Monday, 15 April 2019

The New Kingshouse Hotel.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
On the road back from the overnight bothy we stopped off at Morrisons in Fort William, seen here. While we were there we looked across at Nevisport and Gavin remarked that he'd not been in it for ages. Just shows you how things change as Nevisport, in my active climbing/hill-walking days in the 1980s and 1990s, early 2000s was always our main port of call on any trip up to Fort William. It was the place to visit. To buy outdoor gear, to visit the pub downstairs, to eat in the restaurant upstairs. A large part of most hill-walkers/rock climbers outdoor life. Must be five years since I've been in for a brief look yet that fact only registered now at this time with something of a jolt. Like a glimpse of an old, sadly neglected, girlfriend from the past where you just drift apart slowly then bump into each other again many years later in the street.
The reasons are :- Nevisport was always an expensive shop for gear when it had a monopoly of the outdoor market. I visit Go Outdoors now if I need anything as its handy- five min drive away in a retail park instead of city centre hard to park locations- and cheaper. Same as we always go to Morrisons now in F.W. as that is also handy and fast to get in and out of with sandwiches and a soft drink/newspaper/carry out all in one place. And a free car park. The other reason being we are all older, have different tastes, and visiting Fort William is a rarer experience now whereas we used to be up here at least a dozen times a year as a club. Plus pub nights and a few pints each evening made up the main Highland entertainment back then. But it just shows how you can change your habits and years pass by without even realizing it.
On the way back down the road, more surprises, when we stopped off at the new Kingshouse Hotel on the edge of Rannoch Moor just before it snakes down into the stone trench of Glencoe. I didn't even know it had upgraded so this was my first look at it, roughly on the same spot where James Bond's fictional ancestral mansion in Skyfall resided before it was blown up. Watching that film as someone who knows the area well was funny as most of the lochans are at most waist deep so crashing through ice and fighting under deep water would be hard to achieve in this shallow puddle landscape. As would the usual film cliche that any bog in a movie means sinking chest deep into the mire- at most knee deep here and only if you are really determined or stupid... to sink. You have to really work at it.
I didn't bother going inside but Gavin and John went in while I wandered around the outside. The main thing I noticed was that it was very busy. A huge number of cars filling the large car park, some staying overnight presumably but many arriving and leaving after a drink and a curiosity visit. Just like us. This is looking one way.
And this is looking the other. The white building is part of the original pub/hotel- the wooden extension is the new part.
The back view. Nice wood paneling but it resembles a new Scottish distillery here I thought from this angle. If I didn't know what it was I might guess that option. Slightly industrial in scale and appearance. Hides the mountains. Separate bunkhouse accommodation available from £35 a night. I'd imagine the extra size and facilities here have created a few additional local jobs in the service and retail sector.
The front view. I found myself thinking that the best views would be inside the building itself looking out at the surroundings rather than looking at the building from outside which did seem to dominate and even detract from the scale of the moor and mountains it sits in. Handy though as it rains a lot here year round so a large indoor area to stay dry and warm in is a bonus. The majority of tourists travelling around the Highlands are not serious walkers anyway, many like their comforts, and its only ever been a minority that wild camp nearby. This group do not spend a lot of money either, except in the bar.
There are magnificent views looking out the windows.  Buachaille Etive Mor here.
And plenty of fine rock peaks surrounding this hotel...
But although the peaks are rugged and dramatic they are only 1000 metres high (3,400feet) not 12,000 feet so its easy to diminish them in size by architecture that's even slightly out of scale. Maybe I just have to get used to it but the old modest white painted hotel seemed to get it right- size wise... making the surrounding moor seem vast and the habitation small and insignificant- a white dot from afar....whereas the new structure feels too large a footprint somehow- shouts in your face- I'm over here!- and introduces a city type development and supermarket style traffic comings and goings into the wilderness. Maybe this is what modern travellers want and expect though and it needs to be big to capture the extra folk visiting Scotland then motoring up for the 500 tour around the popular north coast route. According to the guys it was ok inside but a bit bland and corporate, hotel chain feel, lacking the down at heel spit and sawdust character of the old climbers bar, which was rustic and basic admittedly, but then again the old Kingshouse was never my favourite pub anyway although I've had many memorable nights there camping beside the river... hill-walking and rock climbing- but only in the past...20 to 40 years ago. My favourite memories centre around wild camping on the nearby island in the middle of the river and the strategy involved getting back onto it if ....A. drunk and unsteady, performing half seen boulder jumps in pitch black conditions , B. raining hard and river swollen double sized after a night in the pub. C. replicating the sheer perfection of waking up in a tent with a crystal clear day ahead, no hangover, and great mountains to climb. It was not indoor memories at all, but the general surroundings that made it special.. Some of my favourite pubs in this area have shut anyway so you have to evolve to survive.
Scrambles on the nearest peak to the Kingshouse. Buachaille routes. A rough line only- consult a proper guidebook if attempting them.
Red deer sheltering in the woods near the hotel. If only they knew what was happening inside.
Hinds. Plate them up I'll have them on a sandwich.
John on Crowberry Tower in the 1980s.
Where the tower is on the mountain.
A winter view of the scrambles and rock climbs.
High on Curved Ridge in Summer 1980s.
Alex in Glencoe.
The 5 star Glencoe House Hotel above Glencoe Village. This building is much higher than the new Kingshouse yet it fits in better with the surroundings I think. Several large ponds and forest trails with a car park lie behind this building. One of the few low level sheltered walks in the area so good to remember for a wet day. It's probably because it's so flat and empty at the Kingshouse it stands out more as the dominant feature in that desolate landscape. No woodlands to soften the profile of the building, just surrounding moor.
Or maybe I have too many memories of youthful times invested here around the Kingshouse to give an unbiased opinion and if I had no memory of anything else existing beforehand I might think it was fine as a building in this situation. The curse of age perhaps is falling into the trap of viewing the world as it used to be ( in simpler, more basic, times) and not how it currently is. Younger folk coming up today will probably view this building as perfectly normal for its setting and size to cater for an increase in tourist numbers and greater expectations as to where to stay.. You decide if it fits in.  Link below.

