Foyers Hotel about the time I worked there.
Foyers Hotel as it was  about the time I worked there.

Late one autumn in the early 1970s I started work as downstairs maid and waitress at a run down hotel in the Scottish Highlands.

How I came to be there on my own is complicated. I was  on a working holiday in the UK and my close friends had returned to Australia. However, I wanted to spend some time in Edinburgh. When I arrived I discovered that students were returning to university and finding  accommodation was impossible. I decided I’d try a city without a university and chose Inverness. I’m sure it has a uni  these days.  Down at the Labour Exchange they said they had the perfect job for me, a live-in position at a hotel on the banks of Loch Ness in the village of Foyers. Well how romantic, I thought.

Foyers hotel was under licence to  Tennent’s Lager. I later discovered it  was considered the final outpost for their failed managers. Working conditions at the hotel were truly Dickensian. Young and incredibly homesick, I was mothered by Kath, a kindly local woman who worked in the bar and acted as  upstairs maid. By the way, Kath is not her real name.

I can’t locate my photos from the time and I think they were slides, but here I am soon  after returning home. More on the hair-do at the end of this piece. It’s  hard to tell which bit is  me and which bit is tree branch.

Pauline Allen with Honda Life

Oh that hair!

Few tourists braved the snow drifts to find Foyers Hotel, but we provided permanent accommodation for half a dozen engineers working on the big  hydro electric scheme nearby. The managers refused to accept any other bookings. They were on a fixed salary and not about to exert themselves unnecessarily.

The engineers took me on a tour of the hydro project one day, which was really interesting. Having been brought up in Tasmania I knew a bit about hydro electricity.

Here is the completed power station a few years after my stay. 

The power station on Loch Ness, below Foyers Hotel.


Oh good grief, the manager and his wife were so awful it’s hard to write about them. For one thing, the manager would never just  give me my pay, I would have to ask for it. His response would be, ‘Oh, you want some money do you?‘ and pretend he wasn’t going to hand it over.  It was excruciating.  When I left he had to give  me several weeks accumulated wages I hadn’t been able to  bring myself to request.

Among my scullery duties was making little butter balls for breakfast with those old wooden paddles.  Another was peeling potatoes in an electric, rotating machine. This got me into dreadful trouble with the manager’s wife one day. I left them in the machine to answer the front door and they ended up the size of marbles. 😎

I’ll admit that incident was my fault, but ‘Mrs Manager’  would fly into a rage over all manner of things.  If some poor tourist wandered in asking for tea and sandwiches she would be furious,  and  always  blamed me; ‘What the bloody hell do you expect me to give them?‘ I was terrified  of both my bosses, not to mention their giant wolfhound Bruce. Poor Bruce spent most of him time shut up in a storeroom, which I was thankful for at the time, but it breaks my heart in retrospect. 

To be honest, I was a bit like the pathetic character Smike in Dickens’  Nicholas Nickleby.

Smike being comforted by Nicholas,. rather like Kath and myself.

By complete contrast, the engineers were delightful, and  very generous, showering Kath and myself with sweets and cigarettes. They clearly felt sorry for the lonely  young Aussie and invited me to watch the TV in their lounge after dinner. The managers soon put a stop to that.  Mind you, there was one younger fellow whose unwanted advances involved trying to break down my bedroom door late at night, but let’s not dwell on that. 😎 The wretched managers slept on the same floor, but they never intervened or said a word about it. Nor did the young engineer when he had sobered up next day.

Below my attic room, labourers from the hydro project drank the evenings away  at the public bar. Sometimes their language  fair melted the icicles from the eaves, but I did enjoy their singing.  As the whiskey flowed and the hour grew late,  their voices mellowed and their songs became increasingly sentimental, A Gordon For Me, Westering Home, Scotland the Brave. 

I never dared venture into the bar myself, despite Kath urging me to.  The managers would have been horrified.  They told me that the previous downstairs maid had been sacked due to a dalliance with one of the workers. He was  caught climbing in her window.

Unfortunately I saw little of my surroundings. Heavy snow falls soon prevented me venturing  much further than the village store and post office, pictured below.

On my rare days off I caught the local bus to Inverness, where I lingered over pots of tea and a Scotch egg, trying to forget about burnt porridge pots. I don’t really like Scotch egg (a hard boiled egg encased in sausage meat then crumbed and deep fried), but it was the cheapest thing on the menu.)

Years later I read of a beautiful water fall quite close to the hotel; said to have been the subject of a Robbie Burns poem. I never did see it….what a shame.

Of course the area around Foyers is  well known for sightings of the Loch Ness monster (more of this later). I sent home cartoons of me lasooing Nessie with the cord of my vacuum cleaner, but in reality I was too busy for much monster watching.

