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The Apprentice: Highland destinations showcase the best of hospitality in 18th season

Cawdor Castle and Gardens, Culloden House Hotel and Achnagairn Castle were among the locations featured in Thursday night's hour-long episode.

The Apprentice female contestants walking into Cawdor Castle.
This year's Apprentice candidates visited Cawdor Castle near Nairn in the show's first episode. Image: BBC.

The Apprentice is back and this year’s series kicked off with candidates organising corporate away days in the Highlands.

18 entrepreneurs were tasked with organising a tour, running a team-building activity and providing food and drink at Cawdor Castle near Nairn.

Baroness Karen Brady and Tim Campbell watched on as they tried to impress clients Crerar Hotel Group – whose venues include the Balmoral Arms in Ballater – and DF Concerts and Events, the firm behind TRNSMT festival.

But it was disaster after disaster for one team, leading to the first firing of the series from Lord Sugar.

The Apprentice's male candidates inside Cawdor Castle.
The stunning inside of Cawdor Castle was also captured in the programme. Image: BBC.

Where was The Apprentice filmed?

Among the locations featured in the episode were Achnagairn, Bogbain Farm, Culloden House Hotel, Golf View Hotel and Ness Castle Lodges.

Visit Inverness Loch Ness (VILN) helped bring the filming of the episode – which took place in early 2023 – to the Highlands and connected some of the region’s businesses with the programme’s producers.

Business development manager, Alan Rawlinson, said: “Having the destination featured on the first episode of such a well-watched show, we hope will encourage viewers to come and experience all the great things we have to offer for themselves.”

What happened in the episode?

Each team was divided into two, with half responsible for activities and the other for food and drink.

Activities included gorge walking, abseiling and bushcraft from In Your Element, Highland dancing by Cheryl Heggie School of Dance, and Highland Games by strongman Sinclair Patience.

Despite both teams getting off to a good start, things got shaky as the day went on, with both corporate away days complaining about the standard of food.

The Highlands were featured in last night’s show. Image: Fremantle.

In one highlight (or lowlight) the girls got to work in the kitchen, and soon learned that something wasn’t right with the fishcakes they were making.

Karen Brady discovered that the girls had been using crumble which is sweet on the fishcakes, thinking it was breadcrumbs.

As their corporate away day was expecting a five star meal experience, Brady herself said, “I don’t think you can give any stars to crumble on a fishcake.”

Culloden House director Stephen Davies said they were delighted to be a part of the BBC show but assured The P&J that the signature fishcakes will not feature on the menu.

He said: “We made one ourselves after they had left and it is definitely not going to be a feature on our menu, I can assure you of that.”

The girls managed to win this week’s challenge after securing a profit of £122.43.

And it was Yorkshire sales exec Oliver Medforth who was fired after a loss of £506.4o.

This year's women Apprentice contestants raising a glass.
It was a victory for the female contestants last night. Image: Fremantle.<span style="font-size: 16px">.</span>

Culloden House wish Apprentice candidates ‘the very best’

Culloden House staff gave crews unlimited access to their grounds and interior while tending to guests.

Among those staying at the hotel was actor Dan Aykroyd.

Mr Davis explained: “He was staying with us at the time, independently, on a family holiday so he came out his suite to have breakfast and walked smack bang into a television crew.

Culloden House.
Culloden House was among the destinations featured on Thursday nights episode. Image: Sandy McCook/ DC Thomson.

“It was probably the most startled I’ve ever seen the guests in all my days.”

The director said it was a full-on day of filming which took place last year, but said it was fantastic to see so many local businesses showcase the very best of Highland hospitality.

He said: “We found all the contestants very friendly, very polite and we wish them all the very best and we were just delighted to be a part of the experience.”

Cawdor Castle ‘very grateful to be a part’ of episode

Cawdor Castle and Gardens was the candidate’s first stop on their whistle-stop tour of the Highlands.

Managing director Graham Griffith was approached by Visit Inverness Loch Ness last year as producers of The Apprentice scouted for suitable filming locations in the area.

Speaking about the experience, he said seeing it unfold in real time was very “impressive”.

He said: “The crew were great as were all the contestants. What you saw last night, the candidates had their work cut out for them.

“Business people in the Highlands know what quality hospitality is and how to deliver it.

“It’s not always as easy as we make it look and I think they found that out yesterday.”

Cawdor Castle and gardens.
Contestants gathered at Cawdor Castle and Gardens, between Inverness and Nairn, as the first task of the season got underway. Image: Sandy McCook/ DC Thomson.

Apprentice candidates tried to impress Crerar Hotel Group

Chris Wayne-Wills took over the Crerar Hotel Group back in 2020, where he recalls things getting off to a bit of a shaky start amidst the global pandemic.

Fast forward four years, the hotel chain has come a long way – winning the AA small hotel group award last year, and now featuring on The Apprentice.

The chief executive said: “The filming took place over two days but in that time we spent a lot of time with Karen Brady talking to her about the Highlands and where else we have hotels.

“Knowing that you are getting the opportunity to highlight to other people how amazing that part of the country is, was great.

“It not only showcased the beautiful scenery, but how much there is to do in that area as well which was really why we were so keen.

“There were a number of great businesses and suppliers showcased in last night’s episode all of whom have added to what is available and raised the appeal of the area.

“We managed to film our negotiation scene in our hotel which was nice. I also thought the venues looked fantastic and the weather was great. It was one of those early summer days, which helped bring the colours to life.

“We were really proud to be asked to be involved and we are really proud to be an award-winning Scottish based hotel.”