Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guisachan - Part 3


In Part 2 I described how Guisachan Estate had been purchased in 1855 from the Frasers of Culbokie, who had held it since the 16th century, by Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks MP, who had transformed the estate by building a new mansion house, model farm and village for his employees.

By the time Marjoribanks had completed his changes, there was nobody living on the estate not dependant on him for employment. This transformation provoked Colin Chisholm, a witness before the Napier Commission, to describe "a number of warm-hearted hospitable tenants of small holdings on the estate of Guisachan", who had been "turned out of their farms" by Lord Tweedmouth (as Marjoribanks became in 1880). His Lordship took exception to this and hurried before the Commission a few days later to give his version of events. His evidence is a fascinating account of the transformation of the estate.


When he bought the 22,000 acre estate in 1855, Tweedmouth found a population of 227 including those residing at Guisachan House (presumably domestic servants) and sixteen tenants who, between them, paid an aggregate annual rent of £692 (about £65,000 in today's money).  Of these tenants, two were large sheep farmers, brothers called Cameron from another part of Inverness-shire who had come in 1847. Between them, they paid £499 (72% of the rent roll) and held 20,300 acres (including 101 acres of arable and 74 of improved pasture) or 92% of the estate. The other 14 tenants were crofters who between them held 64 acres of arable, 21 acres of improved pasture and 1,650 acres of moorland.


Tweedmouth was candid with the Commission that he hadn't bought Guisachan for its agricultural rental but for its qualities as a grouse moor, having been its sporting tenant since 1851 - hardly surprising from the man who invented the Retriever breed of dog.

He also admitted that none of the tenants - sheep farmers or crofters - remained on the estate now (1883) but denied Colin Chisholm's charge that they had been "turned out": the Cameron brothers, the sheep farmers, in common with others of their profession at the time, had not been prospering for a while and one emigrated to Australia with Tweedmouth's assistance in 1856 while the other moved to Fort William the following year.

As regards the crofters, they lived in four townships: Auchblair, Tomich, Easter Auchnaheglish and Wester Auchnaheglish: the two latter townships are still visible east of Tomich on the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map surveyed in 1872:-




The crofters all held 19 year leases which expired in 1864 and none of these was renewed. Tweedmouth's evidence to the Commission about what happened to the tenants was nuanced:

"Some three or four had previously [to 1864] asked to be relieved of their crofts but there was not one removed or one who left until provided with either a better farm or an occupation more suitable to himself." 

He went on to detail the fate of each tenant: three died before their leases expired and their heirs had asked Tweedmouth to take their crofts back in hand. Another had emigrated to New Zealand in 1863. That left ten crofters who lasted to the end of their leases of whom three moved to other places in the area while seven remained living on Guisachan becoming wage labourers on the estate.


When does refusal to renew a lease become "eviction"? Or, in more charged language, a "clearance"? And is it any better if an ex-tenant becomes the employee of his former landlord? Tweedmouth was pressed hard on this: wouldn't it have been preferable to have given new leases to at least some of the crofters in slightly enlarged holdings? The chair of the Commission, Lord Napier, was blunt with his fellow peer:-

"I would ask you generally whether, as a matter of policy, you think that the substitution of a class of persons, however respectable and well treated, in the position of dependants, for the small old tenantry, however ill off, but themselves susceptible of improvement —whether the substitution of the one class for the other is, on the whole, a desirable thing?" 

Tweedmouth's response was equally robust:-

"I can answer you if you tell me what on earth I could have done with the 150 people who were on the property in 1855, irrespective of the sixteen tenants, because it was a case of this kind, whether the sixteen tenants were to leave or the 150 or 160 other people; and I thought it better to provide for the larger number."

His point is one that emerged constantly during the course of the Napier Commission: crofters were poor but at least they had some land and were thus relatively well off compared with the landless squatters (or "cottars") who populated many estates in the Highlands where employment was scarce. These people were often the remnants of the aboriginal tenantry cleared from their land holdings during earlier phases of the Clearances and perhaps the 150-60 "other people" on Guisachan dated from 1825 when the sheep farms were first created on the estate. Whatever, Tweedmouth's response to the problem he inherited was not to not renew any of the farm leases on the estate (large scale sheep farmers or crofters) but rather to take the land back in hand to create a farm big enough to be able (in addition to his sporting establishment) to employ the entire population of Guisachan: a different response might have been to renew some or all of the crofters' leases and pay for the emigration of the rest. It's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't which shows that "the Highland Clearances" are not as black and white as often portrayed.

