VISITORS to the Castle of Mey in Caithness, former holiday home of the Queen Mother, can now enjoy a panoramic view of its grounds and the distant Orkney Islands.
It follows the construction of a viewing tower in the walled garden to the rear of the 16th-century castle.
The 16ft high turret was officially unveiled by Anne Dunnett, Lord-Lieutenant of Caithness. The ceremony capped a long-held ambition of Ashe Windham, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust.
The £40,000 project was financed on the back of a fundraising function in London’s Goring Hotel. Guests were invited to buy a brick and add to it to a model replica of the turret in the garden of the hotel.
Mr Windham, a former equerry of the Queen Mother, said: “Everyone was very generous and we were very honoured by the presence of Her Majesty the Queen who bought several bricks, as did Princess Alexandra. We actually raised £43,000 and we’re using what’s left over on the garden.”
He is certain that the turret, complete with viewing telescope and a compass stone, will be a hit with the thousands of visitors who come to the castle each year.
The turret was built by Thurso joinery contractor John Munro from Caithness stone taken from the small quarry at Inkstack, Barrock. Sutherland Stonework and Caithness Stone Industries also provided stone on the project, designed by the Ross-shire interior design and architecture firm Anta. A list of the donors is engraved in the face of the lower part of the turret.
Plans are afoot to add a stairlift for people unable to use the steps up to the tower.
Visitors to the gardens can now also view carved Caithness stones laid just off the path which are engraved with timelines of important dates in the life of the Queen Mother, who purchased the Castle of Mey in 1952.
Since her death in 2002, the castle has been turned into one the far north’s most popular tourist attractions.
Before cutting a ribbon at the bottom of the steps, Miss Dunnett said the success of the venture was down to the Queen Mother’s foresight.
Her Majesty paved the way for the trust in 1996 to ensure that her beloved retreat was opened up to the public after her death and did not end up being sold off to a multimillionaire.
The castle, which employs six full-time and 35 seasonal staff, attracted just over 29,000 visitors during 2009.