Islay letter with Hugh Smith

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Bunnahabhain upgrade

Planning permission is being sought for an £11 million upgrade to the Distell-owned Bunnahabhain Distillery on the north-east coast of the island.

If approval is granted, work on the project is expected to begin in the autumn of this year.

A number of the buildings in the distillery, some dating from the 1960s, are no longer fit for purpose and require demolition. This will lead to the provision of more acceptable warehouse buildings and the establishment of a new visitors’ centre and lounge.

This latter development will increase visitor numbers to the seaside distillery, which is set in some of the area’s most spectacular scenery.

The distillery’s manager’s house is also to be replaced and renovations will be carried out to the eight cottages which front the village shoreline. Some of these will be available to rent, while the others will be used to house distillery employees.

The project includes plans to upgrade the single-lane road which leads to the distillery. This is certain to attract more visitors to the distillery as driving along the present Bunnahabhain road, despite its surrounding scenic attractions, is not for the faint-hearted.

Moorings at the distillery pier, which once handled the incoming grain shipments and the outgoing whisky supplies, are also planned.

Bunnahabhain began distilling in 1881 and was bought in 2013 from Burn Stewart Distillers by the South African group Distell. It also owns Mull Distillery, which is also to undergo a major upgrade programme.

Machrie Hotel to re-open

The largely rebuilt and refurbished 47-room Machrie Hotel will re-open in early spring, offering a top grade establishment to visitors and locals.

It will also provide job opportunities for more than 60 people.

Included in the new-look hotel is a bar and restaurant, a private 30-seater cinema, treatment rooms, sauna and gym. Teas and coffees will be served in the complex’s open courtyard which can be covered to provide a spacious function area for larger events including wedding receptions and dinners.

The traditional look to the road-facing side of the building has been retained, while large windows have been installed to maximise the view of the golf course and the nearby Big Strand.

The famous Machrie 18-hole golf course has also received a makeover and, among other attractions, are a six-hole, par-three course, ideal for youngsters and beginners.

Visitors can also enjoy a fully equipped golf academy and driving range, with indoor and outdoor bays, extended practice areas and a fun putting green for potential Claret Jug winners.

Difficulties with its water supply and a lack of investment saw the Machrie go into administration before being bought in 2011 by a couple who were no strangers to the Machrie links.

They are multi-millionaire and former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and his wife the Baroness Sue Nye, one-time director of government relations and
diary secretary for former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Machrie will be operated by Campbell Gray Hotels, a company specialising in luxury hotel management. This will be the first Scottish hotel in its portfolio and the establishment’s newly-appointed general manager is the widely experienced Anne Schaeflein.

The re-opening of the Machrie is a great boost for the island, whose burgeoning tourist trade in recent years has seen the existing available accommodation at a premium.

Major building work on the hotel project was carried out by CorraMore Construction from Northern Ireland, under the direction of architect Anthony Hudson. Also involved were RAW Golf Design, Edinburgh Landscapes and the green keeping team, led by Dean Muir.

Valuable contributions to the development were also made by project manager Philip Wells of Design Box Architects and by long-standing staff member Kate MacAffer, Bowmore.

Loos reprieved

Islanders were delighted to learn last week that Argyll and Bute Council had decided not to axe 36 of its public toilets which included the five on Islay.

The original closure plan met with a wave of protests which may have gone some way to a U-turn by the local authority.

As the Bard of Avon penned: ‘For this relief much thanks!’

Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay, PA43 7JX. Telephone: 01496 810658.