Incidentally, as well as renting Kerrow Farm from the neighbouring Chisholm estate, Tweedmouth also rented their Glenaffric Deer Forest on the north west of Guisachan where he built Affric Lodge at the east end of Loch Affric:-

Affric Lodge - picture credit dooglenicholson

Now, I said in parts 1 and 2 of this article that I would be talking about how Lord Tweedmouth became embroiled in litigation with an American neighbour, W L Winans. On reflection, I think the Winans litigations (for there was more than one) in this part of the Highlands merits a blog of its own so I'm going to pass on to the decline of Guisachan.

Lord Tweedmouth died in 1894. He was succeeded by his son, Edward, also a Liberal politician who rose to become First Lord of the Admiralty but not before a financial crisis in the affairs of the Meux Brewery, the principal source of his wealth, had obliged him to sell Guisachan in 1905.


Before moving on from the Tweedmouth era, though, it's worth mentioning that, if you google "Guisachan", you get a lot of references to a house (pictured above) in Kelowna British Columbia which is now run as a restaurant and wedding venue. This was built by the 2nd Lord Tweedmouth's sister and her husband, the Earl of Aberdeen: he went on to become the Governor General of Canada.  

Back to Guisachan in Scotland, the purchaser was the exquisitely named Newton Wallop, 6th Earl of Portsmouth, yet another Liberal politician pictured below:-



The Portsmouths appear to have sold Guisachan in the 1930s (the 8th earl having been, for a change, not a Liberal politician but - of all things! - a Republican member of the Wyoming House of Representatives!) by when country sporting estates on such a scale of grandeur were becoming a thing of the past. I don't know the exact sequence of events but the Friends of Guisachan website has information about a sale of part of the estate in 1935 in the following lots:-

Lot 1 - Guisachan House and policies: 143 acres
Lot 2 - Home Farm: 2,870 acres
Lot 3 - Tomich Village (all the houses etc. still belonged to the estate):  19 acres
Lot 4 - Deer Forest: 4,200 acres 
Lot 5 - Hilton Cottage: 10 acres
The whole - 7,242 acres

That's obviously less than the 22,000 acres bought by Lord Tweedmouth in 1855 and my guess is that the rest, mostly at the west end, had been sold privately to the Forestry Commission. I don't know exactly know who bought what at the 1935 sale except that Lord Islington, a former Governor General of New Zealand, bought Lots 4 & 5 (Hilton Cottage and Deer Forest) while Guisachan House remained unsold. It was briefly let as a centre for fitness training summer schools but such plebian activities didn't endear themselves to Lord Islington's widow who, with a view to denying its use to any more uncongenial neighbours, bought the house in the late 1930s and promptly closed it down and took its roof off . In due course, it passed to her grandson, the journalist and historian John Grigg. His son Anthony still owns the property - known as Hilton & Guisachan now - to the present day.

Hilton Lodge
Elsewhere, the Home Farm still exists with the clock-towered steading having been converted into holiday accommodation marketed as Tomich Holidays. The deer forest to the west of Hilton & Guisachan known as Wester Guisachan is, I think, land which was sold off by the Forestry Commission as surplus to their requirements for planting.


Visiting Guisachan on a wet day in December 2013, the thing that struck me apart the ruins of the house itself were the trees. The oak in the picture above has been felled as seen below:-

Picture credit - Tom Parnell
 But otherwise, the trees in the policies around the house, no doubted planted by Lord Tweedmouth in the 1850s to ornament his new acquisition, remain mostly standing as you can see from the shaddows in the aerial photography below:-



Without being too poetical, it does seem fitting that nature's outlasted man's contribution to Guisachan Estate - not just the gaunt ruins of the mansion house but the other little trappings of a Victorian estate you can find around Tomich such as a squint gate post here and there: I was particularly taken with the tree that had outgrown its basket on the avenue leading to the house below:-


But more importantly, what of the people? The 150 souls Lord Tweedmouth thought it better not to renew leases in order to be able to employ? A lease gives security of tenure but what of employment? He was asked this by the Napier Commission and answered simply: "I hope those who will come after me will look after the people in the same way."

