Jun 022017

Portsoy’s Sail Loft Bunkhouse. Review and photographs by Duncan Harley.

When newspaper columnist Cuthbert Graham wrote about Portsoy, way back in 1963, he commented that the town was one of the most progressive communities on the Moray Firth.
In his travel column, This is My Country, he wrote about the “triumphant success” of the town’s efforts to encourage tourism.

He was quite correct and the town, nowadays a bustling coastal resort and popular stopover on the 6200km-long North Sea Cycle Route, has steadfastly continued to pursue a policy of encouraging community run tourist orientated enterprise.

Alongside attending the hugely successful Portsoy Boat Festival visitors can take part in traditional music and dance workshops at the Salmon Bothy and boatbuilding courses at the Boatshed. Tourism in the town received a welcome extra boost when film makers chose Portsoy as a location for the recent remake of the Ealing comedy Whisky Galore.

Alongside leads Eddie Izzard and Gregor Fisher, many locals appear as extras in the film and at the recent Portsoy Premiere, held in the loft-space of the Salmon Bothy, film-goers were encouraged to get into the spirit of the performance and dip into some whisky-flavoured ice cream. Publicists had, after all, promoted Portsoy’s Whisky Galore connection by nicknaming the town The Village of the Drammed!

Visitor accommodation in the town received a boost this year with the opening of the newly renovated Sail Loft Bunkhouse. Situated on the Back Green near the caravan park, the Sail Loft has had a long and varied history.

Formerly a sail making factory, the Category B listed building dates from the 18th Century and sits within a former industrial site used for the processing of flax and the manufacture of rope. When the demand for sails declined and the rope-works closed the Sail Loft buildings gradually fell into ruin.

In 2006 the North East Scotland Preservation Trust acquired the property from the Seafield Estate and work began to bring the derelict structure into productive use as bunkhouse accommodation for visitors to Portsoy. After 11 years of planning and renovation, the keys to the building were formally handed over to Portsoy Community Enterprise in January 2017. Additional loan funding came via the Architectural Heritage Fund.

Offering high quality self-catering accommodation at reasonable rates, the new 25 bed facility offers visitors to Portsoy a unique hub from which to explore the Moray coastline.  Facilities Assistant Susan Rayne explains:

“Users so far have included cyclists, walkers and families. This weekend we even have a group of divers staying with us.”

Susan is one of a team of three involved in the day to day management of the Sail Loft and is by all accounts fully integrated into the local community.

Alongside her bunkhouse duties she serves as a volunteer fire-fighter and is a keen member of the local women’s rowing group, the Portsoy Skiffettes. Another claim to fame is her role as official chauffeur to Whisky Galore star Eddie Izzard during the location shooting of the movie in Portsoy.

“The buzz in the town was just amazing” she recalls

“Eddie Izzard was very open with the locals and was really interested in finding out about the area.”

It emerged that Eddie was due to perform at Versailles after the Whisky Galore shoot and  Susan recalls that he was amazed to discover that fireplaces in the Palace of Versailles are rumoured to be faced with Portsoy Marble.

Although the Sail Loft is clearly bunkhouse in nature, the new facility offers up-market self-catering accommodation. Guest rooms are simply but pleasantly furnished with white décor throughout. Named after local landmarks, the room plan reads like a who’s who of the Portsoy coastline. Red Rock, The Pointie and The Breeks are just a few. On our visit we stayed in The Dounie.

The design of the building does not allow for panoramic views of the sea but the slanted Velux windows do let in both the sound and the smells of the ocean and provide a welcome change to the typical hotel room hum of the air-conditioning unit. Those wanting to check out the view should either nip outside or, heaven forbid if you are female, check out cubicle three in the downstairs men’s showers where you can view the bay in all of its glory.

Catering-wise, the open-plan kitchen and dining area is more than adequate. Two 4 ring hobs are complimented by micro-waves, kettles and an ample supply of toasters. Pots and pans, dishes and cutlery are all provided and the only onus on residents is to leave the kitchen as you might wish to find it. I was pleasantly surprised to come across an orphaned cafetiere abandoned by a previous guest and made full use of it.

The Sail Loft lounge boasts a wood burning stove and is perfect for family get-togethers or business seminars.  Alongside a video-projector there are lots of local books, toys and games to keep everyone entertained in the evenings. A drying room, secure cycle storage, a fully equipped laundrette and an outside wash down area for boots or bicycle cleaning complete the line-up and this VisitScotland 4 star hostel even boasts a wood fired hot-tub.

On the night of our stay a group of divers were firmly ensconced in front of the roaring wood-stove planning the next days dive while a group of teachers enjoyed the warmth of the outdoor hot-tub.

All in all this new facility ticks the boxes although it would have been nice to have the option of sitting behind glass while taking in the sea view. But, as I said previously, there’s always cubicle three in the men’s showers!

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Apr 172015

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Tricker PR.


Jean Ryrie has worked at the Thistle Aberdeen Airport for 39 years.

The hospitality industry is notorious for high staff turnover; employees often flit from job to job without hesitation or loyalty. But Thistle hotels in Aberdeen are bucking the trend.
Thistle Aberdeen Airport hotel boasts an experienced team that have stuck together through thick and thin, including a core team that has over 260 years’ experience in the hotel – that’s 21 years longer than the United States of America has been in existence.

Leading the pack is executive head housekeeper Jean Ryrie, who has been a valued member of the team for 39 years.

Recently nominated for housekeeper of the year at the Scottish Hotel Awards, her passion for greeting colleagues and guests with a smile has never faltered.

