*2023 UPDATE* FOR SALE: BREATHTAKING LOCATION OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE (INCLUDES 8-BEDROOM HOTEL)
Updated: Sep 18
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
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.
AND THEN ALONG CAME BRADLEY: JANUARY 2023 UPDATE
I sometimes wonder if he bought it entirely on a whim, whether the challenge was too juicy a carrot to resist, or if it was simply because there was money to be moved around. I've never asked. What I do know is that it changed hands shortly after I posted this original blog, which was in February 2020. Lockdown began in March. Think about that for a second. The deal was done within two or three weeks of the world stopping. Try to imagine the impact of buying a hotel which you were powerless to do anything with; it could neither be spruced up nor operate under any circumstances, in any form, for the foreseeable future. It lay empty and unattended for months. The pandemic continued, causing businesses all over the world go into free-fall and Bradley, it seemed, was faced with one of two options; sit it out until it was over, whenever that might be, or roll up his sleeves and do what he could himself.
Thus began the rise and rise of Bradley M.
The second the drawbridge came down and access to the island was allowed, Bradley was there; banging and clattering, lifting and shifting. He could be heard at all hours, morning and night. He didn't stop. If there was a Sheer Hard Graft award, he'd have won it hands down. Up on the roof, down on the ground, inside the hotel, outside the hotel; banging, clattering, lifting, shifting. Months of it. All Bradley, whenever he was there. Eventually help was allowed to join him and the banging and clattering was amplified. Diggers joined in, digging and moving, day after day.
Before he bought the hotel, Bradley was virtually unknown on the island but soon became its main talking point. His foresight and vision for the hotel was impressive, as was his bravery - although at the time it seemed more like folly. Throughout its entire existence, the Scarinish Hotel has looked out at the harbour. There has never been anything of note on either side or to its rear. The hotel was built to look outward, being perfectly positioned as it was on that beautiful, paradisiacal bay with its olde' world harbour. It's where we all sat and admired the view, for decades, with glass in hand. Bradley forced us all to think differently by doing something so blindingly obvious that it left us all wondering why no-one had thought of it before.
The bar had two windows. The smaller of the two was on the back wall, looking out at a high mound of grass. It provided no real view; at best it offered ventilation on a warm day. The larger window looked over the bay. Bradley had noticed that the sun spent more time at the back than the front, and set to work removing the grassy mound that we'd all been ignoring for decades. For several weeks Iain drove the digger that dug and shifted continuously until the area was flattened and the old hill became a new hill a mile or so away from where it originated. A doorway was formed where the window once was. It was no small feat and the end result is impressive, pragmatic and well-laid out. Furnished with contemporary seating that sees mostly sun all day, in an aesthetically-pleasing, sand-scattered landscape, this is no small back-yard. This is an area which now might easily accommodate at least a hundred customers where previously there were none.
As if that wasn't enough, the bar's interior has doubled in size and had a complete refit with a layout and decor that has turned the atmosphere on its head - no longer a bar where a stranger felt all eyes turn towards them when they walked through the door, it's now a place where everyone feels welcome.
The guest rooms and main restaurant have also had a complete overhaul and bear no resemblance to their original counterparts. Art adorns the walls, inside and out, and local artefacts are dotted around the entrance to remind you that you are on an island where fishermen fish and surfers surf and sand gets everywhere. You can still sit out at the front, but it's not quite so relaxing as the back bit, or at the side with its raised seating and gorgeous outlook.
Not content to stop there, Bradley purchased the former butcher shop and abattoir behind the Co-op in Scarinish and broke it down into four units, each of which has become an independent start-up over the past year. The stretch now houses a coffee shop, chip shop, gift shop and fresh fish shop, and there are plans for more later this year (2023).
The hotel is once again up for sale but is being sold in a vastly improved condition.
Bradley has changed the landscape of The Scarinish Hotel, and Scarinish Town itself, irrevocably and beautifully, with the help of wife Sophie, who is largely responsible for the hotel's interiors. It can never be the same again. Well done, Bradley and Sophie. Sales details here: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/properties/129418403#/media?channel=COM_BUY&id=media8