New life injected into Inverness estate Achnagairn

IT WAS dubbed a ghost town after a luxury estate full of new homes worth up to £750,000 each in the Highland countryside were left deserted following the housing slump.

• Gillian and Michael Lacey-Solymar have added the eight four to seven-bedroom lodges

• Several million pounds were spent on developing the properties by the previous owner

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But new life is about the be injected into the plush properties on the Achnagairn Estate in Kirkhill, near Inverness.

Husband and wife team Gillian and Michael Lacey-Solymar have added the eight, four to seven-bedroom lodges to their portfolio of luxury venues, which include the five-star exclusive-use venue of Achnagairn House.

Work on the properties began in 2008 with several million pounds spent on their development by the previous owner.

However, with the downturn in the economy, they have stood empty for almost three years after the developer behind the project went into administration.

The development came to be seen both locally and nationally as a symbol of the recession.

Speaking of the acquisition, Gillian said: “We are thrilled to breathe new life into this development and add these new properties to our portfolio. They triple our capacity from 24 bedrooms to over 70.

“What’s wonderful is how every century Achnagairn House makes its mark. The current mansion was built in 1812, its stunning ballroom added in 1912, and now, just over 100 years later, we are adding these beatiful new lodges.

“Not only is this exciting for us as a hospitality business, but we feel very proud to be able to reintegrate a core part of this historic estate.

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“To bring the lodges up to the quality of the main house will require considerable investment,” said Michael.

By the time the development is complete, the Achnagairn estate will have had over £7 million spent on it, making it one of the most significant new entrants to the hospitality sector in the Highlands.

“We intend Achnagairn to be one of the preeminent venues in Scotland. Not only does it boast one of the most beautiful ballrooms in the UK, but its gorgeous grounds, close proximity to Inverness, and now, 70 luxury bedrooms, make it unique.”

Regional director of VisitScotland, Scott Armstrong said: “We warmly welcome news of the proposed investment at Achnagairn House.

“Tourism is essential to the wider Highlands economy and strategic, sustainable investment in high quality developments, such as Achnagairn, is vital in helping to position the region as a ‘must visit’ destination well into the future.”

Achnagairn House was rescued from the “at risk register” by the Lacey-Solymars in 2007. It opened for business as a wedding and conference venue in 2008 and in 2012 received a 5* rating from Visit Scotland.

The mansion has 24 luxury bedrooms and a unique ballroom built in 1912 for the then owners’ daughter’s 21st birthday party.

Achnagairn House has become one of the leading venues in the Highlands, currently hosting 50 major events a year. In December 2012 BBC Alba selected the mansion as the venue for its televised Hogmanay celebration.

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The couple also have Cortes House in Aberdeenshire and Perfect Sunshine, a five-star villa in Antigua.

Gillian, who has a passion for design, worked for 15 years at as Consumer Affairs Correspondent for BBC Television.

She holds a Senior Teaching Fellowship at University College London in Entrepreneurship. She expertly designed the décor for each of the unique rooms in Achnagairn House and plans to use her creative flair to refurbish the new lodges. The properties will come on stream, lodge by lodge, over the next few months.