe Steps, a stone staircase that leads down a steep cliff to the harbour of Whaligoe Haven. There’s also the Hill o’ Many Stanes, a stone arrangement from the Bronze Age, and Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the U.K. mainland.
The coastline north and south of nearby town Wick is ideal for wildlife spotters, with seals, orcas, dolphins, puffins, and otters. “It’s a very unspoiled part of the United Kingdom,” Lovie explains. “There’s a lot of rugged landscape and seascapes. A few steps, and you fall off the mainland of the UK.”
Even without leaving the castle grounds, guests at the Granary Lodge can experience a unique walled garden and woodland area, where the Queen Mother used to tend to the plants, including her favourite rose Albertine. Surrounded by marigolds, pansies, and dahlias, visitors can wander through the Shell Garden, where the Queen Mother would sit with her corgis, according to hotel reps.
Wee ones can enjoy the Animal Centre in the East Woods, featuring Alice the donkey along with sheep, ducks, geese, and piglets. Guests can help feed the lambs and learn how to milk cows.
Currently, breakfast – made with ingredients from local suppliers – is the only meal served, but the lodge expects to introduce dinner later in the summer.
The morning meal consists of Scottish fare such as porridge, along with bacon and eggs, fresh fruit, and eggs Benedict; dinner will be similarly inspired by old-fashioned Scottish traditions.
Rooms cost from £160 (US$203) to £195 pounds per night, with all proceeds going to the Castle of Mey Trust to run the estate. Farquhar says the low price is designed to make the experience more accessible.
“The delightful thing is that we’ve had a lot of local people stay,” she says, “It’s been lovely. A lot are coming to celebrate an anniversary, a birthday.”
In the future, Granary Lodge hopes to be able to offer corporate events and help host weddings on the grounds. It’s expected to boost visitation to the already popular Castle of Mey, which had 30,000 visitors last year.
“It’s such a lovely new chapter in terms of the history of the place,” Lovie says.