Blending history with modern design is a towering acheivement

Rory Steel outside Aikwood Tower.
Rory Steel outside Aikwood Tower.

The Borders is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of the booming staycation market, according to one of Scotland’s newest accommodation providers, writes Tom Maxwell.

Rory Steel, proprietor of Aikwood Tower, near Selkirk, believes the region’s stunning countryside, its mouthwatering natural larder and its wealth of outdoor activities make it one of the jewels in the Scottish tourism crown.

Recent figures from VisitScotland show that, for the first half of 2011, domestic visits, which account for 84 per cent of all trips to Scotland, were up six per cent to 5.9million, with Scotland outperforming the rest of Britain.

Rory, the son of Lord Steel, bought Aikwood Tower from his father in February and, after a six-figure investment and four months of refurbishment, the five-bedroom self-catering property welcomed its first guests in May.

“It’s a classic 16th-century Borders peel tower,” explains Rory. “The interior is quite contemporary, but we’ve kept it minimal so that the beauty of the building stands out. It’s what I call understated luxury.”

The refurbishment of Aikwood, which has five twin/double rooms, has seen the property receive a five-star award from VisitScotland.

The accolade from the national tourism organisation makes Aikwood one of only a handful of five-star self-catering properties in the Borders.

But, with Bowhill Estate on its doorstep, it is not just the property itself that will appeal to visitors.

“Aikwood has all the creature comforts you would expect,” says Rory. “It’s a great place to relax indoors and play board games or table tennis, but with the Bowhill Estate nearby, visitors can get out and about and enjoy the great outdoors. It offers woodland trails, horse riding and some of the best pheasant shooting in Scotland. We had a group of fishermen staying here recently who were out on the Tweed.”

Aikwood’s refurbishment included extensive work on all the bathrooms, making sure that up to 10 guests always have access to hot water, and the installation of a second kitchen.

It was a lot of work, but, says Rory, the number of bookings has justified his investment, with the UK market key to its success.

“The Borders is six hours’ drive from London, so it’s handily located as a staycation destination,” says Rory.

“Tourism figures are on the up in the region so we saw Aikwood as the ideal place for exclusive-use, self-catering hire for house parties or small weddings.

“The Borders is very accessible and is perfect for a staycation – perhaps a long weekend or a week away. I think that’s something that should be used more in the overall marketing of the Borders.

“It has a lot to offer in terms of its outstanding beauty. People talk about the scenery in the Highlands, but the rolling countryside of the Borders is very, very special.”

He added: “I think it’s very good value for money and there are lots of places to eat. People can enjoy superb quality produce in the Borders – it’s the larder of Britain and it’s becoming a real foodie destination.”

Rory also points out that local visitor attractions, such as Melrose Abbey, as well as the region’s restaurants and bars, offer good value for money.

“You can enjoy an excellent day out on a reasonable budget,” he says.

Sandi Hellowell, regional director at VisitScotland, said: “Investment in tourism is an investment in economic recovery and growth and accommodation providers such as Aikwood Tower showcase some of the very best the region has to offer.”