Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Aros Hotel (Salen Pier)

I have a list of topics to write about on this blog but all too often I find that, in the course of researching a post, I uncover other interesting stuff with the consequence that one topic gets crossed off the list but two have been added! This post attempts to cover two of these extra subjects at once and thereby try to re-establish a bit of equilibrium to the list!

Aros Hotel by George Washington Wilson
I found the photo above of the "Aros Hotel" in the George Washington Wilson archive. Aros is on the east coast of Mull, a couple of miles north of Salen but I found myself thinking "Aros Hotel? Never heard of such an establishment!"

My first thought was it must be the Salen Hotel under a previous name but although the two buildings are similar, the gables, dormers and chimney stacks don't match:-

Salen Hotel - built 1862
Therefore, I think GWW's "Aros Hotel" has to be what's today a private house called the White House of Aros just north of Aros Castle with an alteration to the left-most windows at ground and first floor level and the addition of a new wing on the left hand side:-

White House of Aros - compare the right hand end of this building with the GWW photo.
The identification of the Aros Hotel with the White House is suggested by the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of 1875 which shows an inn on the site of the White House:-

OS 6 inch map, 1875

The footprint of the building marked as the inn is clearly smaller than that of either GWW's Aros Hotel or today's White House. I suspect it was just the rear (left) wing of the building in the GWW photo. Next, note how the 1897 edition of the 6 inch map shows a building with a much larger footprint which is no longer an inn but is now Aros Lodge. Note also that the pier just to the north is now "Old Pier":-

OS 6 inch map, 1897
note the old pier at top right

What I think happened - and this is no more than educated guess-work - is this: There was a pier with associated inn ("ferry house") at Rudha Ard Ealasaid at Aros established in the late 18th or early 19th century. This would have been one of the principal landings for Mull (especially for traffic crossing from Morvern) but the terminus was moved a mile south to the site of the present day pier at Salen at some point around 1875 (for the OS map of that year does show a pier at Salen). At the same time, the inn at Aros closed and was converted to a private house (and extended). The move was doubtless due to the trend towards piers that steamers could get alongside as opposed to waiting off for a ferry to come out from and perhaps the old pier at Rudha Ard Ealasaid was incapable of improvement. Many West Highland steamer piers were built or improved in the last quarter of the 19th century.

White House of Aros

There's a contemporary account of the Aros Inn in "A Descriptive Tour in Scotland" by the splendidly named Chauncy Townshend who travelled through the west of Scotland in the early 1830s in search, as was fashionable at the time, of places popularised by Sir Walter Scott. Having arrived at Tobermory by steamship (which Townshend snootily dismissed as "floating cake houses" packed with "tiresome tasteless mobs"), he and his companion resolved to continue their voyage to Staffa and Iona then north to Skye on a locally chartered sailing boat. But, as is so often the case, then and now, the weather conspired against the plan and, although they did manage to land on Staffa, the sailing trip had to be abandoned at Bunessan after a miserable two days and a night at sea. From Bunessan, they walked to Aros:- 

Another steep was yet to be surmounted before we reached the neat little inn of Aross [sic.] which looked quiet and comfortable in the moonlight and very inviting to weary travellers. It was now ten o' clock and we had been incessantly on the move since twelve, Henry only occasionally getting a lift on my steed and you know how wretchedly we had past the preceding night. Right glad therefore were we to hear we could be accommodated and to receive the warm welcome of a very model of a Boniface [archaic word for inn-keeper] who, bowing and smiling, showed us into a large room where three tourists were just preparing to take their tea. They had arrived like ourselves weary and hungry but a short time before. ... 

The servant girl here told us last night that, if we wished to go to Skye, the Maid of Ilay steamer would pass Aross at five in the morning, Did we wish to be called? The very thought of such a thing was horrible to us and we begged to be allowed to sleep as long and as late as we possibly could. The very mention of steam boats and voyages redoubled our qualms and made the carpet heave but the girl as if of malice prepense kept assuring us that ths Maid of Ilay was a very braw boat and almost seemed as anxious to speed us on our way as other folks at an inn are generally desirous to keep one stationary. ... The night before we left Aross, we began to think that the people of the house really meant to force us away by incivility. After ringing and ordering supper at least twenty times we gave up the matter in pure despair and at last actually went supperless to bed. The next morning the girl apologised for our having been so badly waited on and accounted for it by telling us that all the time we had been ringing and scolding, her mistress was bringing forth a man child into the world.

