Ackergill Tower was built in the early 16th century. The Clan Keith, under John Keith of Inverugie, inherited the lands of Ackergill in 1354 from the Cheynes family. The Tower may have been built by his son, but was first mentioned in 1538.
A legend relates the tale of a young woman by the name of Helen Gunn, who was abducted by John Keith for her beauty. She flung herself, or fell, from the highest tower to escape her abductor's advances. Supposedly her ghost is still seen, wearing a long red rustling ball gown and a tall head of black hair. This was in the late 14th or early 15th century and is said to have been the true beginning for all feuding between the Gunns and the Keiths. It led to the Battle of Champions in either 1478 or 1464, a judicial combat which led to a massacre of the Gunns by the Keiths at the chapel of St Tear (or Tayre) just east of the village.
In 1547, the Sinclairs of Girnigoe attacked and seized the castle. Mary of Guise, then Regent of Scotland, granted the Sinclairs remission for this and returned Ackergill Tower to the Keiths. She later installed Laurence Oliphant, 4th Lord Oliphant, as keeper of Ackergill in 1549. The Sinclairs again captured the castle in 1556, for which they were again granted remission.
In 1593, Robert Keith, brother to William Keith, 6th Earl Marischal (who rightfully owned the tower), seized Ackergill by force, for which he was declared a rebel, and the castle was returned to the Earl. In 1598, another Keith, one John Keith of Subster, attacked the tower in the dead of night, taking its occupants by surprise and capturing the place.
In 1612, the Sinclairs acquired Ackergill Tower once again, but through legal means, when it was sold to the Earl of Caithness by the Earl Marischal. However, by 1623 it was under assault once more, when it was besieged by Sir Robert Gordon during his feud with George Sinclair, 5th Earl of Caithness. The Sinclairs surrendered the castle before any assault took place.
In 1651, Oliver Cromwell may have used Ackergill Tower to garrison his troops during his siege of the Keith's Dunnottar Castle, when he was hunting for the Honours of Scotland. In 1676, John Campbell, 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Holland took possession of Ackergill Tower in repayment of debts owed to him by the Sinclairs.
John Campbell put Ackergill Tower up for sale in 1699, and it was bought by Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs. The Dunbars began extensive renovations, including the addition of a lean-to-shaped extension to the tower. In the mid-19th century, further additions including a cap house were made by the architect David Bryce on behalf of George Sutherland Dunbar, 7th Lord Duffus. It remained in the hands of the Dunbars of Hempriggs until 1986, when it was sold. The castle underwent a two-year period of restoration work before opening as an exclusive hotel and business venue.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.