Historic Hebridean hotel steeped in legend for sale

THE Rodel Hotel is at the end of everything - so penned the poet Louis Macneice, after a stay in 1938.

Rodel Hotel in the Hebrides. Picture: Contributed
Rodel Hotel in the Hebrides. Picture: Contributed

Now the end has come, at least for the current owners. For the hotel on Harris has been placed on the market after almost a century, with a guide price of £625,000

Personal issues have forced the current owner Donnie Macdonald, whose family have owned the hotel since the thirties, to put the business on the market.

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But he stresses that his time running the hotel as being the best of his life.

He said: “It’s 40-years since I came home from college in Edinburgh, and I wouldn’t change a single day of it.

“It’s been amazing and everyone who worked with us over the years have helped so much in bringing the hotel back to life.”

Any prospective buyer can hook a huge part of Hebridean history with the historic hotel.

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Built in 1781 for Captain Alexander Macleod shortly after he had become the owner of the Isle of Harris with his fortune from the East India trade.

It served as a family home into the 20th century when the first record of sporting visitors noted in 1903 when it was leased for sporting rights of both shooting and angling.

In February 1890 the building played host to story of romance, forbidden love and police action with the actions of Donald MacDonald who planned to elope with his beloved Jessie of Balranald, daughter of the North Uist factor in South Uist, in defiance of a plan to have her married off by her family in an arranged marriage.

Her father had been determined to marry her off to his new assistant factor, Patrick Cooper. Her uncle John was

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factor of Harris, living in what is now the Rodel Hotel. There Jessie was kept under lock, key and the watchful eyes of her fearsome aunt.

This imprisonment prompted the fearless Donald to fall foul of the law by breaking in to rescue her – thus famously ending up on trial for  burglary and kidnap.

The story does have a happy ending with Donald’s charges being thrown out by the court and the pair later being married and emigrating to Australia.

The story has been immortalised in a stained glass window panel at the hotel.

When Lord Leverhume purchased Harris in 1919 he took over the hotel which was being run by the Rodel Fishing Syndicate. When Lord Leverhume died six years later it was auctioned in London and bought for just £3,600 – a purchase which included the hotel, the fishing both in Finsbay system and the locks, the keeper’s house and 15 acres of land around Finsbay Lodge – to John Morrison and Kenneth Campbell of Leverburgh.

In 1929 it was sold again to John Morrison and then in 1934 to Jock MacCallum, grandfather of the present owner Donnie Macdonald.

Fast forward 30-years and the Royal Family anchored off Rodel and visited the hotel with Queen Elizabeth’s Hebrides tour bringing her to Harris on the royal yacht Brittania.

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The Royal Family are also forever entwined with the  Hotel through the Harris history with the famously rare Royal Household whisky. For decades it was the only place, outwith being a member of the Royal family, where whisky lovers could buy a dram of the particularly malty blend.

The story goes that Jock MacCallum, who was the owner of a bar in Stornoway as well as the Rodel Hotel in the 1930s, made a deal with  James Buchanan Ltd, who made Royal Household, for the Royal Family at the time.

As a result, the remote Rodel Hotel became the unlikely outpost of the only retail stockist. The dram’s status, however, earned legendary, near mythical status when the the last order arrived, some time in the 1950s.

“It became impossible to get any more. Since then, we’ve guarded what we have carefully, and now there are only a few bottles from the 1950s left,” owner Donnie Macdonald is reported to have said.

A period of physical deterioration led to the closure of the hotel in the 1970’s – except for the public bar – which ended a period of 75-years as a top fishing establishment.

However it rose from the ashes in 2001 following a full renovation where it reopened its doors as a hotel until very recently.

The hotel is presently being marketed for sale with a guide price of £625,000, reduced from £800,000 and salmon fisheries are available to purchase separately.

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