Falkirk hotel boss’s star is still in the ascendant

Steven McLeod
Steven McLeod

The opening of his latest five-star venture marks yet another milestone for entrepreneur Steven McLeod.

Cairn Lodge and Hotel in Auchterarder has just undergone a dramatic transformation with the charismatic hotelier spending £3 million acquiring and renovating the Victorian property.

The former hunting lodge on the doorstep of Gleneagles has been turned into a luxury 10-bedroom boutique hotel with a separate five-bedroom lodge house, and created around 40 jobs in the area.

Mr McLeod has personally overseen the work, from the layout of the rooms to the china on the restaurant tables, the soft furnishings to stylish light fittings, but that he admits is because he finds it difficult to let go.

“My hobby is my business,” he confesses, “and I want to be involved at every level. I work seven days a week and haven’t had a holiday in two and a half years, but I’ve still got the same enthusiasm I had when I purchased my first hotel, Airth Castle.”

However, he candidly admits that passion was sorely tested over the last 18 months when his plans to develop a luxury hotel in the heart of historic Stirling hit major problems.

Hotel Colessio will revamp the former Royal Infirmary building which was latterly the headquarters of NHS Forth Valley. But limitations placed on the development because it is a listed building and the need to change contractor midway through the work, led to lengthy delays.

However, work is due to restart soon and he hopes to be able to be opening the doors early next year.

He said: “There are challenges when you want to convert a listed building and I’ve had more than my fair share with Colessio – most of them unnecessary and not of my making.

“However, by acquiring Solsgirth House, near Dollar, we were able to move about 70 weddings which had been booked for Colessio. But now we’re back on track and it will join the growing list of exclusive venues we have.”

Also under the banner of the Aurora Hotel Collection are The Kenmore Hotel and Luxury Lodges close to the River Tay and Glenbervie House and Coach House at Larbert.

Planning permission has already been granted for a massive expansion of the highly-acclaimed wedding venue, which borders exclusive Glenbervie Golf Club, but now the chief executive said that is being amended.

He added: “We’ve had to revise and modify our original plans, in light of the current economic climate, but it’s still going to be an outstanding multi-million pound project and an exciting development for the area.

“As well as 120-bedroom luxury boutique hotel, I want to develop two blocks of 20 luxury apartments. I need to get permission for these to allow me to take forward the hotel plans.

“All across Scotland this kind of enabling development is taking place and I’m hopeful that I get the go-ahead.”

Mr McLeod also plans two more coach house developments which provide the luxury of a five-star hotel with private living space. The original venue has already attracted the likes of Hollywood actor Russell Crowe and other stars looking for a private bolt hole.

But his latest brainchild is to use his experience from the hotel trade to open a 100-bed care home in Larbert. It follows his own first-hand experience of the level of care afforded to close relatives.

“I want to provide hotel standard accommodation and food, as well as all the care people need at this time in their lives. I’m really excited about it,” he said.

However, Airth Castle still holds a special place for him having been the first hotel he acquired seven years ago. Over the years, his company has carried out a massive upgrade and later this month, a new Grill Room will open to offer a new style of dining.

“I don’t think I would ever want to make it anything other than an excellent four-star hotel. Perhaps, the castle itself could be upgraded to a five-star as it is a very special building, but that’s all for the future,” he added.

Aurora Hotels currently employs around 400 people and he is proud not only that he knows many of them by name, but also that he manages the business in such a way as not to have to hire and fire as seasonal fluctuations dictate.

His ambition now is to see the Aurora portfolio grow to 24 hotels, something he could never have envisaged when he started out as a kitchen porter at the tender age of 14 in the Royal Hotel, Bridge of Allan.

His plans then were to join the police, but once he was promoted to waiter he enjoyed the social side of the hotel trade and was firmly bitten by the bug.

More than two decades later, he is now ‘king’ of his own castle, as well as a growing empire and admitted: “It’s addictive – but I love it.”