More recently, the White House of Aros (with associated estate (42ac/17ha), cottages and salmon fishing on the River Aros) was for sale through estate agents Savills during 2012 at offers over £1.5 million. I assume it must have been sold as it no longer appears on their website.

The picture above - and indeed all of the colour pictures of the White House in this post - are from the Savills sale brochure (which I have in pdf if anyone's interested to see). The vendor must have spent a lot of money on the house because I also have a copy of a brochure from when it was sold in the mid 90s and you can tell the agents then were really struggling to get a semi respectable photo of it!

Now, I began this post by saying I was going to cover two topics and you're maybe wondering by now what the second one is. It's the pier at Salen which replaced the one at Aros. The first Salen pier (seen above on the OS 25 inch map of 1877) was replaced in, I think, the early 20th century by the present one which is at 90 degrees clockwise to the first. But the stumps of the original pier are still clearly visible.

Picture credit kamai00 The White House of Aros is visible directly above the right-most post.
The respective positions of the previous and current piers at Salen. Note that the Bing Maps imagery has a distortion which suggests the bridge out to the berthing head of the current pier has a bend in it when, in fact, it's straight.

Salen was a port of call for MacBrayne's mail steamer which sailed every day from Tobermory to Oban with stops along the way at Drimnin, Lochaline, Craignure and Lismore as well as Salen. The vessel which operated this route from 1908 to 1955 (and intermittently thereafter until she was sold in 1960) was the MV Lochinvar. She is seen below departing from the second (current) Salen Pier in a postcard view dating, I think, from the 1930s:-

From 1955, the regular ship on the Sound of Mull mail service was the Lochearn and she is seen at Salen below:-

Photo credit Craig McDowall
Passenger sailings to Salen would have ceased in 1964 when the Sound of Mull mail service was replaced by the car ferry service from Oban to the new purpose built pier at Craignure. I'm guessing - but don't know - that Salen Pier was kept in commission to serve MacBrayne's cargo sailings but would have been abandoned when these ceased in 1976 (all cargo thereafter going on lorries on the car ferries). At all events, by the 2000s the pier had deteriorated to the point where its buildings had collapsed and it wasn't in much better shape than its predecessor:-

Salen Pier 2008 - picture credit littlebluetortoise

Hence, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover recently (and this is the point of the post) that Salen Pier has been refurbished and brought back into use. You can read about it on their website (which includes some historical photos). This has all, so far as I can tell, been privately funded with no public or lottery money involved. Calmac ships won't ever be calling again but fish farming well-boats can be expected.

loading salmon smolts - picture credit Bentalla
To draw the strands of this post to a close, our 1830s tourist, Chauncy Townshend, crossed from Aros to Lochaline after spending a couple of days at the inn. Of course, it's still possible to cross from Mull to Lochaline but not from Aros or even Salen but now from the slipway at Fishnish 5 miles to the east - the third generation of pier connecting this part of Mull to the mainland.

Fishnish slipway - photo credit Andrew Kesterton


  1. Hi Neil this is a fantastic post which brings back many memories.
    As a child in the early 1960's we had several holidays doing 'bed and board' at a cottage at Aros Bridge. The cottage would have been on the left of the road on the 1875 map, as by the 1960's the new bridge had been build up stream of the old bridge.
    I also clearly recall walking along the road that leads to 'The White House of Aros' and playing at the small bay just beyond the old ruins of Aros castle.

  2. Very intresting Neil. Wasn't aware White House was an Inn at all. Has been sold recently. Previous owner spent fair amount of money around the place including a large boat house to the north of the house as can be seen on the aireal photo.
    Not sure when Salen pier stopped being used by MacBraynes but doubt would be as late as 1976. Was used in film Madam Sin with Bette Davis in early 70's.

  3. Great stuff as usual Mr King!
    The new bridge referred to by Iain Goodrick was completed in 1939, when the road was re-aligned.
    I would agree with you, about the building in the GWW photo. The style looks like late 19th century, and if you look carefully, there seems to be some building material lying in front of the house, suggesting that it had only recently been finished.
    On the matter of Salen pier, I would agree with Alan that MacBraynes boats had stopped using the pier well before 1976. I`m not even sure who owned it when it was in regular service, something tells me that it wasn`t MacBrayne. I do know that it was bought, maybe in the 60s, by Killiechronan estate, which was, at the time, quite a big employer in the area, and used by them to bring in supplies, and also to export their own produce. There was a busy sawmill on the estate, which supplied fencing timber to other islands.
    Keep up the good work!
    rgards, Muileachmor.