“ Address: Morar PH40 4PA /Inverness-shire „
To celebrate my wife's recent 60th birthday, we decided to take a quick trip up to an area we hadn't visited since the 70s: between Arisaig and Mallaig in the north west Scottish Highlands. This time, however, we planned to do it in relative comfort. We would be staying overnight in a warm, dry hotel, instead of under canvas as we did thirty odd years ago. With any luck, we might even be able to see the Inner Hebrides and the Cuillin Hills on Skye again.
It had been so wet the last time we'd been up here camping, that the young couple in the tent next to us had been flooded out and taken flight during the night in their soft-top MG Midget, as I recall. We'd eventually taken refuge in the back of our van. This time should be different. We chose the Morar Hotel primarily for its location, with views across to the isles of Skye, Eigg and Rum. There's an old saying that 'if you can't see the Cuillins it's probably raining and if you can see them it's just about to rain'! What I think this actually hints at is the quality of the light and the atmospherics in this part of the country.
Nothing much seemed to have changed in three decades, including the weather! The scenery was every bit as dramatic as I remembered, and the drive was still as much fun as it had been back then. The thing that really made the difference was the hotel - a real find at a bargain price! Our daughter was accompanying us this time as she'd never seen the area, so we booked a double and a single room, opting for one night, dinner, bed and breakfast. As it happened, following some slight ambiguity, we were allocated a spacious family room plus a single, which was a bonus.
~~A qualified success~~
The whole package came to just £120, which seemed almost too good to be true. This special tariff applied to advanced bookings for September/October and also seems to be available during May. Check the hotel website for other rates - but note that this hotel closes for the winter months. In fact, we were lucky to get in on the last weekend of the season this year. We spotted a newspaper advert, checked out the hotel website and made our reservation by phone as we generally prefer to discuss our preferences with a member of staff, though booking is also available online.
This may not be the most luxurious hotel in the world; some upgrading might be beneficial, particularly our 'en suite' and some of the décor elsewhere - but the location is second to none, the accommodation is quite acceptable, and we found both food and service above average, certainly for the money. The staff were very friendly, which helped make our short stay particularly memorable.
I don't normally review hotels and hadn't really prepared to document or illustrate this - but having been impressed with the overall 'package', I felt it well worth passing this on.
~~A welcome haven~~
Anyone familiar with this part of the world will know how wild the weather can be at times and also how quickly it can change. After the rain-swept wilderness of Rannoch Moor and the torrents of Nevis and Glencoe, the sight of the village and our hotel was welcome, to say the least. On arrival it did not disappoint: it was warm, comfortable and friendly, with good food and service.
The panoramic estuary view from the dining room was quite spectacular, prompting comparisons with a hotel dining room that we had so appreciated in the Italian Lakes. The Silver Sands at Morar really are silvery and the water is incredibly clear.
The free wifi-equipped reception/lounge area welcomed us with really comfortable leather armchairs and a roaring coal fire. Gratifyingly, just as the flames started to die down, a member of staff promptly attended to this and normal service was quickly resumed. A nice combination of ancient and modern technologies!
By all appearances the bar seemed well stocked, though I can't say we fully explored this.
Our rooms were clean and the beds comfortable. The usual tea/coffee-making facilities were provided and we found enough channels on the TV to divert us briefly. My only quibble here might be that the en suite bathroom could benefit from some upgrading and the bath tap dripped slightly.
~~Food and drink~~
We all enjoyed the 3 course dinner included in our 'package', particularly the home-made lentil soup, the lamb shank main course and the traditional raspberry cranachan dessert. Portions were generous and everything perfectly cooked and well presented. The service was very prompt and friendly. The dry white Italian wine we shared was our only extra but, at under £16 a bottle, was well selected and worth every penny.
I'm no gourmet but did appreciate the wholesome cooking. For those who may be interested, sample menus are available on the hotel website (see below).
In the morning, I (typically) chose the cooked 'Full Scottish' breakfast, while the others were somewhat more selective! Everything was perfectly acceptable, but the real star was the view from the dining room/restaurant as the weather dramatically lifted...
~~Other facilities and diversions~~
The surrounding area undoubtedly merits a separate review - which I might feel inspired to undertake soon. It's a particularly great place for walking and climbing or simply taking in the sea and mountain views in the ever-changing weather and light conditions.
As steam enthusiasts may be aware, The West Highland Railway runs right past the hotel and there's a convenient small station in the village. In fact, the line runs alongside the road pretty well all the way up from Fort William with some of the most amazing scenery, including the Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct, immediately recognisable to Harry Potter fans around the world.
Surprisingly, perhaps, proximity to the railway line generated no noticeable noise except for the evocative whistle as a steam locomotive passed by.
By Rail: Morar can be reached directly by train from Glasgow and all points south.
By Car: On the Road to the Isles via Fort William by the main A830, which has benefited from a major upgrade since our last visit.
... and, time permitting, onwards by ferry from nearby Mallaig to the Isle of Skye.
Either way, whatever the weather, you're guaranteed breathtaking scenery!
Within the hotel, I'm less sure about accessibility. For example, there appeared to be no lift (elevator). This might be an issue for some.
Apart from the usual advice for this part of the world to take wellies and waterproofs, as well as a camera, binoculars and sunscreen in summer, I'd advise checking the hotel website for these special bargain tariffs. (See link below). It would probably also be worth paying the supplement for a sea view, though you will get this anyway from the dining room: aptly named 'The Silver Sands Restaurant'.
I think the hotel website summarises it nicely:
'Walk the beaches, climb the hills and enjoy the views. Relax and enjoy in beautiful surroundings'.
Official ratings may vary but I'd rate the Morar Hotel at 3 stars and the surrounding area at 5 - so overall 4 stars.
* Morar Hotel : www.morarhotel.co.uk
* West Coast Railways ('Jacobite' steam trains) : www.westcoastrailways.co.uk
* Scotrail : www.scotrail.co.uk
* Visit Scotland : www.visitscotland.com
[Details from hotel website]
Morar, Inverness-shire, PH40 4PA
Telephone: +44 (0) 1687 462346
Fax: +44 (0) 1687 462212
I should add that most of the beach scenes in the wonderful film 'Local hero' were apparently filmed close by:
[© SteveS001 2011. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]