As I sit here this evening it would have been a very different picture 40 years ago.
On 31st May 1974 Robin and Sheena Buchanan-Smith officially opened Eriska as a hotel. On one side 40 years must seem a lifetime ago and on another it seems to have flown by. Over that time we have been lucky enough to have worked with some wonderful team members who have helped make Eriska what it is today and we have been fortunate enough that so many have crossed our wee rickety bridge to place their trust in us to deliver a relaxing experience.
However the greatest achievement for us as a family is the fact that even after 40 years we are still here and still operating and running Eriska, although sometimes it feels a bit backwards in that Eriska really runs us and operates us! My father always used to highlight how difficult it was to welcome guests who became friends and how challenging it was to continually evolve and change to meet their needs and demands but in reality the two are intrinsically linked in that Eriska has always been and for as long as we remain involved- always will be- driven to evolve by our guests and the team we work with.
So what has changed over the last 40 years- well we must seem like an oasis of calm this evening compared to 40 years ago- on this night back in 1974 my parents had just held an opening reception for over 100 of the great and good of the area and those who had supported them on the journey from an empty old house back in July 1973 to a vibrant building in May 1974. The official opening was by Tom Flemming and my mother missed it as she was carving Smoked Salmon in the kitchen.
They then went on to serve dinner for a full house plus some gluttons for punishment non residents who stayed on form the lunchtime reception. It was not only the hotels first night but also the team and more importantly my parents first night.
The tight schedule had left no time for a dry run or practice- they were still painting the diningroom at lunchtime before service and my fathers perfection stopped us having wet paint signs visible (history will now tell if anyone left the reception with more of a mark than they had anticipated!) so when the full diningroom, on a hot summers evening were all waiting for the main course it could be excused that my father became slightly distraught with his wee hostess trolley, old fashioned bone handled carving knife and small pheasants to carve and a baying crowd of hungry visitors. I have never been sure how long tables waited or how generous the portion sizes were but as far as I have been told everybody remembers the evening as ground breaking, the team learnt a great deal, my father never took to carving pheasant out of choice and Eriska was reborn and in truth we have tried never to look back except to reflect on the journey we have taken and look forward on the road ahead.
The most amazing thing is that a young lady form Oban with no professional cooking experience and a Church of Scotland Minister from St Andrews managed to bind a hotel and island and team together to look after the guests with simple hospitality and peace and quiet. The good news is that little has changed today and these three ingredients remain in our bowl and remain at our core and will for the next 40 years.
Happy Birthday Eriska!
Throwing out items can bring back memories!
Finally after a couple of weeks of staring at a pile of a box of papers in our office I decided to do the task I have been putting off. many years ago- before we arrived the office at Eriska the area to the left of the front door - like many houses - was the washroom- it is now- refurbished and holds the offices and reception of the house. Above our office is an old store where there used to be a water tank, it has been disused for many years and is now a store for old paperwork and documents of importance to the Inland Revenue but , I thought, of little interest to anyone else. Anyway as it is in part of the old house it is an a fairly high ceilinged room but as it used to be the old water closet for the house it is also quite constrained so requires time and patience in getting a ladder in position and help in transporting any materials in either direction.
Anyway yesterday seemed to be quiet and there was a lull in activity - that combined with a great deal of furniture movement due to one of the rooms in the main house being refurbished that I decided to utilise the added hands and move the document pile into its new home and at the same time clear out some of the older material from above the office.
All a really simple task if only it was that simple!
Whilst the store is dry and warm it is also dusty and cramp so once I had squeezed into the space movement remained constricted and I had to double move some of the boxes just to create enough room operate. Then I realized that moving the boxes out of the space may or already had become even more of a challenge than initially thought so we set up a stream to pass simply the paper work down and then replace it with the new documents leaving the original boxes in place. After a strenuous 30 minutes all seemed to be complete until I came across a treasure trove of a box near the bottom.
My eye was first caught by a wages book dating back to 1980 and a quick flick though showed some names I recognized and clearly some I had no recollection of - however interestingly 34 years has seen the top hotel salary increase by 10 times and the bottom salary increase only by 7 times- maybe a sign of the times. I then came across some menus from back in the seventies and whilst some of the dishes are similar there is certainly a few dated elements- fruit cup and mushroom paste are probably not dishes we would serve today but it certainly raised a wry smile from Ross when he was chatting with my Mum about the old times- still porridge and Oatcakes remain timeless!
Then I came across the quote for the tennis court - £5000 in 1980 seemed a bargain but more impressively was all the documentation regarding planning permission to erect a 2.2m fence around the court to form a ball enclosure- one my father was arguing was a deer fence despite it having a 5m gap in one side to let spectators watch the game! A battle he won although the tome of paperwork and letters may not have seemed worthwhile to most it must have been a moral victory to my father.
Even his drawing of the fence in triplicate to scale - using copier carbon paper -was slightly ironic and appeared to have caused the planners final straw to let them accept his plans. In reality achieving planning permission for a 12m high shed to cover the court two years ago seems to have been easier than his initial battle.
Finally we have come across all the quotations for the work on converting Eriska back in 1973. In reality these documents will have little interest to others but have a small place in our heart and I will now have to reduce down the box for common sense but will keep the heart just in case. 40 years of memories will fill more than a box but maybe all that was discovered and unearthed yesterday will be the catalyst for more! We are still appealing for any memories or images of guests stays at Eriska over the last 4 decades and would welcome any more.
Have you ever heard of the Bremen Musicians?
It was just the other day that one of our guests asked about it as it sits on our mantelpiece in the main hall (pictured on the left). We received 'Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten' as a gift 15 years ago for our 25th anniversary from Mr & Mrs Saake who has been coming back many times since then.
