As we make the final preparations to open our new apartments to the outside world, it’s perhaps an opportune moment to reflect on the journey the old place has had to date.
The building itself has had a number of different identities in its time and has always played an important role in the local community. It was originally opened as The Aird Ferry Hotel towards the end of the 19th century, due mainly to its proximity to the original ferry which crossed Loch Long between Ardelve Point and Dornie. The word “ferry” is somewhat ambiguous actually, as it was fundamentally just a large rowing boat. On the rare occasion when a car needed to cross the water, it was simply mounted on a couple of stout planks across the gunwales and rowed across somewhat precariously! Eventually, this rowing boat was replaced with a motor boat with a turntable which could carry one car. Progress indeed!
After much discussion and a fair amount of local politicking, it was decided that the ferry was inadequate, and that perhaps a bridge should be constructed close to the hotel. On the 30th of April 1940 the first bridge over Loch Long was opened to the public, and with it, easier access to Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. So began a somewhat golden era for the hotel, with Doctors, Lawyers, professionals and the like, making their way up to the highlands from Scotland’s central belt. Regular visitors would demand the same room as they’d always had, and preferably their same table in the rather formal dining-room.
The hotel kitchens were partially supplied by the local community, keen to sell any surplus produce from their crofts and farms. Fruit and vegetables were also grown in the hotel’s loch-side garden, and local fishermen would often turn up at the back door with their “catch of the day.” Churns of milk, along with butter and cheese were delivered from the nearby Conchra Estate, with all this supplemented by weekly deliveries from a variety of different grocery vans, weather permitting!
Reflecting on the 1960s and 70s, it appears that the hotel retained its upmarket position, and was certainly very much in demand. Locals in the know remember vast quantities of crisp white linen on the washing-lines, and staff were attired in the formal black & white service garb of the day.
Members of our staff (who were children at the time) recall the irresistible smells of roasting meats wafting on the highland air as the hotel’s kitchens prepared for the busy Sunday lunch service; but strangers from afar were not the only people to benefit from the hotel, as it also played a hugely important social role within the local community. Not only was it a valuable employer in an area with fairly limited work opportunities, but it was also a key venue for many social gatherings. Barn dances were held in the adjacent out-buildings, village gala days took place on the large tract of land at the front of the building, and local weddings were celebrated under its roof. As the 1980s arrived, it became something of a musical Mecca, with the community gathering with a dram or three to enjoy many a fine musician in front of a roaring fire.
As the nineties and noughties arrived, the hotel slipped into a more sedate period, especially as the licensed trade started to suffer, and drink-driving laws become more to the fore. Visitors still came to the hotel, primarily because of the wonderful location, but the building itself was certainly starting to show her age, and more than a few signs of fatigue.
So for the last two years we’ve been investing heavily in refurbishing and re-designing the entire building in preparation for a major relaunch, albeit with a slightly different role than its original one. The hotel environment may be gone, but the future looks brighter now than it has for many a year and we look forward to welcoming the next generations of residents to the charms of the old place.