By Eilidh Whiteford
A truly island location – with the Carloway Broch nearby and the Callanish Standing Stones just along the road – a historic building and a warm welcome are what awaits visitors to the Doune Braes Hotel in Carloway.
Originally housing the local school and headmaster’s living quarters, the Doune Braes Hotel has been under the stewardship of owner Eileen MacDonald since she moved to the Isle of Lewis in 1982.
“In 1966 the local school stopped and the hotel was opened in 1967 and was probably the first major licence outside Stornoway at the time,” said Eileen.
“Back then [Harris Tweed] weaving was very prominent in the area and the hotel mainly catered for the local people – there was a great camaraderie with the weavers and groups from villages all over, all the way to Barvas, would meet in the bar,” she continued. “The hotel gave them a focal point.”
A downturn in the Harris Tweed industry during the 1990s however saw a change in custom for Doune Braes as the Westside hotel shifted to cater more for tourists – undergoing major investment with rooms going through an upgrade as well as an extension added to the front of the building.
“In 1982 I’d say only around 10 percent of our custom was from tourism, but now that’s about two thirds,” Eileen said. “It’s been a big change over the years, but it keeps us evolving and developing all the time.”
“It’s just like being part of a family here, and it’s wonderful to have met people from all over the world on our own doorstep.”
The friendly, family welcome, and ideal location to explore Lewis and Harris, are aspects which has seen visitors from across the globe return annually to stay at the three-star Doune Braes Hotel, situated within minutes of Atlantic coast beaches, fly-fishing lochs, world-class archaeological sites and wildlife walks.
As well as the Carloway Broch and Callanish Standing Stones nearby, the hotel also neighbours the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, with Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln and the Isle of Great Bernera not far away for visitors to enjoy and explore.
And as a base to explore Lewis and Harris further, Doune Braes is often a stop-off for visitors keen to make the adventure to the St Kilda islands.
“Our European tourists love the green environment, the space, freedom and fresh air offered by the hotel’s location; and the availability of boat trips nearby is a draw for many,” said Eileen.
“We’ve had one lady from San Francisco who stayed with us six years in a row trying to get out to St Kilda. She finally made it and went twice during her trip, she was delighted.”
And visitors will often come to stay to visit the hotel itself. “There’s a lot of history attached to the building and so many people come back because their mum or dad went to school here; and the island connection with the Clearances is a big part of the tourist trade, especially with our US tourists in particular.
“We always offer a homely welcome and visitors comment they’re happy to meet our local staff, chat with the young island people and ask about the various aspects of island living; and our staff are happy to pass on their local knowledge,” she continued.
“A lot of lovely things have happened in this building over its lifetime, and it’s wonderful when people make themselves known and tell us their stories connected with the Doune Braes Hotel.”
To find out more about the Doune Braes Hotel, please visit www.doune-braes.co.uk