Updated: Sep 28, 2021
It was Friday 17th August 1979 and the sun was shining. I was barely off the ferry from Oban when I was thrust behind an extremely busy public bar filled with drovers and visitors and locals, all at the same time apparently in need of refreshments. It was the day of The Sales and everyone was in great fettle. Laughter and chatter and live music played out until the early hours of the next morning and then finally, my first of many 18-hour shifts at the Scarinish Hotel was over. Prior to this baptism of fire, I hadn’t heard of Tiree far less spent any time there. And I really ought not to have been behind the bar serving alcohol either, but that’s another story.
Everything about that day pales into insignificance when I think about the first time I looked out at the bay, its harbour, and the scattered islands beyond, from the hotel window. With the sun beaming down from a clear blue sky, I thought it the most glorious spot for a hotel, and I still think so now.
For decades, The Scarinish Hotel hosted the Regatta, was the biennial venue for the Annual Golf Dinner and the place to be during the Glasgow Fair Fortnight. It was warm and welcoming and pleasing, even when it was being loud and raucous. A lot of this was down to the hosts, of course, but a great deal was not. Whilst owners came and went, the feel-good atmosphere of the place remained its one constant, even as it spiralled into decline.
In its heyday customers would spill outside on sunny days and gather in clusters around the picnic tables or on the grass and the rocks, and lap up the sun over a few jars. There was no better place from which to watch Regatta competitors tack in through the mouth of the harbour. On days like these there was almost always someone playing the box in the bar, sometimes paid, sometimes not.
It’s easy to put all of this down to nostalgia, but The Scarinish Hotel deserves more respect than that. It has occupied its current location for more than 200 years and is every bit a part of the landscape and community as the harbour and surrounding farm, with a history that boasts far more than several congenial hosts and a good tune. The idea of Scarinish without its hotel is unimaginable to many of us.
The continued decline of the hotel’s interior and façade has overshadowed valiant attempts by worthy staff in recent years to rejuvenate it, and no amount of welcoming smiles or game-day giveaways or discounted rooms will alter the fact that the place is now past the point of patchwork. The doors are closed. She is done with us. Her demands are simple: do me up or take me down.
WHO SHOULD BUY THIS LAND
The hotel with surrounding land is up for sale and has been for some time. There have been lots of interested parties, each put off for different reasons; the main one being the sizable cash injection required post-sale. That, and the work it will take. Oh, and a good dose of imagination. It needs an entire overhaul. Plus the roof must be replaced, likewise the electrics – it’s never been re-wired. Added to, yes, but not fully re-wired. Not ever. Imagine. And then there’s the plumbing, which is apparently surprisingly intact. Yes, it’s a beast of a job. No mean feat for whoever takes it on.
BUT – and this is an important ‘but’ – it can be done, and it can pay dividends.
First and foremost, this hotel is needed. One hotel on the island is not enough. Both the Tiree Lodge and Scarinish Hotels were full to capacity during summer months, even in the latter’s poor cosmetic state (arguably, the Lodge has had the edge over the past two years). There is still a high demand for hotel and guesthouse accommodation on Tiree (and Scotland as a whole), and this is increasing year-on-year as tourism in Scotland builds. Predictions are that this will continue to rise over the next 5 years.
Secondly, yes – it will be costly, but it needn’t be prohibitive. With imagination and style (a prerequisite if you are to cost-cut), diligence and hard graft, this incredible building in its breath-taking location can be turned around and made good again. And if you know a sparky and a roofer who won’t mind taking a month out to stay on a beautiful island whilst dedicating him/herself to the job, all the better.
As for who it may suit? For what it’s worth, my profile of the ideal owner would be someone who:
1. knows the island and its people well;
2. who hasn’t just visited, but lived here too, over more than one winter;
3. has used the hotel in the past and is aware of its history;
4. is prepared to live on or near the premises 24/7 for the first 2 years;
5. has experience of the catering trade and interior design;
6. won’t expect a fast return;
7. is happy to work their socks off and reap the rewards
WHO SHOULD NOT BUY THIS LAND
All or any of the following:
Anyone over 60
Anyone – ANYONE – who hasn’t lived on Tiree for at least two winters
Those ‘ready to leave the rat race and follow the dream’ (it will quickly become a nightmare)
Wealthy people who want to save it (.. although potential silent partners get in touch )
Those, right now, asking themselves: “Sounds intriguing… I wonder where this is..?”
People who have no patience for long days, late nights and local workmen taking up bar space.
Interested? Call Dxxxx on 078314793XXX. Chat. Haggle. Persuade. Do it.