I had been at Foyers for a few weeks when some  Australian friends I’d met on a European tour found jobs at Aviemore Ski Centre.  Naturally they were having the time of their lives.  To my absolute horror they said they would come and visit me. OMG! Can you imagine? It was unthinkable.  I told them not to come because I was about to leave, which wasn’t actually true. So why didn’t I leave you may ask?  Oh, I don’t know….travel was difficult in mid winter and I’d told myself I would stay until after New Year. I had been brought up not to be a quitter.

Kath and I lost touch over the years but I always dreamed of us both returning to Foyers Hotel one day in style.

In the 1990s  my husband Rob and I finally made plans for an extended visit to the  UK.  With great difficulty I tracked Kath down. Her husband had died and she was living in Inverness. She  urged me  to visit, but warned; “The hotel is closed now and the roof has fallen in.”

I was disappointed at the news, but undeterred. It was Kath I really wanted to see. At the beginning of May we flew to London. Three weeks later we were heading north.

Our first sight of Loch Ness came as we drove through Fort Augustus along the A82.  I gazed across the Loch and tried to pinpoint Foyers Hotel on the opposite shore.

We arrived in Inverness late in the evening and dined at the Station Hotel, where I had spent my first night 20 years earlier. Later we drank in the lounge bar beside two wonderful old Scottish gentlemen in full Highland dress.

Our stay in the city was touched with sadness. Kath had become an alcoholic and was suffering from related medical problems. We reminisced about old times, and I thanked for being so kind to me. We arranged to pick her up next morning for our drive to Foyers,  but she  had been drinking  heavily and was simply unable to accompany us. We both knew it was unlikely we would ever see each other again and she wept as we left.

It’s about 20 miles from Inverness to Foyers. Rob and I drove past the village of Dores, and through the tiny hamlet of Inverfarigaig, where Kath and her family lived for many years in one of the Forestry Commission’s tied cottages. The cottage had been  full of items nicked from the hotel!  When Kath’s son was accepted into the Green Berets the army sent a list of the towels and sheets  he would have to take with him.  One day when the managers were in Inverness Kath blithely  filled the list from the hotel’s linen press. I could hardly believe what I was seeing and was sure they would find out. 

About halfway through my stay at Foyers the managers took their annual holidays and went to London for three weeks. Initially Kath and I were overjoyed, as you can imagine.  However, they were replaced by a couple with  two children  from Dundee who had only ever run a bar. Oh my God, those three weeks were almost worse  for us. For a start, they took bookings and filled every room. Also, ‘Mrs Dundee’ couldn’t cook. But that’s all another (horror) story. 

Let’s get onto a more light-hearted topic.


Motoring along the stretch of road between Dores and Foyers in August, 1933, Company Director Mr. G. Spicer and his wife claimed they saw a ‘prehistoric animal‘ lurching across the road only fifty yards in front of their car. Describing it later, Mr Spicer said;

‘It seemed to have a long, thin neck, which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway, and the body was fairly big with a high back.

Twenty years on, Mrs. Kay Shakespeare of Nottingham reported another sighting of the Loch Ness monster in the same area;

During our holidays in August, 1955, my husband and I had the experience of seeing what we could only take to be an extremely long, powerful creature swimming down the centre of the loch – we were near Foyers….

In 1960 , a guest at Foyers Hotel saw a huge, V shaped wake travelling down the loch. Acting on this information, professional monster hunter, Tim Dinsdale moved into the area with his movie camera. Several days later, his surveillance was rewarded. From 300 feet above Foyers Bay he saw a reddish-brown  object in the loch;

“‘Suddenly it came to life, and surged away across the water, with ripples breaking away from the farther end.  I could see now that it was the back of a great animal – a strange humped back……Turning to my camera, I shot about forty feet of film of the monster as it zig-zagged its way across the loch, gradually submerging.’

The film was shown on Britain’s Panorama programme on June 13th, 1960 to a viewing audience of over 10 million people.  It sparked enormous interest.

Contrary to Kath’s information, the hotel was still standing, and had been restored. We were given a beautiful room overlooking the loch. 

It was an odd experience to have dinner in the room where I had once served the residents. Look at those beautiful floorboards. The awful old floral carpet I used to vacuum had long gone.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I had  slipped a Tennent’s pint pot into my suitcase when I left back in the 70s and I still have it. I justified my theft by telling myself it was interest on my withheld wages. 

A pint pot stolen by me from Foyers Hotel

Back in London everyone was coping with IRA bombs and horrendous power cuts, but it was a great relief to me. Perhaps to signal an end to the Foyers debacle  I unwisely had my long hair cut and permed at great expense. The result can be seen in that earlier  photo taken several months later beside  my car. 😨

I have visited Scotland many times  since the 1990s and adore it. Oddly enough I haven’t been back to Inverness though.

To see a video of the Falls of Foyers, CLICK HERE

1 Comment
  1. Oh my goodness; I’m surprised you ever wanted to return to these shores!!! What an experience, but shows what backbone you had. Poor Kath too, no wonder she turned to alcohol, but a sad place to reach.
    I can only apologise that your early experiences of our island were so traumatic. Glad you managed to gather better memories from later visits though – and that we met because of them. M x

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