The Inn, like the rest of Applecross, has a varied and interesting history. The site of the current Inn was originally built in the early 1800s as part of the newly formed Shore Street.
Before the current building was established at the north end of Shore Street, the old Applecross Inn was actually what is now the kitchen of number 1 Milltown! This establishment was not necessarily a popular one with certain sectors of Applecross society; Lord Middleton, the owner of the Applecross Estate until 1929, was the man who closed it down, because apparently he discovered that the crew he was relying on for sailing his yacht was too fond of spending time in the Inn and were the worse for wear when it came to work!
In Captain William Murchison’s autobiography Master in sail he talks about the fear he had as a youngster, and even how scared the old-timers were, of the Bodach Beag, the little old man or troll-like figure that used to live under the bridge at the Caman, some three miles or so south of the Inn. Home on leave from Rio de Janeiro in 1913, Murchison had to pass the Caman in the dark one night and was accompanied to the bridge by another man. He was so ashamed he told his mother what had happened, and her reply was: “William, the Bodach Beag has not been seen in Applecross since Lord Middleton decided to do away with the pub ...”
It is hard to say just how far back the Highland spirit of hospitality stretches in terms of an inn or hotel in this part of the parish, but we have one or two clues. There is nothing in the Old Statistical Account to suggest that an inn was in existence, although Reverend MacQueen, writing in the 1790s, suggested a little severely that the inhabitants drank less in his time than in the past. By September 1836, there were four inns: one in Applecross (probably Shore Street or Milltown), with the others in Kishorn, Shieldaig and Torridon.
In the 1841 Census, Finlay Murchison is listed as a publican living on Shore Street, but he has retired to Ardbain by 1851, with the then-innkeeper Duncan Matheson on Shore Street. In 1861, still on Shore Street, the innkeeper is now Finlay MacLennan. It then goes a bit quiet which suggests that Lord Middleton might have taken action!
The current Applecross Inn was once known as the Temperance Hotel. In the very early part of the twentieth century, it was run by Mr Alexander MacRae (Ali Tàillier) and his wife Elizabeth (known as Bean Ali Tàilleir or Betsy). Mr MacRae was also a parish councillor, so he was a very influential voice in the community, and died in 1927 aged 91. As well as being in charge of the Temperance Hotel, he was a shop-keeper, general merchant and post-master, and he published many postcards of Applecross. Betsy, a staunch supporter of overseas church missions, died aged 80 a few years after her husband. Both lived to a ripe old age. MacRae’s endeavours won him certain fame; the Temperance Hotel made its debut in the 1911 Michelin Guide.
Others to run the hotel and associated grocer’s business were Mr and Mrs Hardie. Robert Hardie was from the north-east of Scotland, and was as well-known for driving a V8 ‘shooting brake’ car as anything else ... a very uncommon sight in Applecross in his day! His wife was from Toscaig, and was the sister of the Estate joiner John MacKenzie, known locally as the ‘the fox’. They ran the hotel until 1956. From chatting to locals who were around at the time, the Hardie’s were assisted by a man called Gordon who was from Rhodesia. Coming here on holiday he stayed for a few years working in the Inn, a practice which is still occurring. As the name would suggest the Inn did not serve alcohol instead being more of a small hotel which sold provisions. In addition the Hardie’s operated a small van to deliver groceries around the local area. At a time when there were only 3 vehicles in the village it was a vital service. Prior to the Hardie’s ownership a man call Calder was the owner.
1956 saw George and Daisy Thomson and their children move to Applecross from Glasgow to take over the running of the Inn. Soon after this the name was changed to the Applecross Inn. As per the time as the Temperance the Inn had 5 letting bedrooms and a shop. At this time the layout of the Inn was still more in keeping with the original buildings. What is now the dining room was the kitchen and what is now Room 8 was the guests lounge. The fire area of the main bar now was the shop entrance way and a toilet. There was also a second set of stairs going up to bedrooms 4 and 5. The area where the actual bar is now was the shop. There were phones in the village but only 6 extensions; they were controlled by the post office on the street. The Inn was 6 rings and it was important to remember that others may be listening!
In 1960 a big change came to the Inn when the shop obtained an off licence to sell alcohol. There was some discontent as to this change in the local area and further afield. It remained a 6 day trading operation though. The Thomson children who still live locally remember the hotel being full from Easter to October. Many guests came for extended stays, 3-4 weeks at a time. This was partially driven by Applecross still being remote due to their only being the one road in over the Bealach! The Inn’s reputation for quality food stretches back to this time too with Daisy being in the Good Food Guide for her baking.
In approximately 1965 the cliff behind the Inn was blasted and a new kitchen created. It is still the main kitchen today! What was the kitchen then became the hotel dining room. As a sign of the changing times, further major renovations occurred in 1977 and saw the second staircase being removed and the upstairs corridor created to link all 5 bedrooms. The toilet and where the 2nd staircase went up from became 2 toilets. The bar area was also extended, to where the blackboards are now. The existing shop became the bar area and the new extension became the shop with its own entrance from the street. During the time these renovations were occurring the Inn also obtained its first premises licence to serve alcohol in the bar 6 days a week. The Inn still remained shut on Sundays. This period also saw the opening of the coastal road into Applecross in 1976, by HRH Princess Margaret. This changed the village in many ways and it became a far more open and accessible place.
The Inn changed hands in 1980 being taken over by Alistair and Margaret MacDonald. This period was supported by the operation of the oil rig yard at Kishorn so trade was good. Soon after obtaining the Inn, approximately 1981, further renovations took place to ‘knock through’ from the bar area to the shop to create a much larger bar area. There was no longer a shop attached to the Inn. The rooms were not normally let anymore either. The MacDonald’s tenure also saw the Inn obtaining a licence to sell alcohol on a Sunday so 7 day trading commenced. This was a considered by some to be an unwelcome change to the village but was indicative of the changing attitudes. The Inn was sold again in 1987 to a local Applecross family for a short time prior to Judith’s tenure in 1989.
In 1989 the Inn’s current owner Judith Fish took over the running of the Inn. Under Judith’s tenure the Inn has become more of an Inn again focusing on accommodation and dining rather than just a bar. This has resulted in numerous quality food and drink awards from across the UK. The popularity of the Inn led to another further extension in 2003. The main bar area was extended further North along the street with new toilets being created too. This also led to the creation of 2 new letting bedrooms upstairs and a manager flat. The creation of the new facilities meant the bar area could also be extended into this area. Thus creating the comfortable eating and drinking space we have today.
All this said as this is being written the main staircase is being stripped and refurbished. From talking to a local man who worked here when he was 15 this was also happening 62 years ago too. Probably the last time it was done! Some things, it seems, never change.
Thanks go to Gordon at the Applecross Heritage Centre, Isobel the daughter of Daisy and George, and Alick from Camustiel for helping us put together this information.