It is a fairytale written by the Brothers Grimm, who some of you might know of already. They were German academics that collected and published a wide range of popular folklores.
Once upon a time...
There once was a man who had a donkey which had carried his sacks to the mill unflaggingly for many long years but was now getting old and weak so that he was becoming more and more unfit for work. The donkey's master was considering whether to stop feeding him but the donkey noticed that there was an ill wind blowing and ran away, setting off for Bremen where he thought he could become a town musician.
When he had covered a short distance he came across a hunting dog lying on the road, yapping like someone who has run himself into the ground. "Well, why are you yapping so, old snarler?" asked the donkey. "Ah", said the dog, "because I am so old and getting weaker every day and can't go hunting any more, my master wanted to kill me but then I took to my heels. But how shall I now earn my living?" "You know what", said the donkey, "I am going to Bremen to become a town musician. Go with me and take up music too. I shall play the lute and you can beat the drums." The dog was happy with this and they went on together.
Before long they came across a cat sitting at the roadside with a face as long as a fiddle. "Well now, what has crossed you, old whisker-face?" said the donkey. "How can I be happy when I am in for it", replied the cat, "just because I am getting on in years, my teeth are getting blunt and I prefer to sit and muse in front of the fire than to chase around after mice, my mistress wanted to drown me; I managed to get away but now I am really in a fix. Where shall I go?" "Go with us to Bremen. You are good at making music at night; you can become a town musician." The cat thought this was a good idea and went with the others.
The three fugitives went past a farmyard where a farm cock was sitting on the gate and crowing with all its might. "Your crowing goes right through us", said the donkey, "what's up?" "I prophesied good weather" said the cock, "because it's the day of our Blessed Lady, on which she washed the little shirt of Baby Jesus and puts it out to dry; but because it is Sunday tomorrow and guests are coming, the housewife has no pity and has told the cook to put me in the soup tomorrow; and she's coming to cut off my head tonight. So now I'm crowing as hard and as long as I can." "Come on, old redhead", said the donkey, "come along with us instead, we are going to Bremen. Anything is better than waiting here to die; you have a good voice and when we play music together there will surely be a place for you." The cock was pleased by this suggestion and all four of them went on together.
But they couldn't reach the city of Bremen in one day and they came to a wood where they decided to spend the night. The donkey and the dog lay down under a large tree; the cat and the cock went up into the branches but the cock flew up to the top of the tree where he felt the safest. Before he fell asleep he looked around in the direction of all four winds and thought he saw a little light shining in the distance; so he called to his friends that there must be a house not so far away since he could see a light shining. Then the donkey said, "We had better go over there for the accommodation here is pretty bad." The dog said he could also do with a few bones with a little meat on them.
So they set off in the direction of the light and soon it got brighter and larger until they came to a brightly lit robbers' house. Being the largest of the four, the donkey approached the window and looked inside. "What can you see, old grey nag?" asked the cock. "What can I see?" answered the donkey. "A table laid with lovely things to eat and drink, with a band of robbers sitting around and having a good time." "Why can't we do the same", said the cock. "Ooh yes, if only we could be there!" said the donkey. The animals conferred amongst themselves about how they could chase away the robbers and finally they hit on an idea. The donkey would put his front hooves on the window ledge, the dog would jump on the donkey's back, the cat would climb on the dog and the cock would fly up and sit on the cat's head. So they all did this and, at a signal, they began to play their music: the donkey brayed, the dog barked, the cat miaowed and the cock crew. Then fell through the window into the room, shattering the window-pane as they went. The robbers jumped out of their skins at the terrible clamour, thinking it must be a ghost, and fled in great fear to the woods.
Now the four companions sat down at the table and made do with what was left over, eating as if it was their last meal for a month. When the four musicians had finished they put out the light and looked for a place to sleep, each according to his nature and desired comfort. The donkey lay down on the midden, the dog behind the door, the cat on the stove near the warm ashes and the cock sat on a perch; and, because they were tired after their long journey, they were all very soon asleep. Sometime after midnight the robbers noticed from afar that all lights in the house were out and everything seemed to be quiet. So the leader said: "We shouldn't have let ourselves be frightened out of our wits", and asked one of the robbers to go and check up on the house.
The robber found everything quiet, went into the kitchen to make a light, and mistaking the glowing fiery eyes of the cat for live coals, he held a match to them thinking it would light. But the cat was not in a joking mood and jumped at his throat, spitting and scratching. The robber was terrified and tried to run out of the back door but the dog, which was lying there, jumped up and bit him in the leg; and as he ran past the midden in the farmyard the donkey lashed out with his hind hoof; but the cock, who had been roused from his sleep by the din and was now fully awake, called out "cock-a-doodle-doo!" from his perch.
The robber ran back to his leader at full pelt and said "there's a dreadful witch in that house; she spat on me and scratched my face with her long fingers; and by the door there is a man standing with a knife, who stabbed my leg; and in the farmyard there is a black monster which attacked me with a wooden club; and on the roof there is a judge sitting who called out "bring the scoundrel to me"."So I got away as fast as I could." From that time onwards the robbers did not dare to go near the house but the four Bremen Musicians liked it so much that they didn't want to leave again. And they all lived happily ever after.
The next time you visit you might notice them at the top of mantelpiece in the main hall. As you may have experienced already, driving over the bridge to Eriska is almost like a fairytale and the hotel in itself has a rich history! We recently sent out our newsletter which looked at Mr & Mrs Buchanan-Smith's very first day at Eriska on July 1st 1973.. The first day was maybe not so much of a fairytale, but the last 40 years on the Island certainly have been in different ways for many of our guests and also who has- and still work at Isle of Eriska Hotel.