Jessica Thompson has packed a lot in for someone of just 27. After building a career in hospitality in the UK, she travelled to Australia and then New Zealand, working at some of the top hotels in the antipodean countries, before returning to her home in Scotland and, now, co-owning her own restaurant with rooms at Mingary Castle in a remote region of the Scottish west coast. Not exactly your average job for someone barely into their late twenties.

Mingary Castle is an astonishing property sitting pretty on the shores of Kilchoan Bay. Originally built in the 13th century, the fortress-like structure seems to almost rise out of the rock face below, the castle walls offering a grand, otherworldly feel to the place. You would be forgiven for thinking you’d been thrown, Outlander-esque, into a bygone century. But the hospitality that Thompson and her partner, chef Colin Nicholson, provide is distinctly modern.

It was a very serendipitous meeting that led Thompson and Nicholson to Mingary Castle. While they own the business within the building, the structure itself is in the hands of Donald Houston, the man at the head of Ardnamurchan Estates. Prior to joining Mingary Castle, they were both working at Inverlochy Castle – Thompson was restaurant manager at the restaurant, Albert & Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William, and Nicholson was head chef. One day, Houston and his wife visited the castle, and the rest, as they say, was history. “The owners themselves (Houston and his wife), came to Inverlochy to stay as guests and they really liked me and my service, and they knew of Colin and his cooking,” Thompson tells me. “The owner's wife approached us about taking on the castle, so although it was a really eerie time because it was October 2020, just after the lockdowns and everything, we just decided to go for it. Colin had only been at Inverlochy for one year and he would’ve stayed longer, but I think just because we’ve always wanted to have our own thing we couldn’t say no.”

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After a three year restoration by the Houstons, the castle was reopened in 2016, but sadly closed again in 2019, sitting empty for two years until Thompson and Nicholson took over in 2021. Their approach has revolutionised the hospitality within the building; focusing as much on the food and drink as the rooms and what they offer. It is, of course, a dream come true for the couple, but it doesn’t come without its difficulties. The remote location has its struggles – both logistical and social – but Thompson, who hails from the remote Scottish island of Uist, admits she’s used to the peace of it all, but that staff can, at times, find it hard. The castle is seasonal – only opening between April and December – so the time off allows them to travel and visit family and friends, and to check in with the rest of the world. But it’s largely the stress of operating a business that has had the biggest impact.

“I don't normally talk about this, but for the last couple of years, I have also personally struggled with my mental health, with some depression and things,” Thompson tells me. “It's not something I make very open to anybody, but I have struggled with that, and I'm learning slowly how to get better. Because I do enjoy my job. I enjoy the castle and my life, I've got two doggies and everything, I do have quite a happy life. But it's just something unfortunately, in my head that I struggle with.” It’s not exactly a unique set of circumstances for someone in hospitality – particularly for a business owner – but what is special is for someone to be so open about it. Mental health issues are rife within food and drink, and unfortunately stigma around that conversation remains. High-paced jobs, extremely stressful circumstances and long hours are a potent cocktail. For Thompson, as a business owner, and a young one at that, the pressure is almost unimaginable.

“It’s been really hard the past couple of years, especially starting up the business as well,” Thompson tells me. “I think maybe because there’s a whole new element of stress to it, where at the end of the day, it’s our actual business making money and making sure things work.” I ask whether age has an impact on that as well, adding additional pressure because of the scope of what she’s achieved in such a shorter timeline. “Yeah, I think that’s been the hard thing,” she answers. “It’s the youth side of things; you go really hard and you travel and you work and you really enjoy it and all of a sudden you take on your own thing and life starts to slow down a bit, but your head is still going really fast. It can be overwhelming, because I am a young manager and a young business owner. There’s this feeling of, I don’t have those years of experience behind me to back things up sometimes.”

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It’s classic imposter syndrome and, while there’s no cure for it, speaking to Thompson I get the idea that her uncertainty is entirely unwarranted. This is a hardcore professional who clearly lives and breathes good hospitality. Her career path has taken her to esteemed venues across the world, from Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island near the Great Barrier Reef, to The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand. She may be young, but when you contextualise that her career started at 14, she’s had more than enough experience to warrant her current success. Working alongside her partner helps, too. I wonder aloud if there are any frustrations that come with that, but she says that the support is invaluable. “I don't know what it is about us,” she says, “but it’s kind of like we were both born to do this career and born to be doing what we are doing today, so we’re very used to each other.”

Having achieved what Thompson has, you could be forgiven for putting pause on plans for the future. But a lack of planning or ambition isn’t exactly what has gotten her to this point, and her goals are suitably high; “We definitely want to keep getting Mingary on the map for being one of Scotland’s best restaurants with rooms,” she tells me. “I think me and my team, I want to keep being able to let them grow and let them learn and try and train them to be able to run the castle as well, without me. Not because I’m going anywhere, but because I know my team have their own goals for their careers as well so I would really like to be able to pass that knowledge onto them.”

The reviews coming out of the remote bolthole are already glowing; with writers rhapsodising about Thompson’s impeccable service and Nicholson's superlative food. I have a sneaky suspicion that, much like her other achievements, Thompson will quietly tick off these goals with ease.