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.