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Together with her husband Phil, Anna co-owns and manages Foyers Lodge, a small boutique hotel overlooking Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.
Hi Anna, can you please introduce yourself and Foyers Lodge to our readers?
Together with my husband Phil, I co-own and manage Foyers Lodge, a small boutique hotel overlooking Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, where we also live. I grew up on a farm in rural Aberdeenshire and moved to London at 16 to pursue a career as a professional performer in the theatre which I enjoyed for many years. In my early 30’s I retired from the stage and took on administrative roles within the Arts and Creative Industries working on a number of high profile International cultural programmes including the London 2012 Festival, part of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Having lived and worked all over the world I was keen to return to Scotland and put all of my experiences to good use by building my own business – luckily Phil and I were on the same page.
Built in the 1800’s, Foyers Lodge has a rich history, can you tell us more about this?
It can be tricky finding substantial detail on buildings as old as Foyers Lodge but we understand that in the mid-1600s an ‘Inn at Foyers’ was first built and at that time was mainly used by cattle drovers moving cattle to and from the markets in the South. The site of the property, under a variety of names and guises, has been used almost continuously as a place for travellers to rest their weary heads to this day.
In 1726, General George Wade started work on the military road between Inverness and Fort Augustus down the south side of Loch Ness. At Foyers he built himself what was to become known as the ‘General’s Hut’ where he lived whilst supervising the 500 soldiers from the Highland Companies tasked with delivering this tremendous undertaking. It is said the present building, formerly known as ‘The Foyers Hotel’, sits on the site of the ‘General’s Hut’. We understand that The Foyers Hotel was extended to its current standing in 1863 by an Edinburgh businessman and land owner, Mr Fountaine Walker. ‘The Foyers Hotel’ became known as ‘Foyers Lodge’ in the noughties when it operated as a (very large) self-catering holiday let.
Foyers Lodge is located in the heart of the Scottish Highlands overlooking Loch Ness, how would you describe its surroundings to anyone thinking about visiting?
For anyone who may have visited Loch Ness on the ‘north’ side (it’s actually west), it’s rather different over here. It’s quieter and much more secluded, mainly owing to the single track road which takes you on the scenic route from Inverness to Fort Augustus, or vice versa. There’s an abundance of wildlife and beautiful ancient woodland – check out the trails at Farigaig Forest –the most stunning natural scenery and of course outstanding views around every corner; the journey to and from the Suidhe Viewpoint between Foyers and Fort Augustus is truly spectacular. It delivers everything you’d expect from the Highlands; mountains, lochs, dramatic landscapes and rugged beauty.
The famous Falls of Foyers are less than a mile away and we’re surrounded by greenery and – the main event – a breath-taking view of Loch Ness. Inverness city centre is a 30-40 minute drive away.
How did it all begin? What led you to take on the task of renovating an old building and turning it into luxury accommodation?
I think we took temporary leave of our senses! I jest. Actually, I don’t!
We were both looking for something a little different. The projects Phil was working on were coming to a natural end and I, having lived in London for over 20 years, was ready for change. We discussed pooling our skills and resources and set about looking for a project to take on together. All we were certain of was that we wanted to make a business out of a building that we could live in, thus banishing commuting from our lives (that’s what years of enduring the upgrades at London Bridge station and Southern rail strikes can do to you).
These plans came at a time when my addiction to Rightmove was at its height so I happily stalked the entire UK property market for something special. We found Foyers Lodge online very late one night whilst staying in a hotel in Nairn. We had been helping my parents on the farm and I took Phil to visit the Moray coast where I had holidayed as a child, I entered our usual criteria but set the search area to within 40 miles of where we were and then Foyers Lodge appeared on our screens. We managed to get a viewing, looked around for 30 minutes and 10 weeks later we had the keys. It was the only place we viewed in Scotland.
So there we were. The keys to an old hotel in our hands and lots of ambitious dreams in our heads.
How would you describe the style of the interior and what was the process like bringing an old building back to life?
I’d describe it as a hybrid of old Victorian hunting lodge charm with a modern (and some might say theatrical) take. There’s definitely no chintz here, you get what you want and expect from an old building such as this but it feels up-to-date and on trend. I chose really rich colours throughout, ones that are true to the landscape surrounding us; forest greens, dark blues and deep purples that remind me of pine trees, heather and of course the loch itself. It was an absolute privilege to fill it with antiques and artworks which I found in charity shops, via online marketplaces and at auction houses in Dingwall, Elgin and Aberdeen. There are pieces everywhere that have been gifted to us by kind friends, family and neighbours and that’s what I think makes it special. The patina, the stories, the history. I can remember where every single item came from …. and how much I paid for it!
