The owners of Grianaig Guest House on why they left Cornwall for the Western Isles – and why running a restaurant here is “a bit more of a juggle” than on the mainland.
There’s no doubt that depopulation is one of the biggest challenges the Western Isles are facing today. But people leaving isn’t the whole story – and some versions can make the islands sound like a ghost town rather than the vibrant community it is. In this article, and others, we shine a light on some of the many different people who are choosing to build a life in the Outer Hebrides.
Chris Brooks and Carla Regler ran the much-loved SeaDrift restaurant in Cornwall for many years. Business was booming – but they wanted a change of pace.
“It was just getting busier and busier,” says Chris. “[It] was a quiet little fishing village – when we started there, we were the sixth place to open doing food. By the time we left, there were 32 places doing food.”
“For us, we just found it all a bit too much,” he says.
‘I’d never been any further than the Lake district’
In 2018, they began to think about the Western Isles as a possible new home, and drove up that autumn to visit the islands.
Chris was no stranger to Scottish island life, having family from Bute. But for Carla, it was her very first time setting foot in Scotland.
“I’d never been any further than the Lake District,” she says.
After their visit, the plan was “to take a year out to stay where we were in Cornwall, and then make a decision,” Chris says.
But when an ideal house went on the market soon after they sold SeaDrift, they jumped at the chance.
Chris still remembers the call to tell them their offer for the building that would become Grianaig Guest House had been accepted.
“That was about 9:30 in the morning on a Monday, and by midday we were in the car,” he says.
“Some people might say it was a bit of a whirlwind romance,” says Carla.
‘By March 2020 we were ready to open’
“By March 2020 we had completed the whole building top to bottom, and we were just about ready to open,” Chris says.
But, of course, Covid meant a drastic change of plans.
“We didn’t qualify for any grants,” he says. “We didn’t have anything – we had spent all our money, and then we both lost our jobs.”
Grianaig Guest House opened that year as self-catered accommodation “as a way of survival”, says Carla.
It’s only in the last year that it has been open fully.
2023 was “the start of a ‘real’ year of trade for us,” Carla says.
The guest house caters only to guests in the summer months, but opens its restaurant to everyone during the winter.
Their award-winning food has proven to be a hit – although running a kitchen in the Outer Hebrides can be a challenge.
‘I can’t get it, so I’ll make it’
“The hardest thing for us was getting our heads around suppliers and stocks and things,” Carla says. “We were used to having a delivery every day for certain things, and then we suddenly went to maybe once a week or twice a week for fresh fruit and vegetables.”
“It’s a bit more of a juggle, trying to run a business,” says Chris. “I’ve had to sort of adapt myself.”
“Chris makes a lot of things himself, because getting fresh produce isn’t always possible,” Carla says.
“We’ve had to think, ‘well, I can’t get it, so I’ll make it’,” Chris says.
2023 has been a big year for the Grianaig Guest House. But, for Chris and Carla, it’s also been a big year for their lives on Uist.
“The start of last year is when it started to feel like we were a little bit more settled on the island,” says Carla.
“And then starting the food in October just gone – for me, that was a way of actually meeting people that have known we’re here more than we’ve known them.”
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