Did they? How many people are employed today within the bounds of what was Guisachan Estate? It certainly won't be in three figures. But how many people would be deriving a full time living from crofts on the estate today? Similarly few, I suspect: many would be commuters driving into Inverness for their principal source of income. As today's land reformers ponder these questions, they might reflect upon Lord Tweedmouth's view expressed to the Napier Commission that it was the coming of the Highland Railway to Inverness which had done most to depopulate the outlying glens: people had been drawn to where the railway made commodities cheaper. Today roads and motor cars are having similar effects on remote communities making them increasingly places to be slept in but not lived or worked in.

Aye well ...


Finally, if you want to go for a virtual tour round Guisachan Estate, then you can in the Google Streetview car: start here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ballachulish Pier



Above is another postcard I spotted on eBay recently. It's of Ballachulish Pier on Loch Linnhe about a mile west of the Ballachulish Bridge. The pier is long since abandoned but its remains are still clearly visible:-

Ballachulish Pier today as seen in Google Streetview
The pier's function was not for crossing the loch before the bridge (1975 - that was from slipways directly under the bridge) but to disembark tourists from MacBrayne's steamers plying Loch Linnhe between Oban and Fort William so they could go for a sight seeing trip by horse drawn coach up Glen Coe.


Pictured above is an extract from MacBrayne's 1883 summer brochure. It shows three steamers a day calling at Ballachulish and advertising that coaches would be waiting at the pier: for a "small additional fare", the drive up Glen Coe was said to be "very grand"  


In 1883, MacBrayne's also offered a circular tour from Oban, beginning by going on the train a few miles east to Achnacloich Station on Loch Etive. From there, a steamer took you to the head of the loch, whence a coach conveyed you up Glen Etive, down Glen Coe and ultimately to Ballachulish Pier where the tourist boarded a steamer back to Oban.

Circular tour from Oban by rail, steamer & coach

But then I recalled that MacBrayne's steamers also used to call at Kentallen (where there used to be a railway station) another mile or so to the west. Surely they wouldn't call at two piers so close together? Perhaps I'd been guilty of an assumption and that Ballachulish Pier had had a rather more humble, workaday function of discharging cargo for the locality from puffers. I also had a notion there was a third pier somewhere around here as well.


So I formed a theory that the pier for passengers going to Glen Coe was Ballachulish Pier until it was moved to Kentallen after the railway from Connel Ferry up to Ballachulish opened in 1903. First, though, to deal with the third pier lying between Kentallen and Ballachulish.


The Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of 1897 (above) confirms this to have been just a wharf to service the adjacent quarries so that just leaves Ballachulish Pier in the postcard at the top of this blog and Kentallen in the ring as the drop off point for Glen Coe.


The building directly opposite Ballachulish Pier (above) has a bit of a look of a railway station about it. In other words it looks more like a waiting room for genteel Victorian tourists about to embark on a paddle steamer or a stage coach than a shed for dumping bags of coal off a puffer.


But the clincher for Ballachulish Pier being the one where the steamers called to set down tourists for Glen Coe is that the pier at Kentallen next to the railway station there (pictured above with MacBrayne's paddle steamer RMS Iona (1864-1935) alongside: the station buildings are now the Holly Tree Hotel) didn't exist before the railway as the same OS six inch map confirms:-


Kentallen Station and pier were at "An Currachd" near the top of the map above: Ardsheal Pier near the mouth of Kentallen Bay was just a wharf to serve the local Ardsheal Estate.

But then my elegantly constructed theory that Ballachulish Pier was usurped by Kentallen upon the opening of the railway in 1903 took a dent when I discovered that MacBrayne's 1911 summer brochure referred to their steamers still calling at Ballachulish rather than Kentallen. And after all, at a time before road transport had taken off and MacBrayne's were still as much about travel along the coast as opposed to out to islands, why would they abandon their investment in a pier (I'm guessing MacBrayne's built Ballachulish Pier and its attendant waiting room but don't know that for a fact) just to suit a railway company, an arch-rival for their coastwise trade? (When the first railway touched the west coast beyond the Clyde estuary, at Stromeferry in 1870, David Hutcheson & Co (MacBrayne's predecessor company) pointedly refused at first to divert their steamers passing through Kyle Akin for points north to the new station.)

