For many years, the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel was an important part of the social and economic life of Fearnan. It was mentioned in this blog a few months ago, in an article on the hotel bus, and here we explore its history in more detail.
The Earl of Breadalbane funded the building of the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel in 1887.
John Stewart took over the tenancy 1902 and he and his descendants continued run it for just over 100 years. His granddaughter, Shenac Kelloe, and her husband David recently shared their memories of the hotel and of Fearnan in the second half of the 20th century.
Two years after taking over the hotel, John married Isabella Menzies and they had 4 daughters of whom two, Dolly and Mia (Shenac’s Mum), survived to adulthood. Around this time, Fearnan had 25 households and a population of 91.
In 1922, the Breadalbane Estate came on the market following the death of the third Marquis of Breadalbane, and John (seen below on the right) was able to purchase the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel outright. At the same time, many other tenants in Fearnan were able to purchase their own crofts.
In those days, Tigh-an-Loan was not just a hotel; it provided a taxi service, a bus, a grocery shop, a post office, and also sold petrol, and coal. It even had its own ghillie way back, boats for the salmon fishing, and a small farm with 2 cows, a pig and a number of hens. The hotel was the nearest thing to a bank that Fearnan ever had – villagers who were owed money could arrange for a cheque to be made out to John Stewart and he would exchange it for cash.
It was a source of full and part time employment for people in the village, some of whom are seen in these photos carrying out some of the cleaning and washing tasks necessary to keep things running smoothly. It must have been hard work, but they seem to have been having fun when the photographer was around!
Few people had cars in those days so local services were important and the taxis and bus were a vital link to the wider area. Ben Lawers Dam was built after the WW2, and during the construction period the taxis were kept busy ferrying people to and from the Dam.
On a Friday, the hotel bus would be loaded with groceries and set off for Glen Lyon to deliver orders and to sell goods off the back of the bus. Several readers of this blog recall accompanying Dolly in the bus to Glen Lyon. (Dolly Stewart (front row, right) is seen here with friends at the 1938 Empire Exhibition).
At that time, people cooked fresh every day and Fearnan residents purchased their food supplies from the 2 butchers’ vans, the grocery van and from other mobile shops that called regularly in the village.
Mrs Stewart is remembered as a hard worker who kept things running smoothly, but also as someone who quietly looked out for people who were experiencing difficulties. For example, she might slip wartime evacuees a half-pound of butter from the dairy. Alastair Barnett, a regular contributor to this blog, remembers her kindness:
“If she happened to catch sight of me as I traipsed wearily home from the school alone, she’d knock on the dining-room window and beckon me round to the back door of the hotel. Once I got inside the kitchen she’d press a finger to her lips indicating I must be silent.
Momentarily disappearing into the parlour she would return and quickly stuff a handful of “sweeties” into my pocket with the whispered warning: “Off you go now and don’t tell Dolly.” The gift always had to be our secret.
Mrs. Stewart dressed in black from her neck to her shoes. She had pure white hair pulled back into a bun at the back and — to my young eyes — a skin like white marble. I adored her.
If anyone deserves to be remembered for her contribution to the halcyon days at Tigh-an-Loan Hotel, it is Mrs. Stewart.”
Shenac’s own family lived in Aberfeldy where her parents, Mia and Tommy ran a guesthouse, and Tommy was a bus driver. Being well known to the staff of the bus company, McKercher’s of Aberfeldy, young Shenac would be popped on the bus (unaccompanied, in those far off, safer times) to be dropped off at her grandparents’ in Fearnan.
On one occasion, she had been entrusted to the care of her grandfather, as Mrs Stewart was feeling unwell and had taken to her bed. Perhaps Grandfather was not as attentive as he should have been, and Shenac fell into the burn at the back of the hotel. While her clothes were drying by the fire, she was wrapped up and put into bed with her grandmother to keep warm. At this point, Dr Swanson from Aberfeldy arrived and did a double take on finding old Mrs Stewart tucked up in bed cradling a very young child. “Och, Mrs Stewart, you didn’t tell me THIS was the problem!” he quipped.
More of Dr Swanson later!
Shenac’s grandparents both died in 1953, and Dolly continued to run the hotel and all the additional services herself, but it proved too much for one person. In 1956, Shenac’s parents moved from Aberfeldy to Fearnan to help Dolly.
Shenac was enrolled in the village school, but she was to find out that living so close to the school had its disadvantages in the winter. When the snow fell deeply, she could find herself the only pupil in the school. In fact Miss Maynard, the teacher, had been known to phone the hotel to check that Shenac would be attending – as she only needed one pupil to keep the school open!
The photo on the left above shows how deep the snow was in 1963, and in the other Shenac is seen making her way to school through the snow covered fields with fellow school pupils Alex and Billy McEwan, and their father John.
After they married, Shenac and David took over the running of the hotel in 1974.
Not long after his arrival at the Tigh-an-Loan Hotel, David noticed a Saturday morning ritual in which a silver salver with a large glass of whisky and a soda syphon would disappear in the direction of the Smoke Room. The reason for this, he discovered, was that on Saturday morning Dr Swanson came from Aberfeldy and would call in at the hotel. It was known in the village that elderly patients, who were unable to get to Aberfeldy during the week, could come to the Smoke Room for a quick consultation with the doctor. This was an arrangement that suited all concerned but the number of whiskies required would be proportionate to the number of patients to be seen. The local policeman, recognizing the social importance of this unofficial Saturday surgery, confided to David that he did occasionally have a job ensuring he wasn’t in the vicinity when Dr Swanson drove home to Aberfeldy after the consultations!
David and Shenac recall a thriving village with social events and club meetings taking place in the Hall on a daily basis. There was also a good and regular bus service – on a Saturday night a bus would leave Killin at 6 pm, picking up people all along the loch-side and making its way to the cinema in Aberfeldy. When they left the cinema later that evening, there could be 3 buses waiting in Aberfeldy Square to take people home.