Funnily enough the other Kingshouse Hotel at Balquhiddder has also gone upmarket as the Mhor 84. Popped in for a drink there a couple of years ago. Not my kind of pub and well out of my price range for meals or to stay in. Mind you, I'm perfectly happy in a shed overnight in my sleeping bag with a tin of meat for dinner so my standards and expectations aren't high.


Anabel Marsh said...

I expect there will be more of these big hotels if the tourists keep coming, which we need them to do, but I hope they will be sensitively done. I don’t think this one is too bad in a bland sort of way. I prefer a bit of character.

Kay G. said...

I looked at that link for the Kingshouse Hotel and there is place to link to the history...when I clicked on it, it said I wasn't allowed to view it! The place looks nice to me, even the new bit but then, I am American and don't get out much so anyplace looks good to me! :-)
Hey! Guess what, today is my birthday and Richard and I walked at Stone Mountain but we have had a lot of rain lately, so had to use our very best "mountain goat" steps so as not to fall down. Ah, the joys of old age!

Andy said...

I've not seen the new Kingshouse in the flesh (or wood) but I'd file it under "could be better, could be a lot worse". Like you I have some happy memories of nights wild camping by the river and drunken antics in the bar that may have added a rose tint to my memories. Most of those mountain hotels have gone upmarket like the Bridge of Orchy Hotel we use for our winter weekends away. I also smiled at your Nevisport memories reflecting my own. No trip to the Highlands was complete without a trip to the cafe (it was pretty cheap in those days) and then long lingering looks over the gear. I bought my first proper rucksack from there, a Karrimor Hot Earth that lasted about 20 years before it finally fell to pieces. The one redeeming feature of Fort William. Happy days!

Carol said...