As for bringing the building back to life, well, that’s all down to Phil, I just made it look nice. Honestly, I don’t know how he’s done it. With the assistance of one loyal and dedicated tradesman he has ripped the entire place apart and put it all back together again. The hours, days, weeks, months and years of dedication and work that he’s put in are truly astounding. He’s done nearly everything himself. We could never have fulfilled this project if we’d had to employ contractors, we couldn’t have afforded it.
Living without heating for a year with an hour of hot water a day. That was character building. And the dust. THE DUST. I don’t know if I could do it again.
The details throughout are so well considered, can you pick out something you are most proud of and why this was important for you to include it at Foyers Lodge?
This is really tricky! I think perhaps the reinstatement of the finials on the gable ends at the front of the lodge was an important achievement for us. We found an image from the 1860s in the National Portrait Gallery archive and then others from across the decades via Am Baile; a digital archive of Highland History. It seems the finials had been chopped off (presumably they were rotten/broken and the owner at the time decided not to replace them) in the 1930s. Through various channels we found a retired carpenter who had a wood workshop with a lathe big enough to create replicas for us. Seeing all the original fascia boards refurbished, repainted and the finials reinstated ready for another 150 years was a proud moment.
But I suppose the greatest achievement is that we’ve created a new business from scratch and pumped life back into a prominent building that had seen far better days. The property had been empty and on the market for a number of years and looked very sad and tired at the side of the road when we first found it. At the end of 2021 Foyers Lodge was included in the Times and Sunday Times ‘Best 100 Places to Stay in the UK’ and as we go into our 2022 season we’ll be employing six local members of staff as accredited living wage employers, something else to be very proud of.
What type of experience should guests expect when they come to stay. What would you say is the perfect way to relax and unwind at Foyers Lodge, can you set the scene for us?
Foyers Lodge is a place of calming peace and quiet for grown-ups. Sorry, no children. After a day exploring the beautiful surrounding landscape you can relax in the Drawing Room bar with a wee dram while you choose your dinner from the menu. Read a book, play chess, tinkle the ivories (we have a John Broadwood & Sons spinet from the 1840s), have a snooze, chat with other guests, we really just want to provide an environment where people can recharge their batteries and escape from the stresses of modern life. In the summertime guests enjoy playing a variety of garden games on the lawn overlooking Loch Ness, when the evenings are long and there’s plenty of wine.
You have a beautiful dining room, where guests can enjoy breakfast while overlooking the stunning views. Can you tell us about the food & drink on offer?
Our chef, Vanessa, is clear about our offer. Simple, tasty, unfussy, hearty, warming food. A little bit of something for everyone. She uses local seasonal produce and suppliers to create dishes that are satisfyingly unpretentious. That’s not to say they’re boring, there are flavours from around the world, all with her unique take and a little side dish of Scotland. I think autumn is my favourite time of year…. all gamey stews, suet dumplings, root vegetables and the best creamy mashed potato ever. So smooth it dissolves straight into your thighs. Salad also available.
You’ll find sample menus in the Food & Drink section of our website.
What would you recommend seeing and doing in and around the area to guests? There is certainly a lot on offer.
All around the lodge there are beautiful walks and trails and if you’re feeling energetic the South Loch Ness Trail is a great challenge. In particular the ‘Fair Haired Lad’s Pass’ between Foyers and Dores will take your breath away. I’ve explored all these places on foot but they’re also great for mountain biking or on horseback.
A visit to the Falls of Foyers is a must and if you love animals then you might like to see the resident Heilan’ Coos at the local tearoom or visit the newest exotic additions to south Loch Ness, the Loch Ness alpacas!
On the other side of the loch I can recommend a visit to Urquhart Castle as well as Glen Affric, Plodda Falls and the Abriachan Forest Trails. The Culloden Visitor Centre is excellent and if castles are your thing, Cawdor isn’t too far away, Dunrobin is spectacular and you could take in Eilean Donan on a day trip to the Isle of Skye.
Fishing, kayaking, boat trips, I could go on and on….
Where can our readers find out more about Foyers Lodge, and how can they book?
Readers can make a booking and find out more at www.foyerslodge.co.uk.
They can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram @foyerslodge.
For those looking to delve a little deeper, our photographer, Emily Sandifer, wrote about her experiences of visiting us at various different stages of the refurbishment. You can read all about it here.
Anna was listed in the 2020 Top 100 Women in Tourism. The WIT Top 100 gives special recognition to those working within the Scottish tourism sector.