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Tongue, Sutherland. IV27 4XD.
Tel: +44 1847 611 206
The village of Tongue’s eponymous hotel was first constructed in the late 19th Century as a shooting lodge for the Duke of Sutherland, before being gradually expanded during the following decades. Although it has been significantly upgraded over the past decade by owners Lorraine and David Hook, this charming small country hotel still retains many of its original features; such as log panelling; sash & case windows and traditional fireplaces. Full of historic character, it nevertheless delivers all the necessary modern comforts.
Guests enter via the roadside conservatory, which originally added in the first years of the 20th Century, before being expanded shortly after the end of WWI – one can even still clearly see the original stone entrance archway. In this area one can also view an impressive taxidermy Salmon, which was caught by a previous owner of the hotel in March 1918. He was known to fish locally while on his breaks and would sometimes do so while still wearing his work suit – there’s even picture evidence, ask Lorraine! Wonderfully, descendents of said owner still live locally and one even occasionally works at the property.
One can’t discuss a visit to The Tongue Hotel without commenting, at least briefly, on how exactly one gets there. This is, after all, the rural north coast! If travelling along the most direct route from the south – as opposed to approaching from Thurso in the east or via the winding, west coast route – one must utilise the A836, a single-track road that cuts through the deserted, but quite spectacular, moorland that from Lairg to Tongue, with very little in between. Although this journey can be a little daunting for those unfamiliar with such roads, the route is very well maintained and is quite an extraordinary experience in itself! On account of this, the hotel as adopted the tagline ‘Worth the Journey’, which is most certainly true.
The cosy residents bar, named ‘The Falcon Bar’ for the taxidermy Peregrine Falcon (affectionately called ‘Bob’) found in a case at its entrance, is the perfect place to relax after a your journey. Located in the conservatory area that runs along the front of the property, its adjacent lounge boasts a large wood-burning stove that not only heats the room, but also a whole wing of the hotel during winter. Open until 1am, The Falcon Bar offers solid selection of single malt whiskies, with a ‘whisky bible’ that includes detailed tasting notes available for guests to peruse at their leisure. On tap, one will find Orkney craft ale and lager, with a number of Scottish gins and vodkas also present for those who prefer their spirits white. Bob is not the sole curio to admire while sipping your drink; the eagle eyed will also spot a handwritten ‘Table of distances of Sutherland & Caithness’ from circa 1900.
If you fancy rubbing shoulders with the locals during your stay, downstairs is a public bar, aptly named ‘The Brass Tap’ for – you guessed it – the traditional brass tap that sits atop its wooden bar. Perfect for adding a drop of water to your whisky, the tap is such an integral part of its identity that during a recent refurbishment Lorraine and David received calls from locals concerned that it may not be preserved! It’s worth noting that The Brass Tap cannot be accessed internally through the hotel, and is instead accessed from the side of the property – an arrangement that ensures that no sound travels into the main hotel area. The public bar also serves its own gastropub menu, with a great selection of locally sourced ingredients on offer – when we visited, it was venison burgers! Direct access to the hotel’s stable yard allows diners to also take their meal at picnic benches with stunning views of the Kyle of Tongue. Open daily from 12pm, food is served 12-5pm and again 6pm-8:30pm.
For those who fancy a more formal dining experience, the hotel’s intimate dining room has a fire burning in its hearth, with additions such as an antique mantel clock and quite lovely tweed upholstered wooden dining chairs adding real character. Historic photos of the property are hung here, and its worth taking the time to look at them closely as they depict the development of the property between the 1880s-1920s and offer wonderful insight into the past. Dinner is served 6pm-8:30pm, expertly crafted by the hotel’s young head chef Robert Sutherland, who took on the lead role in March 2016 after previously acting as second in command during the previous season. Robert’s new menu has taken dining at The Tongue to a new level; built on a 2-1-2-1-2 structure – with a seven-course option also available – it does a fantastic job of showcasing local produce. How local is local? Well the oysters are from the Kyle of Tongue, which you can see from your bedroom window. Breakfast is also served here, 8am - 9:30am, and a well-stocked continental buffet precedes full Scottish breakfasts, always cooked to order.
The hotel’s 17 bedrooms come in five types: Single (which is actually a double, but has a smaller bathroom/shower cubicle), Double, Twin, Superior Double (which boasts very generous proportions) and Family. Décor is befitting to a Scottish country house and the two suites in particular have real character. Bedrooms have all been recently refurbished and feature traditional wooden furniture that you’ll wish you could take home. Delightful tweed curtains are also a recent addition, made by hand in local Thurso. All the necessary equipment such as hairdryers, hospitality trays and trouser press are present, while the large and modern bathrooms benefit from Gilchrist and Soames toiletries. All bedrooms have great views of the surrounding countryside and from many one can awake to the sight of Castle Varrich, the Kyle of Tongue and the imposing mound of Ben Loyal. As if that wasn’t enough, a particularly nice touch is the small decanter of sherry, with two glasses, which awaits guests in all rooms. It’s certainly worth the journey, even if you walked it.