On the other hand, railways brought people into the West Highlands to travel onwards from a railhead by steamer so they ought to be able to live symbiotically. But be all that as it may, my pier theory required revision. So I modified it become that Ballachulish Pier was abandoned in favour of Kentallen in 1928 when MacBrayne's was taken over by a joint venture between Coast Lines and the London Midland & Scottish Railway, the company which owned the line from Connel Ferry through Kentallen to Ballachulish.


Now, I don't have a complete series of MacBrayne's summer brochures to be able to prove this but I do have one (pictured above) which is undated but, from internal evidence, must be between the end of WWI and 1927: it mentions Ballachulish Pier as the drop off point for Glen Coe.


The next MacBrayne's brochure I have is 1934 pictured above. If you can drag yourself away from that splendidly homo-erotic clansman on the cover who appears to be walking away from Kilchurn Castle disappointed, it explicitly confirms that calls are at "Ballachulish (Kentallen Pier)" where by now "motor buses" await to convey the tourist to Glen Coe:-

So I think we can reasonably conclude that Ballachulish Pier was abandoned in the late 1920s or early 1930s and probably consequent upon MacBrayne's having been taken over by the LMS Railway Company.

Kentallen Station (now the Holly Tree Hotel) and pier today

It remains just to note that Kentallen Pier's tenure as a dropping off point for tourists visiting Glen Coe was much briefer as steamer calls there don't appear to have been resumed after the War. MacBrayne's 1947 summer timetable shows a much reduced number of sailings between Oban and Fort William calling only at Lismore and Appin:-

The vessel passing the Corran Narrows is MacBrayne's MV Lochfyne (1931-69) which plied between Fort William and Oban regularly in the 1930s

After the War, day trips to Glen Coe from Oban went by train to Achnacloich, by motor boat (not MacBrayne's) up Loch Etive, by bus up Glen Etive and down Glen Coe to Ballachulish (the village east of the present day bridge) and from there by rail back to Oban. And the other way round as I blogged about in more detail here.

The railway through Kentallen to Ballachulish closed in 1966 and MacBrayne's ceased sailing between Oban and Fort William altogether in 1974.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back to Stromeferry ...

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles about Stromeferry in Wester Ross and today I spotted on Ebay the postcard pictured above. Postmarked at Stromeferry on 14 September 1906, it shows what was at the time the Strome Hotel (now a private house) at the north terminus of the ferry.

The picture is not particularly special but the message on the back is outstanding and worth reproducing in full:-


 "This is the ferry hotel on the other side. A large flat-bottomed barge, almost as broad as long takes over cattle & sheep, gypsies and their carts, wedding parties and their piper, merchandise in general and motor cars. The landing on our side [i.e. at Stromeferry, the south side] is always picturesque and at times exciting especially when a particularly fine and large motor car has to be put ashore. The boat draws up to the side of the slip and the car is backed on to it. Slip is only 20ft wide & slippery oft. Car has to turn on it."

Photo credit Rob Beale
That's a car being loaded onto a ferry around the same time our postcard was sent. It's not actually the Strome Ferry but the Dornie Ferry (also known as the Aird Ferry, replaced by a bridge in 1940) about 20 miles south. And below is a car boarding the Ballachulish Ferry in 1926. The operation has become a bit slicker in the intervening 20 years but see if your heart leaps into your mouth at the same moment mine did!

 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guisachan - Part 2

In Part 1 I described how Guisachan Estate in north west Inverness-shire had been held by a cadet branch of the clan Fraser from the middle of the 16th century until 1855 when it was sold by the 11th laird.