During the 1970s, the visitor market started to change significantly. Up to that point, people would book to stay full board for a week or more. Trade tended to be made up of regulars who came every year, rather than passing trade. Mr. and Mrs. McDonald of McDonald P&O Shipping lines were regular summer visitors for many years, and before WW2 the Queen of the Lake (seen below on the right) sailed the loch. (It looks like the fishing was pretty good, too!)
The steamer stopped calling at Fearnan Pier in the early ‘30s, due to the pier being in a state of disrepair. This prompted a petition of protest to the steamer company by the people of Fearnan, Fortingall and Glen Lyon as the loss of the ferry service had affected holiday lets in the area.
Foreign and timeshare holidays started to become more popular in the ’70s and ’80s although the Hotel retained many regular guests who also became personal friends, and the hotel’s business started to switch to meals, the bar and functions. The hotel continued to sell petrol until the late ‘70s, when the oil crisis of 1979 changed the petrol market forever, pushing up prices and making it extremely difficult for small businesses to compete with the big companies. When it finally became economically unviable, Shenac and David took the decision to have the tanks and pumps removed and used the space to build an extension to the lounge bar.
A regular visitor to the village in the 1970’s was Peter Fraser, then the Conservative Member of Parliament for Angus South and subsequently Solicitor-General for Scotland. He became Lord Advocate in 1989, and had ultimate responsibility for the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie investigation. In Fearnan, he was the owner of Katie Howie’s Cottage.
One weekend, he decided to tackle the task of sweeping the chimney and had borrowed a (somewhat unusual) protective outfit in advance. During the sweeping process he took a break – but caused considerable consternation in the village when a man dressed in a surgeon’s gown, mask and rubber gloves was spotted enjoying a cigarette in the front garden of Katie Howie’s Cottage!
History has a habit of repeating itself, and in the mid-70’s David was involved in the formation of the first village association, established to counter plans to develop the field between the hotel and the school. David was also on the Hall Committee and was elected Chair of the Committee from 1987-90, while Shenac was the Fearnan President of the WRI in 1988.
The shop, along with the post office, moved to a new site in 1961 after new hygiene laws were enacted, and was rebuilt in 1995. Shenac and David retired from the Hotel in 2003 – just over a hundred years after John Stewart first took it over. The hotel was sold and the site was subsequently re-developed.
The Tigh-an-Loan Hotel is fondly remembered by both villagers and former residents of Fearnan and over the years its role in the village changed as the village itself changed. It was, however, always a village landmark for those arriving by boat or by road, and always an important social meeting place. It was a popular venue for SWRI dinners, birthday parties, children’s Christmas parties (older Fearnan male residents sometimes finding themselves ‘volunteered’ for the post of Santa), for weddings and funeral teas.
David & Shenac, as proud grandparents, regularly visit Killin and enjoy visits from their Edinburgh family. They still retain their links with Fearnan.
Fascinating! I came to Fearnan in the seventies as a student during field trips, we initially stayed in Garth Youth hostel and latterly in Fearnan itself. I remember racing to the Hotel for last orders after an evening of poring over specimens in our makeshift lab. Wonderful memories – I’m so sorry to hear that it is no more.
Thank you for the absorbing story of Tigh-an-Loan hotel. It may be gone but now thanks to your article, will never be forgotten.
It’s hard to understand how the Stewart family continued to supply such a vast array of goods and services for so many years while contributing immeasurably to the well being of the village. The list, as you illustrated, was endless.
Mia Stewart, I remember frequently bouncing me on her knee in the shop while mother purchased the groceries. Dolly, driving to Aberfeldy to rescue me when I missed the school bus home from Breadalbane Academy when I was five. (Initially I didn’t attend Fearnan School.)
A particular memory, among so many of Tigh-an-Loan hotel, involved a fleeting incident but one which probably in some odd way played a significant role in forming my decision to pursue a career in the hospitality business.
I was about 12 when one evening I popped into the hotel kitchen. I can’t remember why. Perhaps I was sent on an errand.
Dinner service is over — a paraffin lamp flickers in a corner of the kitchen. It’s quiet and warm and there’s no one around. A percolator, making a soft, rhythmic plopping sound on top of the Aga stove, fills the air with the delicious but unfamiliar aroma of brewing coffee. In the center, a long wooden table is scrubbed white and the brass taps of the sinks beneath the kitchen window — that overlooks the garden — gleam in the yellow glow of the lamp. Muffled murmuring sounds emanate from the lounge where I imagine guests are enjoying after dinner drinks and the men, in the smoke-room, their cigars. The sound is strangely comforting. The soothing warmth envelops me and in the stillness, I absorb every nuance.
I can’t explain why that short time alone in the hotel kitchen imprinted itself on my consciousness, but it stayed with me all my life.
It is impossible for me to imagine Fearnan without its beloved hotel. But from the news we receive via this much-appreciated blog, it appears the village, even without the hotel as its anchor continues to thrive united in camaraderie as before.
Undoubtedly the mystique and romance that is Fearnan lives on.
On honeymoon in April 1972 we arrived to take up our overnight booking to find a distraught lady telling us to help ourselves at the bar and just to let her know what we had consumed – we understood that her husband had just died. Having just read this article, I am wondering who it could have been…
Hello James. I think it would have been Tommy Cameron, husband of Mia. His daughter Shenac, and her husband David, subsequently took over the running of the hotel. Did you see the little bit of memorabilia from the hotel in the latest post on our site? Also, do you have any pictures from your honeymoon in Fearnan that you would be willing to share on the site? We love these little connections with the past! Please contact me on email@example.com if you have! Fiona
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