Jean says,

“Working for Thistle is a fantastic experience. If it wasn’t, I would never have stayed so long. The staff here are like one big family, and we all get on really well. That sense of camaraderie really makes the working day fly by.”

Always willing to go the extra mile for those staying in the hotel, Jean has been known to go above and beyond to ensure her guests are safe and happy during their stay.

Jean remembers,

“One guest that sticks in my mind was a man who called the housekeeping office to ask for extra blankets. It’s not an unusual request so I brought some up, but when I arrived at his room I found him ill in bed with an awful temperature.

“I asked reception to call for a doctor, and kept an eye on him until one arrived.

“One time I visited his room and he had gotten so much worse that I couldn’t wait for the doctor any longer – I called for an ambulance, and he was rushed to hospital.”

The guest was later diagnosed with septicaemia, a severe form of blood poisoning that could have led to fatal complications had Jean not taken action.

She continues,

“I didn’t think twice about calling the ambulance. If a guest is in need, I always feel it is my duty to do whatever I can to help them, and I know my colleagues feel the same way.”

Jean’s caring nature is not just reserved for the hotel’s guests, meaning that she has a hard-working and dedicated team that have stayed with her during her career in the hotel. Ensuring that they are treated and trained well, Jean makes sure everyone in the housekeeping department feels a valued member of the team. 

Alongside new recruits, Jean’s hard-working team includes Margaret Esson (31 years), Camilla Jones (26 years), Brenda Paterson (24 years), Emma Singer (24 years), Audrey Western (23 years) and Fiona Cruickshank (13 years).

General manager Alison Christie says,

“I am absolutely thrilled that so many of my colleagues have chosen to stay at the Thistle Aberdeen Airport for so long. Having such experienced staff means that everything in the hotel runs smoothly – there are very few situations they haven’t come across before. We really are a well-oiled machine.”

That dedication to the job is not just reserved for the housekeeping department, however, and many other teams in the hotel boast extremely experienced staff who have stayed at the hotel throughout their careers.

Food and beverage operator Christina Grant has been a member of the catering team for 34 years, working with breakfast supervisor Lesley Martin and kitchen assistant Ruby Henderson, who have been there for 30 and 29 years respectively. Head chef Richard Simpson has been overseeing the kitchen for a decade.

Alison adds,

“We often see guests returning to the Thistle Aberdeen Airport every time they visit the city. They enjoy seeing the same faces when they check in – it’s like coming to a home from home.

“The continuity guests get from visit to visit means that they always know that they’ll receive top quality service, and I am delighted that we are able to provide that.”

Thistle has three hotels in Aberdeen – The Caledonian, Aberdeen Airport and Aberdeen Altens. There are 446 bedrooms across the three venues, and each has conferencing and banqueting facilities. Aberdeen Altens also has an on-site leisure club and spa. Further information is available at www.thistle.com

Jan 102014

S Gow 1With thanks to Jennifer Kelly, Tricker PR

The area general manager of Thistle Hotels in Scotland will be heading to the United States this month, after being selected as the only Scottish hotel manager to attend a prestigious hospitality scholarship programme at a renowned Ivy League university.

Stephen Gow, who is based in Aberdeen, will attend the 11-day General Managers Programme (GMP) at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York through a scholarship awarded by the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT).

Open only to those in senior management, the GMP aims to give delegates skills to develop their strategic thinking beyond the demands of their day-to-day operational roles within their own properties.

Stephen explains:

“As only one of three managers from the UK, I am extremely honoured to have been selected to attend the programme. Following a stringent selection process, The School of Hotel Administration has selected 32 attendees for this course; 29 international delegates, two from London and me, the only Scot.

“Cornell University has the world’s leading hospitality management school and delegates travel from countries all over the world to attend this particular programme. In the last three years alone, professionals from 63 countries have taken part.”

Prior to taking up his role as area general manager for the six Thistle Hotels in Scotland in October, Stephen was the general manager of the four-star Thistle Aberdeen Altens. He has previously worked in hospitality and managerial roles at venues across Scotland, is a former chairman of the Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels’ Association and a founding board member of destination management organisation, VisitAberdeen.

Cornell University is the only Ivy League university in the world that offers a degree in Hotel Administration. The degree was set up in the 1920s, making it the oldest course of its kind anywhere in the world. For those who don’t wish to embark on a full degree course, Cornell University created the GMP programme which gives professionals the same unparalleled standard for a shorter period of time.

Stephen continues:

“The GMP programme is aimed at management level professionals looking to really enhance their knowledge and skills. The modules cover everything from asset management, strategic marketing, managing change and financial management. It will allow me to broaden my skills and take my career to the next level.

“I hope to gain a greater insight into the future of global hotel management and in particular, leadership and change management in 21st century Britain.

“I have previously attended an 18 month programme at Henley Management College so I know how much can be gained from attending such courses. In order to be considered for selection, I had to write a short paper and deliver an hour long presentation to three HIT trustees about the future of asset management in the UK hospitality industry.

“The programme encourages attendees to move away from being specialists in one sector to being a generalist in several. The end result allows professionals to take a much broader view on strategy, management and positioning; ideal for my new role as cluster general manager for Thistle Hotels in Scotland. I look forward to passing on the information that I will learn during the programme to my colleagues across the group.”

Thistle Hotels have six properties in Scotland including three four star hotels in Aberdeen; Thistle Caledonian, Thistle Aberdeen Altens and Thistle Aberdeen Airport. There are also Thistle hotels in Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh city centres.

Thistle hotels have a selection of restaurants and a choice of excellent health and leisure facilities, ensuring Thistle has something to offer everyone.