The sale was part of a pattern whereby a huge proportion - if not the majority - of the estates which had been held by the clans in the north and west of Scotland were sold between the late 18th and mid 19th centuries due to economic pressures rather than the feuds and politics which had characterised changes of control in earlier centuries. The map below - which is by no means accurate or complete - shows in yellow some of the land which changed hands during this period:-


This transformation of ownership is a vast subject in its own right but, to attempt a crude generalisation, an earlier phase (in the late 18th and earlier 19th cents.) tended to see estates being bought by more astute cadet families or neighbouring clans: notable examples are Harris bought by Macleod of Berneray from his chief in 1772 (see here) and the clan MacKay's estate in north west Sutherland sold to the Countess of Sutherland in 1829. A later phase (in the mid 19th century) saw estates being sold to outsiders - Victorian nouveaux riches of the Industrial Revolution who craved the clan territories as sporting estates in immitation of the Queen and Prince Albert at Balmoral. The sale of Guisachan fell into this later phase except there was the curiosity that the seller invested the proceeds in buying part of the clan Donald's estates on Skye as part of the same process!


The purchaser of Guisachan was the splendidly named Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced "March-banks"), pictures above. A scion of the Coutts banking family, he was Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed before being elevated to the peerage in 1880 as Lord Tweedmouth. He had been the grouse shooting tenant for some years before he eventually bought the estate after it had been on the market for a while for £52,000 (about £5 million in today's money: what Marjoribanks described as a "fancy price before railway days") .

It's difficult to underestimate the changes Lord Tweedmouth made to Guisachan. The key difference between his management and that of his predecessors' was that, while the Frasers had seen the estate as their source of income, Tweedmouth approached it as something that money was to be lavished upon. Thus, most obviously, the Frasers' modest Georgian house was demolished and replaced by the latest fashion in Victorian gothic:-


The Frasers' tenant farmers were eased out and replaced by a single new estate run "model farm" centred on a magnificent steading complete with clock tower:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Perhaps more than the clock tower, though, the most arresting feature of the new farm was the dairy with its stained glass windows and terazzo flooring which survive intact to the present day:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Estate workers were housed in a new model village called Tomich specially built with 33 new stone and slated cottages and endowed with an inn and a school in one room of which church services were held. Today Tomich is a conservation area, complete with faux gas lamp style street lights and most of its houses being listed buildings:-

Tomich School (now a private house)

With his servants all gainfully employed and comfortably housed, Lord Tweedmouth pursued his sport (and developed the ultimate breed of sporting dog, the Golden Retriever) and it was all so idyllic that, after his death, his children erected a fountain in Tomich to his memory:-

Picture credit Dave Fergusson
Picture credit Dave Fergusson
But not everybody was happy. A discordant note about the management of Guisachan was sounded in evidence before the Napier Commission of 1883 - the Royal Commission set up to investigate the plight of the tenantry in the north and west of Scotland and which led to the crofting legislation. Lord Tweedmouth had to hasten to appear before the Commission to defend himself. And as if that wasn't enough, he soon found himself embroiled in litigation with a neighbouring sportsman, a megalomaniac American industrialist who'd also come in for criticism before the Napier Commission from the same source. I'll come back to all that in the next chapter of the story. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Guisachan




Perusing the 1920s Ordnance Survey One Inch map of upper Strath Glass last autumn, my eye alighted on Guisachan House. Plenty of shooting lodges up these glens, I thought, but few imposing enough to be surrounded by that grey stipple the map legend identifies as "Parks and Ornamental Grounds". A moment's googling produced this picture:-

Picture from Picture from Lucky Lady Farms
Turns out the Golden Retriever breed was developed at Guisachan by its 19th century owner, Lord Tweedmouth. That name rang a bell in my lawyer's brain and a little more research reminded me of an acrimonious litigation with a megalomaniac American railway baron with a side interest in "cigar ships". But beside these eccentricities of Victorian society, the story of Guisachan and its neighbours reveals in microcosm a lot about the broader sweep of Highland history over almost 800 years.

North west Inverness-shire was the heartland of two clans, the Frasers and the Chisholms. The boundary between their territories was the Amhuinn Deabhag (pron. AV-in JIV-ak) as the River Glass is known above its confluence with the River Affric at Fasnakyle. And here's the first thing a study of Guisachan's past reinforces: it's often assumed the Highlands clans are quintessentially Celtic and aboriginally ancient, the very antithesis of the incoming Anglo-Norman feudalism which took over the rest of the country.


