IN its 700-plus years it has seen Vikings, sieges, royalty, and assassinations – and now a 13th-century castle is about to embark on a new adventure.

Mingary Castle, in Lochaber, is a Category A-listed building and, until 2013, had been in danger of collapse until the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust stepped in.

After extensive work, the castle was transformed from a crumbling ruin and reopened to the public in 2016.

READ MORE: Mingary Castle to reopen for fine dining following restoration

Now, a couple from Uist plan to reopen the castle after the pandemic with luxury dining and sumptuous suites after being approached by the estate’s owners.
Award-winning chef Colin Nicholson, 32, and restaurant manager Jess Thompson, 24, are to reopen the medieval castle in May in their first business venture.

The couple, who met while working at Langass Lodge in Uist, are set to go ahead with plans that have seen them battle the pandemic to get their business off the ground.

They intend to open a 20-seater restaurant as well as luxury suites. Around five jobs will be created in the first year, they said.

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Speaking to The Herald, Mr Nicholson and Ms Thompson, who have worked at five-star hotels, including Inverlochy Castle, said that despite the challenges of the pandemic, the chance to work on their own project at Mingary Castle was too good to turn down. 

Mr Nicholson said: “When we were approached that’s when the vaccine announcement came out, so that kind of helped with the decision a little bit.
“We don’t know how well the vaccine is going to do, but with a year of lockdown something has to change soon. 

Ms Thompson added: “It’s obviously coming at a very challenging time, but we both felt ready, and we’ve always wanted to have our own place. 

“Whether it be a small hotel or a restaurant, we’ve always wanted a place of ours.

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"I think it was an opportunity that was really hard to let slip through our fingers, so we decided just to go for it

“We had all been through a rough year, and maybe we were all a little bit too optimistic in thinking this year would go back to normal, which it is clearly not going to, but we are still very hopeful for opening in May.”

Despite the couple pressing on with their venture, they insisted that Covid had been part of their thinking, with the pair admitting they had a few back-up plans if social distancing and other restrictions remained in place. 

Mr Nicholson, who has won three AA Rosette awards, also explained that the hotel only having four rooms was also beneficial as they did not need to rely on filling up the hotel to stay afloat, and that they had other plans to bolster self-catering offerings in light of the increase of so-called staycations. 

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He said: “We have a back up plan if things fall through, there’s a self catering part of the castle that can bring in money if the hotel part can’t work, and we have came up with a few different scenarios.” 

Covid has also not been the only challenge, with the couple launching their first business in order to lease Milngary. The pair using technology to work around Covid restrictions in completing seminars from Business Gateway and obtaining support through Highland and Island Enterprise. 

Ms Thompson said: “Because of Covid a lot of people we have been working with have been on furlough or flexi-furlough so a lot of the development of our programmes have been slower than we anticipated, things like our licensing applications, everything is taking a bit longer than we expected because of Covid.”

The couple, who have travelled the world together, are also keen to use the project to boost the local area and tourism on the west coast. 

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They hope their venture can create jobs and support local businesses, and also plan to use their own experience in the hospitality industry to benefit their employees. 

Mr Nicholson praised the owners of Ardnamurchan estate in playing an instrumental role in the plans, saying: “Jess met the owners of the castle in her previous role at Inverlochy Castle and they saw the potential of her hosting their castle.

“This is such a beautiful part of Scotland, and we want people to come and enjoy it. 

“We want to boost tourism in the community and create a top food destination for this part of Scotland.”