THE remotest pub on the British mainland has changed hands for the first time in two decades after being bought by a Belgian hotelier with a track record managing some of the world’s most luxurious boltholes.
The Old Forge on the Knoydart peninsula, famous for the fact it can only be reached by a 45-minute ferry crossing or an 18-mile hike along a mountain track, has been purchased by Jean-Pierre Robinet, a former sales manager of the Leading Hotels of the World group.
He said he fell in love with the “magic” pub during a visit to the area in the mid-1990s, and has vowed “not to change a thing” at the illustrious watering hole.
The pub, a popular tourist trap, was sold by long-time owners Ian and Jackie Robertson, who had owned the Old Forge since 1992. They expressed confidence that the business will be in “good hands” and said that the popularity of the pub bucks national trends.
The Old Forge, a former smiddy’s forge, serves a community of just 115 – the majority of them forestry workers and fishermen. However, its unique location regularly attracts visitors from the world over.
Mr Robinet, who is known to locals as “JP”, was general manager of the five-star, 330-bedroom Metropole Hotel in Brussels at the age of 27, making him the country’s then-youngest top hotel boss.
He later became sales manager of the Leading Hotels of the World group which included the Savoy in London and also ran the 100-bed luxury eco lodge Hotel Plein Ciel at Champery – more than 6,000ft up in the Swiss Alps.
He also managed top hotels in Australia, and among the guests he personally looked after were actor John Malkovich, tennis star Bjorn Borg and Virgin boss Richard Branson.
The 42-year-old came to Knoydart on a stalking holiday in 1997, and quickly became entranced with the Old Forge and the surrounding area.
Yesterday, he said: “I fell in love with the place and the pub then and I kept coming back. In my own home of the Ardennes I was becoming fed-up with how the beauty was being ruined by empty cans and greasy paper everywhere in the wild.
“But in Scotland I found real, unspoilt wilderness. So when I heard that the Old Forge was for sale I decided to buy it. Fortunately I was in a position to do so.
“I have run some of the best hotels in the world, but this place is just magic. Ian and Jackie have truly created something fantastic and magical and I would not want to change a thing.”
He added: “I pull the pints and stand in for the chef on his day off. I have looked after a lot of celebrities in my time, but, to me, all the regulars and customers at The Old Forge are celebrities. I want to stay humble and do my best for the place and people. I just love it here.”
The pub was put on the market by the Robertsons in April 2010 at offers over £790,000. Earlier this year, its price was reduced to offers over £645,000. The sale is believed to be close to the asking price.
The couple, who now run the nearby Knoydart House, a successful self-catering holiday home, said they have nothing but fond memories of their time running the pub, and wished Mr Robinet well.
Mr Robertson, 66, said: “We will miss it, but we have done our time. JP is fully committed and knows the place. He will live here and will prove very popular – the pub is passing into good hands.”