In fact, many clans are no such thing. The Frasers were originally a Norman family who had been loyal feudal vassals of the Scottish crown in south east Scotland for almost 200 years before a junior branch migrated north around the turn of the 14th century to establish themselves in Inverness-shire where they promptly "went native". So too with the Chisholms. Whether it's actually true that a Frenchman called "De Chese" adopted the suffix "holme" from marriage to a Saxon heiress is debateable but the fact is that this was another family of exotic origins which finally settled in Strathglass where they morphed into a clan around the turn of the 15th century.

Be all that as it may. Around 1540, Thomas, 4th Lord Lovat (as the chief of Clan Fraser was styled), endowed his second son, William, with the lands of Guisachan. His son, Hugh, inherited the lands of Culbokie on the Black Isle in 1556 from an uncle and, as a result, the Frasers of Guisachan styled themselves thereafter as "of Culbokie" - even after they lost Culbokie and other estates to their creditors in the 1670s and Guisachan was all they were left with.


In 1746, William "Younger of Culbokie" fought at the Battle of Culloden as an officer on the rebel side while his father - "Old Culbokie" (8th of Guisachan) - remained peacefully at home. This was a common tactic amongst Jacobite clans: the son carried the family's honour to war while the father kept out of things in the interests of "it wisnae me" deniability after the event. But it didn't prevent Guisachan House being burnt by Government troops after the battle and for a while both father and son were fugitives before being officially pardoned in 1747. When William the Younger succeeded to Guisachan upon his father's death in 1755, he built a new house which is pictured below:-

Note that the caption says Guisachan, seat of Fraser of Culbokie
The next heir, another William, 10th of Guisachan, owned sugar plantations in the West Indies. Latterly, he owned a plantation at Berbice in what's now Guyana in South America. In the course of trying to liquidate his investments on the eve of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, it was written:-

With regard to Mr Fraser of Culbokie’s negroes, I fear the present is an inpropitious time for the sale of them, depressed as the West Indies are by the fanatics, collision of interests, and a temporizing government. I think if he gets from £100 to £120 a head for the negroes including children they will be well sold.  

That quote is from the excellent Slaves and Highlanders website. At the risk of digressing too far off topic, looking at Guyana on Google Earth, it's fascinating to see all the Scottish place names which were presumably plantations owned by Scots named after their ancestral homelands. For example: Pomona (Orkney), Suddie (Black Isle), Skeldon (Ayrshire), Rosehall (Sutherland), Goldspie (Golspie, Sutherland) and Nigg (Easter Ross). There isn't a Guisachan or Culbokie in Guyana that I could find but there is a Belladrum which was another Fraser estate in lower Strathglass (nowadays best known for its annual festival).

Belladrum, Guyana - photo credit silent_cam
The next laird of Guisachan (Culbokie), the 11th of the line, Major William Fraser, was also the last for he sold the estate in 1854. That's probably a good point to break the tale but before moving on to the purchaser in Part 2, I can't resist another digression into Major Fraser's subsequent career.

He bought Kilmuir Estate on Skye - the northern two thirds of the island's Trotternish peninsula - from the chief of the Clan Macdonald, Lord Macdonald of Sleat. It was he who built that distinctive folly in the shape of a Martello Tower which overlooks Uig Bay:-


The folly survives but the lodge which Fraser also built at Uig doesn't because it was washed away by the infamous Uig Flood of 1877. A flash flood of the River Conon, which drains into Uig Bay, carried away not just the lodge but also the local graveyard and it was said that, amongst the rubbish and debris found in the remains of the lodge garden were coffins, skulls and bones. There were those at the time who claimed this as divine judgement on Fraser for his cruel treatment of the tenantry on the estate in the time of "the Clearances". Be that as it may, he had bought Uig Estate for £85,000 and spent about £40,000 improving it. He sold it in 1888 for £110,000 involving an overall loss of £15,000. The sale was two years after the Crofters Act came into force and an intriguing parallel is the emancipation of crofters with the emancipation of slaves which had stung the previous generation of Frasers of Culbokie (Guisachan) financially.

 
Uig Lodge and Grave Yard - both washed away by the flood between the date of survey (1875) and publication (1879) of the OS 25 inch map, 1st edition

Back to Guisachan in Part 2  

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Lochalsh Hotel

It's the big white building at Kyle of Lochalsh immediately to the west of the slipway the ferry for Skye used to sail from before the bridge was opened in 1995.

