Steel family set to open a new chapter on Ettrick’s historic Aikwood Tower

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

ITS mighty walls have shielded its occupants from everything from 16th-century reiver raids to the pressures and stresses of a life at the centre of national British politics.

But for the past two decades, the corridors and historic halls of Aikwood Tower, in the Ettrick Valley near Selkirk, have also rung to the sound of music, poetry, laughter and magic as the family home of former Borders MP David Steel – now Lord Steel of Aikwood – and his wife, Judy.

The Steels’ sympathetic renovation of the ancient border peel tower in 1992 collected several prestigious architectural awards and it has since seen the likes of such diverse figures as television personality Clement Freud and the prime minister of Hungary among its distinguished guests.

However, the tower, originally erected as a stronghold by the Scotts of Harden in the 1530s, is now set to take on its next mantel as a boutique events and accommodation venue thanks to the youngest of the Steels’ children, Rory.

Scheduled to open its doors to its first paying guests in April, it is being extensively refurbished to meet the requirements of the 21st- century traveller, business user, event organiser or happy couple looking to celebrate their marriage in a magical environment.

Under the watchful eye of Rory, Edinburgh-based Lisa Gordon Scott and David Carter, owner of the world’s first micro-boutique hotel, 40 Winks, are leading the striking makeover.

Rory told TheSouthern: “Ever since Aikwood Tower has been in the Steel family, it has grown a reputation amongst family and friends for being an antidote to the hubbub of modern living through its amazing hospitality and relaxing atmosphere.

“By allowing visitors to the Scottish Borders to come and experience it for themselves, we hope many more people will come away with their own special memories.”

Aikwood Tower was in the hands of the Scott family for centuries before the Duke of Buccleuch took ownership. Bought by the Steels from Buccleuch Estates in 1989 and restored by the couple following a financial windfall in the shape of a substantial out-of-court settlement of a libel action against two national tabloid newspapers, the Grade-A listed building will move into Rory’s ownership when he formally purchases the property at the beginning of next month.

Aikwood Tower Ltd will be responsible for managing the rental of the property to private guests on an exclusive hire basis.

Upon completion, the Borders will have its first boutique stronghold to accommodate visitors to the region. With the staff as hands-on or discreet as required, guests will soon feel relaxed and inspired.

Rory, who married his wife Victoria last year – the couple are expecting a child – said as the youngest of his parents’ children, he was the last to be offered the tower.

“They were given first refusal, but my brother and sister both have big houses and families of their own, so I was next in line. Given my background in PR and events management, and having long thought it would make a fantastic accommodation venue, I jumped at the chance.”

As for his mum and dad, Lord and Lady Steel plan to move into a new home in Selkirk.

Lady Steel explained the reasons behind the decision: “ Of course we will miss living here terribly. But we wanted to move while we still loved the place and were able to pass it on within the family.

“David and I are now in our 70s and we didn’t want to wait until we were struggling to cope with life here or until one of us popped our clogs and left the other one trying to manage alone.

“We want to move now before we are too decrepit!”

The project has received the support of VisitScotland. Regional director Sandy Hellowell told TheSouthern: “The Scottish Borders is predominantly a leisure tourism destination and this development will add to the breadth of offering and contribute to the area becoming a sustainable year-round destination.

“The proposed promotion of Aikwood Tower to the meetings, events and corporate market will be a unique draw for this lucrative sector, whilst at the same time safeguarding the future of this historic peel tower.”