The Coigach Peninsula is a part of Gaelic-speaking, Western Scotland that until recent times was comparatively inaccessible. It was peopled mainly by Mackenzies, MacLeods and Campbells, who lived from crofting, i.e. subsistence-farming, and fishing, with anything from the outside world that was required being brought in by boat.
The area has been inhabited from very early times. There are a number of prehistoric traces. The various waves of the Highland Clearances badly affected the area and several generations of its people. Emigration has continued firstly to the West Indies and the American Colonies, then to USA and Canada and more recently to Australia. Ruins of settlements, both within and outwith the boundaries of the present five main villages and the 7 or so other places with inhabited houses, can still be seen.
The Summer Isles acquired that name because that was where the local crofters used to transport their sheep for the summer grazing. Tanera Mor, the largest of the Summer Isles, now has a tiny permanent population but in the 19th century supported over 100 inhabitants. In the 1930s and 1940s, Tanera Mor was the site of some famous agricultural experiments undertaken by Frank Fraser Darling who went on to spread the knowledge gained from them through the crofting communities of the Highlands and Islands.
The hotel was built as a fishing inn for the Cromarty Estates around 1860. In 1969 it was bought by Robert Irvine who expanded the accommodation and branched out into smoking his own fish; this was spun off as a separate business known as The Smokehouse. Robert also built the Hydroponicum to grow vegetables, herbs and soft fruit using hydroponics – no soil, just water. The Hydroponicum became famous and still features on the Ordnance Survey maps; it closed in 2006 and was demolished in 2013.
The hotel was bought by Mark and Gerry Irvine in 1986 from Mark’s father. They greatly expanded the business, won awards for the improved accommodation and service, and were awarded a Michelin Star for the restaurant food in 1998. They sold the hotel to the current owners, Terry and Irina Mackay, in 2008.
Over the years, many famous guests have visited this remote part of Scotland and have stayed at the hotel, including: Charlie Chaplin, John Smith (Labour Leader in the 1990s), Robin Cook (Labour Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq War), Sir Ian McKellen (stage and film actor), Richard Wilson (TV actor), and the Hollywood stars of the film “The Eagle” which was filmed locally in 2009. In 2013 Alex Salmond, then First Minister of Scotland, came to stay.