It is known as Britain’s last true wilderness, and anybody making the mountainous two-day trek into the Knoydart peninsula on the west coast of Scotland would surely be dreaming of a thirst-quenching pint at the end of their journey.
Listed in the Guinness World Records as mainland Britain’s most remote pub, the Old Forge in Inverie, Knoydart’s main settlement, is also accessible by ferry from Mallaig. But with no connecting roads, any aspiring punter would have to make a hike of nearly 30km across peat bog and looming Munros.
Now 110 residents of the rugged peninsula will have the chance to buy shares in the Old Forge with the intention of reviving its role as a community hub.
There have been reports over recent years of growing friction between the pub’s current owner and Knoydart residents, who have raised particular concerns about its closure during the dark winter months – just when they argue they need its welcome the most. The reduced opening hours, as well as a reduction in staffing, has hampered attempts at attracting new people to the area.
It has since been put on the market at offers over £425,000 by the Belgian owner, Jean-Pierre Robinet, who has previously admitted tensions with locals but said: “We are the biggest employer on this peninsula and try to do the best for the community.”
It is also a pivotal part of the area’s tourist trade: the pub, located about 30 miles north-west of Ben Nevis, is on the main sailing route to Skye, the Outer Hebrides and the Small Isles and attracts yachtsmen as well as hillwalkers and boat-trippers.
A consultation to gauge local opinion on seeking a community buyout was held this spring, with the response being “almost unanimously” in favour, according to Davie Newton, a member of the Old Forge Community Benefit Society steering group, which is coordinating community buyout plans.
Newton says that recent meetings with Robinet have been positive, and that the group is “optimistic that we will be able to work together with the current owner to achieve community ownership by the end of the year”.
Isla Miller, who runs the Knoydart Pottery and Tearoom and is another steering group member, grew up in Inverie and had her first drink at the Old Forge.
“Being a small community, the pub was somewhere everyone came together. You often found yourself going in after work and you’d still be there at last orders. It was very inclusive, and you could be chatting to someone in their teens or their 80s.”
Visitors return year on year and Miller’s father – a well-known pub regular – delighted in swapping stories. “He used to get postcards from all over the world sent to his seat in the pub.”
The community plans have gone up a gear this week after an application by the Community Benefit Society to be officially recognised by the Financial Conduct Authority was approved. With their funding application to the Scottish Land Fund under consideration, the society is now creating the prospectus for a community share offer, the majority of which will be available to local residents, and which they anticipate will be issued in August with a crowdfunder to follow in September.
The area has a history of successful community ownership, having secured 17,500 acres of the Knoydart estate, which includes Inverie, in 1999, as one of the first community buyouts in Scotland.
Everyone feels a sense of connection with the Old Forge, Miller explains. “It’s sad how it’s worked out, but the community is hopeful to buy it and run it as a welcoming place for all, and open all year round.”