Issue 45, Autumn 2016

In the early spring of 1979 after a particularly tedious and acrimonious directors meeting in a company that I had first joined as a hotel manager in 1966, I drove home weighing up our situation in life. I was 41, my wife Ann and I enjoyed a reasonable income and together with our two young sons, lived in a comfortable house not far from Edinburgh. But, the prospect of another 25 or so more years of my current working life was just too depressing to contemplate. It was now or never. By the time I got home my decision had been made.

Recently I had been looking at possible hotels that might fit in with the Company's expansion programme. One that I had particularly liked was beautifully situated in the small village of Arrochar at the head of Loch Long, but to my surprise, the proposal had been rejected by my fellow directors as they felt it needed too much money spent for repairs and renovations.

My plan therefore was that I should tender my resignation, then negotiate a private purchase of what was in fact, the Loch Long Hotel. This idea went down badly with my family, even more so when they finally saw the property. It was exceedingly neglected, most of the rooms had containers to catch drips from the leaking roof and there were no en-suite rooms, just 6 public bathrooms to be shared by all the guests. The asking price of the property was £70,000 which seemed an enormous sum at the time, but it was finally raised by a combination of the sale of our house, a loan from my father and a generous overdraft from a friendly bank manager (they really were friendly in those days). The transition from house to hotel was not an easy one. Our accommodation was two rooms on the top floor too awful to sell to the public and the boys were obliged to work as lowly paid labour on return from school and at weekends.

It would take years of working seven days a week before we were in a position to complete the upgrade and expansion of the property for it to be fully viable.

I recount this tale that I know I have touched on before, to illustrate the significance of the Loch Long Hotel because, without it, there would be no Lochs and Glens Holidays.

So you can imagine my sorrow now that we have decided to sell the Loch Long Hotel. The harsh reality is that the future success of the company can only be assured if we are able to constantly upgrade and improve our standards in order to stay competitive. The Loch Long Hotel has just too many restrictions to permit this. The bedrooms are too small and too few of them have loch views. Unfortunately the plot is not large enough for us to extend the hotel. So it will be a sad day when we transfer the property to its new owners late October.

I am pleased to announce that on the following page we have the winning entries in our competition to find the best description of a Lochs and Glens Holidays day excursion in no more than 400 words.

Congratulations therefore to Rosemary Salton and Alvor Johnson who will each receive a voucher for a complimentary Lochs and Glens Holiday for two.

Michael Well OBE, Chairman

Competition Joint Winners

Who was Black Maria? Answer later! Just one of the interesting facts gleaned during our brief incarceration in Inveraray Jail.

We had woken to a chilly dawn and gazed in awe at the view from the hotel terrace. Kilchurn Castle rose, wraith-like, from a sea of mist floating on the surface of Loch Awe.

By the time we arrived in Inveraray, the sun had burst into life. We were enchanted by the azure gorgeousness of Loch Fyne. But there was no time to linger. Which of the pleasures of this lovely little town should we sample? The Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, or the Jail, home to hundreds of men, women and children, convicted or unconvicted. If they were not insane on entry they would quite possibly be on exit. The darker side of history fascinates us. The Jail it was.

An ‘inmate’, sadly long term, welcomed us to the prison which was completed in 1820 along with the onsite courthouse. The 8 cells were old, damp and dark. Mind you, so many of the unfortunates were crammed in that no doubt they kept warm, one way or another. In 1848 the new prison was built with 12 individual cells to afford some privacy – the downside being that the prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other. There was heating, gas lighting and even a WC on every floor.

Prisoners were engaged in making herring nets or picking oakun. Hard labour was ‘good for the soul’. Exhausting but useless tasks such as climbing a tread wheel were intended to discourage a future criminal career.

Few managed to escape, but in 1842 two men did, walking out in the middle of the night past, not only a sleeping warden, but also a snoozing bulldog.

And Black Maria? She owned a lodging house in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1840s and told the police whenever she thought ta guest was up to no good. The police horse and cart was there so often it acquired the nickname of the black landlady and soon all vehicles used to transfer prisoners in the States and in Britain were and still are called Black Maria.

Rosemary Salter, Shrewsbury

By our sixth day any trepidation about this, our first such holiday, had been completely dispelled. Mainly by that Lochs and Glens ambassador extraordinaire, Wee Stevie, but also our party of strangers had become a party of friends. After yet another sumptuous breakfast we boarded Wee Stevie’s coach bound for Aviemore. Our luxurious coach, driven with consummate skill by Stevie took us through some amazing and breath-taking scenery. Remote and desolate moors, backed by dramatic mountains were our journey’s backdrop as we seemed to float past wooded valleys and still waters. The closer to Aviemore we began to see ice covered lochs and snow blanketed fields, hills and mountains.

