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The owners of the village pub in Auldearn are keeping their fingers crossed that 2022 will see a change in fortunes from the impact of the COVID pandemic

By Donald Wilson

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The 1645 Inn Auldearn.Owners Wilma and Chris McMahon.Picture Gary Anthony.
The 1645 Inn Auldearn.Owners Wilma and Chris McMahon.Picture Gary Anthony.

Chris and Wilma McMahon took over the Covenanters Inn in September 2019, just months before COVID caused nationwide lockdowns and a devastating impact on business and the hospitality industry.

But the couple are looking forward with optimism to the new year.

The 1645 Inn Auldearn.Picture Gary Anthony.
The 1645 Inn Auldearn.Picture Gary Anthony.

"The lockdown had its upside. It meant we were able to progress the upgrading of all our rooms, the restaurant, bars and also the gardens sooner than we had intended," said Chris, who along with his wife have returned to the hospitality interest after careers in the care sector.

Auldearn once had two pubs but the Lion Hotel on High Street was demolished several years ago and replaced by a housing complex leaving the Covenanters the only licensed establishment in the village which is the home of former Highland Council Convener Sandy Park.

It also lost its village shop and Post Office recently.

"But there's a great community spirit in the village said Chris and locals have been very supportive buying vouchers when we are in lockdown to keep things ticking over and hopefully when restrictions are lifted again we will get a good run at it like last summer when our rooms were fully booked.

"We had a lot of bookings for Christmas but again with the latest restrictions we had a lot of call off. Nairn Senior Citzens cancelled their Christmas dinner. They had booked for 40 members but they have promised they will be coming in March so it's really great that people are supporting us in a variety of ways.

"We were able to carry on though with our Christmas party for local senior citizens. We raise funds through quiz nights which are good social occasions getting the community together. The pub donates the prizes and the £5 charge per team is put into a pot for the senior citizens dinner. All the men received a miniature malt and the ladies a wine to take home. They had a three course lunch and everyone enjoyed themselves.

"Last year my sister in law Jane Ferguson, who is a retired music teacher from Elgin entertained the guests. There were fewer in number this year because some people wanted to isolate. We decided to be responsible and didn't have music but we had a game of bingo instead with prizes and everyone had an enjoyable time."

The couple met when Chris was head chef at the Gairloch Hotel and Wilma worked there as a management student.

Their careers have gone full circle after working in the care sector for Highland Council.

Wilma was manager of Crossroads Care in Nairn before their return to the hospitality industry.

Chris also runs a health and safety consultancy business Authentik in Scotland and Eire.

The couple chose to rename the Covenanters to the 1645 to commemorate the Battle of Auldearn on 9 May 1645 when the Royalist troops of the Marquess of Montrose defeated the Covenanting army of Sir John Hurry (Urry). There were greater casualties at that conflict than the more renowned Battle of Culloden a century later.

Local senior citizen Jim Scott who is a regular at the 1645 and was a guest at the senior citizens dinner said: "Chris and Wilma have done a great job since taking over the pub in such adversity with lockdowns. But what they are doing is greatly appreciated in the village and everyone is very supportive. Hopefully 2022 will see things improve because they provide a great service."

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