By Janice Hopper

Most Scots have heard of the Gordon clan, also associated with the legendary Gordon Highlanders regiment, raised on February, 10, 1794 by the 4th Duke of Gordon. Readers may also be familiar with the 4th Duke’s wife, the celebrated Duchess Jean, who aided the recruitment drive by proffering the King’s shilling from her lips in the form of a kiss. It’s certainly a colourful family, but it was a name that many people associated respectfully with Scottish history. The castle, dating from 1470 and enlarged in the 1770s, wasn’t particularly on Scotland’s castle trail, and the 270,000 acre estate wasn’t a destination on the average tourist map either but, boy, times have changed.

The Gordon Castle brand has undergone a complete transformation in the space of a few years. You cannot move in Morayshire, or Aberdeenshire, without hearing more about the latest product, project or announcement from the new owners, Angus Gordon Lennox and his wife Zara. And the word is fast spreading across Scotland and beyond. Whilst many landowners diversify (diversification is admittedly nothing new), since the couple took over in 2008 it’s been a veritable whirlwind of activity. The estate now creates around 290 products, all unique to the castle, including gins, ciders, chutneys and luxury toiletries. It also boasts a cafe, a productive walled garden, a children’s outdoor play area, and a five-star standard exclusive use property. So how have the Gordons turned their land into a national brand in the space of a few years?

“When we took over in 2008 the estate specialised in fishing, farming and holiday cottages, but this business model wasn’t sustainable’, explains Angus Gordon Lennox. “By tapping into the history, heritage, architecture and name of Gordon Castle we realised we could create something that we could scale up, securing the estate for generations to come.”

The couple started with the castle itself. “We began by bringing Gordon Castle up to a five-star standard; offering luxury, on an exclusive use basis, in the Highlands’, says Angus. ‘We are very lucky to be situated on the River Spey and to attract people from all over the world to fish salmon across our eight beats."

Despite boasting some of the finest salmon fishing in Scotland, the Gordon estate isn’t a rich man’s retreat but somewhere that everyone can enjoy. The transformation of the historic 8.5 acre walled garden played a key part in this. The public is encouraged to wander around the herbs, vegetable garden, soft fruits, maze, orchards and flower beds, and step inside the the restored Victorian ‘Mackenzie and Moncur’ glasshouse, home to heritage tomatoes and more than 25 varieties of chilli plants. In the 1950s the garden mainly produced raspberries, but the regeneration brings it back to its heyday in the Victorian and Edwardian eras when it provided a prolific abundance of flora for the castle and estate. The modern philosophy of the brand is ‘provenance doesn’t get any purer’, and this is matched by the ‘plant, pick, plate’ ethos of the estate. The crops guests explore in the garden, will be freshly plated up in the cafe, or sold in the shop. Many establishments boast low food miles and traceability, but rarely can diners see the vegetables growing in situ before their very eyes.

The produce of the garden naturally flows into the other product lines of the new brand. Lavender and mint make their way into the award winning Botanical Gin, launched in 2014, and sold in more than one thousand outlets across Europe, including Marks & Spencer, Harrods, and Fortnum & Mason. Raspberries and plums infuse the Gordon Castle Gin Liqueurs. And the apples naturally make their way into Gordon Castle cider. A luxury health and beauty range was launched in 2014, with ranges including ‘The Orangery’ and ‘The Herb Garden’, featuring scents and essential oils created fresh from the estate.

Currently the Gordons have four product groups in operation: food and drink; health and beauty; homewares; and garden products. A smart approach has involved collaborating with renowned luxury brands such as Johnstons of Elgin to create Gordon Castle tweed items, and Halcyon Days to produce a range of fine bone china inspired by the antler dome ceiling of the castle itself. Gordon Castle gin and toiletries are also found in the new Northern Lights Executive Lounge at Aberdeen Airport, which aims to introduce passengers to the more indulgent side of the North East of Scotland. Aligning the castle with such companies to create coveted goods was a smart strategy. Many products can be bought online, without eye-watering postage charges, so customers don’t necessarily need to live nearby or visit in person to buy a taste or a scent of Gordon Castle.

Whilst luxury is the name of the game, it’s also perfectly feasible to swing past the cafe for a cuppa and a cake. Kids can get mucky and happy, making endless mud pies in the outdoor water and sand garden, created from reclaimed materials. Angus and Zara also revived the Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair, which now welcomes 10,000 visitors annually. And a new, quirky fixture celebrates the abundance of the estate with an Apple and Chilli Festival that proves to be a sweet and spicy day out. The Gordon Lennox family has project managed and funded much of the work themselves, but in 2013-14 they were awarded £161,240 by the Scottish Rural Development Programme, which they ploughed into the estate. 

“We aim to build a global brand around Gordon Castle', says Angus, 'It’s hugely rewarding because we’re witnessing big changes and we’ve learned a lot: we’ve learned that things always take longer than expected, and cost more than expected, but it’s a new challenge every day, and in the long term we’re safeguarding the future of this unique corner of Scotland."