I lose count of the number of property programmes on TV and also the business guru programmes, each creating the impression that the majority of family owned and run businesses are perfectly useless. Indeed, in watching the series The Hotel Inspector with the incredibly able Alex Polizzi, I have a job to convince myself that the basket-cases with which she wrestles are the exception and I forgive myself for thinking that most such establishments are simply not fit for purpose. It is really quite depressing viewing, watching those bozos arguing with someone of Ms Polizzi’s undoubted and proven ability.
That said, just occasionally, one comes across something so very, very good that it takes the breath away.
I had decided some time ago to increase Her Ladyship’s exposure to Scotland beyond repeats of Taggart, Rebus, Rab C Nesbitt and a traumatic midnight dash to Stirling many years ago. So, on Sunday at the crack of dawn, we pointed the car north and settled in for the drive to the Highlands, to a country house hotel in a place called Achnasheen, slap bang in the middle of nowhere but on the famous and very beautiful Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh railway on which I travelled four years ago.
I’m not sure what I expected from the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel since its reviews were mixed and some must have predated extensive refurbishment. Some ten hours north of Coventry, having made one almost compulsory stop to do our bit to stave off recession in the malt whisky industry, we arrived to find a family owned and run establishment where friendly customer service is king. It seems to me that a family of four working together couldn’t possibly run an establishment of this size…but they do and they do it so well that, having spent over 20 years sorting out issues in family owned and run businesses, I feel compelled to write about it.
The building itself is a former shooting lodge, delightfully appointed and spotlessly clean. If you’re looking for the Savoy or Claridges, then this isn’t it, but then again, it doesn’t pretend to be. If, however, you seek a period building, in tune with its picturesque surroundings, appropriately furnished, blissfully silent (no musak) and no corporate image either, then this is for you. The 20 cover dining room is tastefully decorated with the tables far enough apart to ensure privacy yet close enough to generate a very pleasant ambience. The menu comprises good, honest to God, unpretentious Scottish food and is long enough to afford a choice yet short enough to avoid confusion. The wine list is well balanced and priced to suit all pockets. The lounge is spacious with proper armchairs and sofas. The bar is small but well stocked, including an impressive array of single malts. No such hotel would be complete without the roaring log fire. Yep, one of those too!
I am sure there are pressures in their business but the family keep them well hidden and work jolly hard. The secret, I think, lies in the permanently pleasant, customer oriented, outward facing nature of the family unit, coupled with a strong team spirit and work ethic. Many family business owners could take a lesson in customer service from here – and enjoy some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery at the same time too.