Me and Richard have spent a lot of time in Nevisport's bar - quite a reasonable drinking environment as they're one of only a couple of pubs who do hand-pulled real ales (t'other is the Grog) and the mountain pics on the walls are superb (if they're still there). I've only ever bought a map in the shop though...

Really hating the new Kingshouse - didn't realise they'd added all that - the old, small white building is in keeping - the rest ain't!

I can see from your photos how Curved Ridge is a scramble but I'd have called the other 2 illustrated rock climbs!

blueskyscotland said...

Very true Annabel,
Watched TV presenter Anne Lundon doing the 500 recently and glad I was up there extensively during the 1970s,1980s,1990s period as cars on that single track circuit then were few and far between. Cycled from Helmsdale to Durness a few times and passed less than 10 cars in 60 plus miles. And as I know to my cost a few years ago cars rarely if ever stop for cyclists heading towards them on single track roads. Fine on a quiet single track road to wait in the lay-by until they pass but if it's busy you are faster and safer walking and pushing the bike.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
as it is brand new they probably haven't got around to it yet, history wise. I do know that navies working on the construction of the Blackwater Dam, (longest in the Scottish Highlands) used to cross Rannoch Moor for a pint in the Kingshouse Hotel- the nearest pub to the construction site( early 1900s that was) and a few died on the way back, drunk, lost and frozen during grim weather, mist or snowdrifts.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy,
Camping on that island was always a laugh. It was only ever ankle or knee deep but a couple of times fellow campers fell full length into the river after a pub outing, getting completely soaked, trying to avoid wet socks. In Wales a club companion fell into a deep hidden trench of pig slurry crossing a field to the tents in the dark. Everyone else found that hilarious, especially as he was always really well groomed and best dressed camper.
I remember buying a hurricane Vango in the late 1980s-early 1990s from either Nevisport or Tiso for over £200 quid. A great solid tent that stood up to 80 miles an hour gales but then I bought a lightweight Eurohike tent for £30 quid from Millets for backpacking in Europe and I was a cheap gear convert after that.

blueskyscotland said...

I liked the restaurant in Nevisport back then Carol and the pub was good too. Cheap plain food like sausage roll, chips and beans or steak pie, roast potatoes and peas for a couple of quid. Probably all healthy stuff now like Stilton and broccoli soup or
asparagus in the hole.
Curved Ridge is not too bad. Done it in full winter conditions as well. I've also came down that way. Crowberry Ridge is very hard and committing, the limit for scrambling without a rope, unless you are a confident rock climber already. North Buttress is a vertical long chimney, steep and bold but with good jug holds. Would not like to reverse it.
I couldn't do any of them now as I've lost my bottle for steep cliffs and scrambling.

Carol said...

To be honest, I'd want a rope on Curved Ridge - and in summer! Not my thing to fooling around on serious ground without one!

Alistair said...

Is that the Cap'n writing? So true about each generations' golden time. Passed the new hotel recently but didn't stop. Is the climbers' bar still there? Sad to see Glen Etive being trashed by the renewables brigade. Tried to persuade my MSP to call it in but they weren't interested. Will have to pop by the blog more often, see if I can spot those secret bothies...

Ian Johnston said...

A "sympathetic" extension to the old Kingshouse it's not, but given the over-burden of tourism in the W Highlands at the moment, probably needed to be that big. Hopefully it'll weather in a bit given a few years, and should certainly make money...£35 for a bunkhouse

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Alistair,
Yep, Tis I... and has been me for the last five years since I performed a disappearing spell on Alex's typing finger. They still have a 'Climbers Bar' but that too has gone upmarket. I popped in briefly then out again.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Ian,
I suppose that is reasonably priced these days. We (Alex and myself) were just talking of the cost of doing the 500 route in petrol from Glasgow by today's fuel prices and neither of us could afford it, even camping, yet we used to tour extensively up there in the 1970s/1980s/1990s as a carload of 3 or 4 people in our club. £20 total each for a week for everything-fuel,food, camping, drinks etc. It would run into hundreds of pounds now and I'd really grudge the money. One round of drinks and crisps for four in an average highland pub is £20 quid alone.