Owned by the Whiteford family since 1986, in the last five years Castlecraig Farm has successfully steered its rural farming business into the burgeoning agritourism sector with a range of luxury holiday cabins.

Castlecraig was originally bought by David Whiteford and his three brothers. Following the retirement of his brothers almost five years ago, David and his nephew Stevie formed a new partnership and developed an entrepreneurial masterplan to diversify the farm. “It helps build resilience into businesses to be well spread, and not so dependent on any one sector at any point in time,” says David.

The Whitefords had already decided to wind down the farm’s large pig unit, which necessitated the introduction of crop rotation to replace the on-tap nutrients from the pig slurry. David and Stevie were keen to keep the mixed arable and livestock farm as the core of the business, whilst converting to organic production.

Castlecraig lies amidst the kind of spectacular Scottish scenery you see on postcards and calendars.

Agritourism was a natural pivot for the family business: the farm is ideally located on the beautiful Easter Ross Peninsula in the North Highlands, and both David and Stevie are deeply embedded within the rural and hospitality & tourism sectors. Alongside managing Castlecraig Farm, Stevie is an Agricultural Consultant with Strutt & Parker and David is, amongst other roles, Chairman of Highland Coast Hotels and former Chairman of the North Highland Initiative, the company that created the North Coast 500. You can read more about how this expertise feeds into the family business here.

The Whitefords transformed a section of Castlecraig’s land into high-end holiday accommodation, with a suite of four clifftop cabins; developed to the highest standards and handily located for NC500 trekkers. “We often have people stay with us for a week and do a different trip to parts of the NC500 each day,” explains Stevie.

The family are active members of Scottish Agritourism and are passionate about what the local area has to offer. As David and Stevie explain, “People often don’t realise how much there is to experience here. You can take a 10-minute ferry over to Cromarty, see dolphins jumping out of the water, visit Portmahomack which is growing into a really vibrant destination, and the iconic Glenmorangie and Dalmore Distilleries are close by.”

“We wanted an accountancy firm that was deeply embedded within the agriculture and tourism sectors.”

When David and Stevie began implementing their diversification plans, the time came to appoint new business advisers.

As a professional member of Scottish Agritourism and specialists in both the Rural and Hospitality & Tourism industries, Johnston Carmichael is a keen advocate for and has a thorough understanding of the sector Castlecraig operates in.

Stevie and David already had a network of contacts at the firm, including Head of Rural, Jenn Stewart, whom Stevie has known since university; former chairs Andrew Shepherd and Sandy Manson; Business Advisory Director, Jane Mitchell, and Business Advisory Partner, Peter Innes.

Jenn and Jane introduced the Whitefords to Rosalind Catto, Johnston Carmichael’s Inverness-based Head of Hospitality & Tourism. Jenn, Peter and Rosalind bring together Johnston Carmichael's specialist services to meet Castlecraig’s growing requirements. In addition to accounts and business advice, Castlecraig works closely with Tax Partner Nicola Horsburgh on its tax affairs, as well as JC’s Wealth and Construction & Property Incentives teams.  

“Johnston Carmichael had the local presence we wanted as well as the wider network of offices. The firm was the best fit for us in terms of the core farming business as well as our plans to develop new aligned enterprises,” explains Stevie. “Our business has evolved a lot and will continue to, so that requires the right spread of expertise across the board.”

A masterplan for the future

Looking ahead for Castlecraig, further diversification is planned.

As well as the farm and cabins, part of the land includes a quarry. The Whitefords currently lease this out and the facility has recently extended into concrete production. With the upcoming establishment of the Inverness & Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, the quarry could become even more strategically important for the business.

Another site on the farm was the historic defence point of the Cromarty Firth, and still features gun emplacements from World Wars One and Two. These are scheduled monuments with Historic Environment Scotland, and David and Stevie have identified this as a potential tourist attraction in the future.

Net zero is, of course, also on the agenda – whilst the cabins’ water supply is already off-grid (“Guilt-free hot tubs!” notes David), the end goal is to take the farm’s electricity supply off-grid too.

First on the to-do list, however, is developing more cabins - with planning permission already obtained for seven more - and continuing to celebrate and promote agritourism in the Highlands.

“It’s about making the area vibrant, exciting, and entrepreneurial,” says David. “We love attracting people here to share our experience. That’s why the agritourism movement is so fantastic. It helps more people to see how farming life can be challenging, yes – but also just how amazing it can be.”

Our specialist Rural and Hospitality & Tourism teams have the skills, insight and networks to help your business thrive. To find out more about how we can support you, get in touch with our experts.