Today we're staying in Drumnadrochit and speaking to the new proprietors of the Morlea B&B in Drumnadrochit.
Julie and Chris moved up in 2019 and like most of us have had to deal with the impact of Covid on their businesses and family life. We got in touch with Julie to see how she was finding things during their first year in the Highlands.
How did your move to Drumnadrochit come about?
In 2017/18 I was commuting 1.5 hours each way from Leyland to work in Manchester city centre. During that period the rail service was having lots of problems - trains being delayed or cancelled. Our youngest son, Ethan, was just starting school and the stress of not knowing if I could get back from work on time to collect him from after school club was really starting to take its toll.
Chris has always been self-employed and at the time was freelancing for the BBC. He was doing shoot edits for North West Tonight which was the local evening news programme. He would generally get a call around 10.30am in the morning to head out and meet a journalist for a news item. The challenge then was childcare, and could I get home or could we call upon a friend to help. As the train situation deteriorated, we sat down and had a real heart to heart about what we wanted from life. The upshot of that was the formation of a plan to completely change direction and take back control of our lives.
We had friends who had made a similar move a few years earlier and bought a B&B in Fort Augustus and we knew we loved Scotland and felt that it would make an ideal place to run a B&B. In May 2018 we put our house on the market and made plans. At the same time, I was contacted by a recruitment agency about a job 10 minutes from home as a SharePoint analyst for 12 months. This almost seemed too good to be true, but I decided to go for the interview and see what transpired. I got the job, a 12-month contract and swapped a 1.5-hour commute for a 10 minute one!
The week before the new job started, Chris & I went down to Shropshire to attend a B&B course that Karen Thorne of Hopton House B&B was running. This was a fabulous course and it really ignited our excitement about the prospect of owning and running a B&B. The downside was that it then took nearly 11 months to sell our house. Over the period we viewed quite a few B&Bs around Scotland but the one we kept coming back to was Morlea in Drumnadrochit. We could see it had so much potential, but to get it how we would want it there would be quite a bit of work to do.
We finally moved in at the end of October 2019. Chris then spent the next 3 months commuting up and down to the North West for work whilst simultaneously decorating and sorting out the B&B.
What inspires you about working in the Highlands?
It was the best move we made. I settled into village life straight away. Chris took a bit longer but that was mainly because he was travelling so much those first few months to earn some money as we had taken over just as we went into the shoulder season.
We made the move with 2 of our boys - Ethan settled in straight away at Glen Urquhart Primary School and James adjusted surprisingly quickly as well, given he has Asperger’s, getting himself organised with a D&D (Dungeons & Dragons board game) group in Inverness.
The ability to walk Ethan to school surrounded by glorious views is just breath-taking. Even our grocery shopping is on another level. Many a time we stop on the way back just to take a picture of Loch Ness in all its glory.
-What's your favourite time of year in the Highlands?
It is difficult to choose a favourite time of year. Spring comes with the glorious yellow gorse that stretches along the edge of the Loch and up the sides of the hills. Summer brings with it the long hours of daylight and a few midges! Then the colours of the trees as we move into Autumn is breath-taking. I’ve always wanted to visit New England in fall, but I have to say the Highlands definitely gives it some stern competition.
Is there any particular place you like to escape to in The Highlands when (and if!) you get time off?
If we are just going for a local walk, then we enjoy wandering down to Urquhart Castle and taking in the views along the way. But I think our favourite place is probably Glen Affric - it is simply stunning.e
The season looks like it may start again in July is there anything you've had to adapt or change ahead of the restrictions lifting.
As we move through summer it is starting to look as though we may be able to reopen. This will require some changes and adjustments. Initially we will be opening below our normal capacity to allow the changes we need to make to bed in. The most obvious change will be the sanitizer stations dotted about the B&B particularly at the entrance. Keeping 2 meters away from guests when we would normally be answering the door and welcoming them in will be a change, as will not showing them round their room but waiting outside whilst they see themselves in. Whilst we always prided ourselves in running an exceptionally clean B&B, we will now be paying attention to all those hot spots like light switches and door handles etc. Breakfast will also see some changes - and whilst we are still waiting for the full guidance to be produced, we will have to move to pre-orders. However, what will always remain will be a warm welcome, a fabulous breakfast, your own tin of lemon drizzle cake and as much countryside fresh air as you can pack into a day in the Highlands of Scotland!
Covid has obviously caused the country come to a hard stop over the last few months. Many people have been turning to more creative activities and hobbies to stave off the boredom. Have you and the family discovered any new interests or hobbies as a result?
We have not stopped during lockdown. It is amazing what you can achieve when suddenly life as you know it comes to a halt and a new norm of being confined to home takes its place. We have spent the last 4 months:
*Decorating - every guest bedroom, dining room, lounge, hallway
*Painting - windows, barge boards, fences and sheds
*Gardening- moving sheds, re-felting roofs, erected a greenhouse, built veg beds, created borders, chopped back overgrown trees and bushes, re-planted borders
I have even got creative and made lampshades for two of the guest rooms using some gorgeous Harris Tweed - still a couple more to do!
With things now moving at a fairly rapid pace we are now beginning to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. As it stands the 15th July is the date that tourism businesses can start to open to the public again. Travel restrictions have already been lifted and things might just slowly begin to ease up. If you do plan on travelling North for a short break then you can find The Morlea online (and do check out Julie's own recommendations for places to visit) on Facebook and on Instagram.