John O’Groats named one of Scotland’s ‘coolest’ holiday destinations

The revamped John O'Groats Hotel.

The revamped John O'Groats Hotel.

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It has long been derided as one of Scotland’s biggest eyesores and was labelled the most dismal part of the country only six years ago.

But John O’Groats, the long-standing let-down for visitors to the UK’s most northerly destination, is now set to bask in the limelight of a remarkable turnaround.

The sea view lodge.

The sea view lodge.

A rebirth of a run-down Victorian hotel into a series of Nordic-inspired self-catering apartments has helped win it the accolade of one of the coolest holiday destinations in Scotland.

Global travel website Coolstays has praised the new-look Natural Retreats resort - which was developed in the wake of John O’Groats winning the notorious Carbuncle Award - for its “wonderfully desolate feel.”

The site is urging travellers to explore the “unspoilt and tiny hamlet” and John O’Groats and recommends heading to the remote corner of Caithness for “its pretty white sandy beaches, sparkling clear blue waters, rugged rocky cliffs and dark woods.”

It is all a far cry from when Urban Realm magazine, the organisers of the Carbuncle Awards, said of John O’Groats: “The overriding temptation upon reaching the famous northerly cliffs is to chuck oneself off them.”

With the spectacular views from your luxury accommodation it is almost impossible not to be allured into the array of natural splendours around you

The former John O’Groats Hotel, which dates back to 1875, had been lying empty for more than 15 years before Edinburgh-based architects GLM joined forces with developer Natural Retreats.

The luxury accommodation operator spent around £6 million overhauling the existing baronial-style building and adding a multi-coloured extension. Its collaboration with GLM also involved the creation of a further 23 self-catering lodges.

In its Scottish top 10, the CoolStays site hails “the alluring wilderness of Scotland’s most northern retreat.”

It states: “Making the most of its magnificent setting, the Natural Retreats haven offers a range of luxury accommodation with breathtaking views.

“With the spectacular views from your luxury accommodation it is almost impossible not to be allured into the array of natural splendours around you.

“A guided walk can show you the best of the dramatic coastline and wild Dunnet Forest while an exhilarating boat trip can introduce you to some of the exceptional local wildlife.

“Magnificent orca whales, playful seals and beautiful dolphins have all been spotted in the area along with the wonderful local guillemot and remarkable puffins.”

Neil McAllister, associate director at GLM, said: “Our client’s request was to provide a building which would lift a run-down, monochrome, national embarrassment and re-establish John O’ Groats as a desirable destination.

“Our response offers comfort and a welcome at the definitive ‘end of the road’ location. It provides a welcome splash of colour in a sometimes bleak landscape and signals to the world that something new has emerged from the dereliction.

“It has been really encouraging to see how the redevelopment has acted as a catalyst for the area with several new businesses – restaurants etc. – springing up in the surrounding village. John o’ Groats is now back on the map for the right reasons.”

The current campaign by Natural Retreats - which operates in more than 30 destinations across Europe and the United States - to attract visitors to John O’Groats promotes “ultimate surf adventures,” “front row seats to the Northern Lights” and the chance to discover the “North Coast 500” -a new scenic route snapping the north coast of the Highlands.

Adam Gough, head of technical services at Natural Retreats, said: “What we are trying to capture at John O’Groats is the unique combination of genuinely amazing features that cannot be replicated anywhere around the world.

“How is this for a combination of things all in the one place - watching killer whales from land, upon one of the world’s most powerful stretches of water, across from one of the world’s leading wreck diving locations, on the now world famous North Coast 500 at one end of the UK’s most-famous journey - Land’s End to John O’Groats.”

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of national tourism agency VisitScotland, said: “The world-famous status of John O’Groats as the most northerly point (with the honourable exception of Dunnet Head) on the British mainland has always proved a great draw for visitors.

“It also boasts remarkable scenery and exceptional wildlife, and it is a real coup for Natural Retreats to be featured on this CoolStays list.

“The company’s stunning renovation of the John O’Groats Inn has already earned Natural Retreats a four-star self-catering award under VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme, and this fantastic recognition from CoolStays will only add to John O’Groats’ appeal to potential visitors.”

Also featured in the CoolStays’ top 10 are the former royal residence of a 19th century gypsy monarch, two eco-hideouts at Scotland’s north-westerly tip, in Sutherland, an 18th stone cottage in Dumfries and Galloway boasting its own tennis court and a hot tub overlooking the sea, a converted church in the Borders and a newly-built lodge hidden in a private woodland on the Knoydart peninsula.

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