The Lochalsh Hotel in the 1980s before the bridge
Prior to the arrival of the railway at Kyle in 1897, the hostelry for travellers arriving at the ferry by road had been the Kyle Inn, just to the north:-

Ordnance Survey 6 inch map 1880
The Kyle Inn is still in business today as the Kyle Hotel but back in 1897 the Highland Railway Company obviously felt that something more salubrious was called for. So they bought what's marked on the OS maps of the time (above) as "Kyle-lochalsh House" (on the plans for the construction of the railway, it's marked as "Kyle Cottage") next to the ferry pier and converted it into "the Station Hotel".

From the Aberdeen University George Washington Wilson Collection
In the mid 1930s, the Station Hotel, by now under the ownership of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company (LMS) which had absorbed the Highland Railway Co. in 1923, was renamed "the Lochalsh Hotel" and rebuilt in two phases. First, an extension on the east (right hand) end as shown below in a picture dated 1935:-

From the University of St Andrews Photographic Collection
And very soon after (don't know the exact year), the original building was demolished and extended westwards (to the left) as seen below:-


Thus enlarged, the hotel features conspicuously in a 1930s LMS poster by Norman Wilkinson:-


The ship depicted there is MacBrayne's MV Lochnevis (I) introduced in 1934 to serve on the Mallaig and Kyle to Portree steamer service. The poster includes the blurb:-

"MacBraynes steamers offer you a choice of many fascinating tours from the Clyde in the south to the Hebrides in the north. And as a headquarters, what could be more desirable than the LMS Lochalsh Hotel, recently rebuilt and charmingly modern, yet in complete harmony with its surroundings."  

Despite the claims of harmony with surroundings, the Lochalsh Hotel post its 1930s extensions became a most conspicuous landmark. Note how it's not visible in the postcard below which dates the view (looking from Kyleakin back over to Kyle) to prior to the mid 1930s:-


The dating of these changes to the West Highland landscape is a bit of an obsession of mine and in that regard it's notable that the railway hotel at Kyle is listed as the Station Hotel in MacBrayne's 1934 summer brochure but as the Lochalsh Hotel in the 1937 edition. In both cases, it appears in the same advert along with such other illustrious LMS Railway Hotels as Glasgow's Central, Edinburgh's Caledonian, Turnberry and, of course, the Gleneagles:-

 
In the late 1960s, the Lochalsh Hotel was extended again by the addition of a new wing at its west (left hand) end so as to assume its present profile:-

Photo credit Clifford Young
I date this last extension to the late 1960s because it's not visible in the postcard below which includes the Skye ferry MV Portree (II) (distinctive for having its wheelhouse forward) which entered service in 1965:-


Disregarding the obvious replacement of the ferries to Skye with a bridge, there are a few other changes between these last two pictures. It's a bit like one of these kids' "Spot the Differences" competitions in a comic - how many can you get?

I don't know when the Lochalsh Hotel was sold off by the railways. It was for sale a few years ago at a price of £825,000 through estate agents Allied Soutar & Jaffrey (although that wasn't the sale off from the railway). I downloaded a copy of the sale particulars (Sorry, but I don't know how you link to a pdf - if anyone does, please leave a comment) :-


It's perhaps surprising the Lochalsh has never been taken over by a coach tour company. And despite having once rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gleneagles and Turnberry, it's perhaps not too surprising to see a hotel like this getting mixed reviews on Tripadvisor (even if the ghosts of the directors of the Highland Railway must note with satisfaction that it still ranks #1 out of 2 hotels in Kyle over the Kyle Hotel!) One reviewer wrote that it was like walking into the 1930s - that reflects the history and to me is a good thing!

Art deco touches at the front door
But although I've never stayed at the Lochalsh Hotel, I'm happy to record a positive experience there. I'd arrived in Kyle off the Citylink coach from Glasgow on a day of that shocking weather we were having in December 2013. I had several hours to kill before my train north to Achnasheen but as it was Sunday, the station was closed. However the chap at the Lochalsh was very kind and happy to let me sit in the lounge for the price of a cup of coffee. He even let me leave my suitcase with them while I went out for a walk round while the rain briefly let up. So kudos to the Lochalsh Hotel for that kindness which is not to be taken for granted. I wish it well in the future.