We then began the awesome climb up to the base station of the funicular railway. Stevie had arranged tickets for this holiday highlight prior to our departure from the hotel so the transfer to the train was smooth and hassle-free. On the final ascent to the summit we began to see the hardy souls who were braving the wintry conditions to ski or snow board. Half way up we stopped for red faced winter sports enthusiasts to join us to the top.

A blizzard was blowing as we disembarked, but a welcome restaurant/café beckoned and hot drinks and soups were soon being ordered.

A viewing area allowed excellent views of the sports that were taking place outside and an external area was visited by all to experience the invigorating elements. Some made this outside trip a brief affair, but one guest was determined to fulfil her ambition to make a snow angel at the summit. There was an interesting museum to be visited along with a goodie-packed shop, but all too soon it was time to start our return home. On our descent all marvelled at the skills and bravery of the winter fun makers on their skis and snow boards.

The return journey to the Highland Hotel was as comfortable and soothing as any judging by the number of guests who opted to rest their eyes.

As usual we arrived back at the hotel in good time to relax and freshen up before our evening meal and entertainment.

Alvor Johnson, Groby, Leicester

Edinburgh and the Royal Yacht Britannia

Since the early days of Lochs and Glens Holidays, a day in Edinburgh has consistently been one of our most popular excursions. And with good reason. There is so much to see, the impressive castle high above the town, the Royal Mile with its quirky shops, fashionable Princess Street with its controversial new tram system and, for the more energetic, Calton Hill and Holyrood Park. But, if that wasn’t enough many of our tours to Edinburgh now include a visit of the Number One Edinburgh attraction, a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, home to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 Years.

The tour, which includes the state apartments and royal bedrooms as well as exploring life below decks, is taken at your own pace with an audio guide. It lifts the curtain on the everyday lives of the royals and gives an intriguing insight into the Queen’s private tastes and reveals Her Majesty’s preference for simple, unfussy surroundings.

There was nothing simple or unfussy, however, about the running of the ship. When the Queen travelled, with her went 45 members of the royal household, five tons of luggage and a Rolls-Royce that was carefully squeezed into a specially built garage on the deck.

During 2017 Edinburgh and Britannia tours will be included in many of Loch Achray Hotel’s itineraries.

Some Loch Long Hotel Memories

After our momentous decision to purchase the Loch Long Hotel back in 1979, Ann and I were faced with the tricky problem as to where on earth our business was going to come from. There were no bookings in the diary, in fact there was no diary! Money was desperately short and urgent repairs were needed. Fortunately the summer of 1979 was long, hot and sunny, even in Scotland, and the demand for bed and breakfast was strong but although completely unpredictable. Our overnight charge ranged from £4.95 to £9.95 dependant upon the level of demand and the number of unsold rooms. Signs at either end of the car park had spaces where a board could be hung showing the current overnight cost and my sons still remember weekend afternoons spent racing back and forth changing the boards with an ever increasing price as the number of unsold rooms diminished.

Somehow we got through that summer and during the following winter we managed to tackle the most urgent repairs and, by the Spring of 1980, we were far more organised.

One of our more lucrative sources of business emerged from the nearby Torpedo Range. Situated just a few hundred yards from the hotel, the range was the main facility for testing naval torpedoes from 1912 until its closure in 1986. It was a busy place and both British and Allied submarines could often be seen from the hotel tied up at the jetty.

Many rooms were booked for visiting specialists and for families welcoming back returning submariners. We gladly acceted all bookings without question - that is until one particular booking.

The request was for 15 double rooms. It was explained that it was for personnel of an American submarine returning from a lengthy tour under the polar ice cap. Payment was wired in advance and we were to expect the party early evening. However, in the afternoon a mini-bus arrived and out stepped a group of elegant young ladies, heavily made up considering the time of day, some in long dresses more suited for evening wear. Drinks were ordered and they sat chatting in the foyer causing considerable curiosity from a Wallace Arnold coach group who had just arrived. I was too curious until it dawned on me with some consternation, that there were 15 ladies, the same number as the rooms booked for the submariners. They did not look like wives!

The Americans arrived looking splendid in their naval uniforms. A list was produced, introductions made, some embraced, others nervously shook hands with their allotted partners and all went up to their rooms. The Wallace Arnold guests gazed on in fascination. Ann and I looked at each other, struggling to come to terms with the implications of what we had just seen.

In the morning they all left, but the village was buzzing with some juicy gossip to exchange. One of our local bar regulars arrived the following night with a British Rail red lantern and asked if we would like to hang it in the window.

It was a valuable lesson. We became rather more cautious in confirming navy bookings.