white and yellow building attached to the corsewall lighthouse overlooking the sea - l

To the lighthouse: Couple relocate 400 miles to take over ‘hidden gem’ coastal hotel.

02 Feb 2021 | 4 min

A couple have bought their dream property – a 19th century Scottish lighthouse keepers’ home – thanks to a commercial mortgage from Together.

The historic Corsewall Lighthouse was built in 1815 by the engineer Grandfather of renowned Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, and is perched on the northern coast of the Rhinns of Galloway, near Stranraer.

Helen Mason and her fiancé, photographer John Harris, of Sheringham, Norfolk, saw the Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel on the market and decided to buy the place they’d fallen in love with when visiting eight years before.

They put £400,000 of their life savings towards the purchase of the property, which is connected to the main tower, and secured a £165,000 commercial mortgage from specialist finance group Together.

The couple have now moved nearly 400 miles to live in the boutique hotel, which will start operating again when the UK hospitality sector re-opens after lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Helen, 60, a former Head of Music Service said: “We came up here and stayed in a friend’s bothy about eight years ago, saw the area and fell in love with it. We almost forgot about it but once Covid hit, we decided that the time was right for us to make a change.

“When we saw the hotel was for sale, we realised it could be the ideal opportunity. It’s perfect for John’s photography and builds on my love of working with people and interest in food and hospitality. After spending a week there in the summer we were sure this is what we wanted.”

Set in 20 acres on one of Scotland’s most spectacular stretches of coastline, the lighthouse has acted as the backdrop for TV and films – playing host to Hollywood actor Gerard Butler who filmed blockbuster The Vanishing there – and even has its own ruined Iron Age fort, Dunskirloch, on site.

“It’s a hidden gem,” said John, 62, who was a project manager with BT before taking up photography professionally. “We’ve got some of the oldest rock formations in the UK, dating back to when Scotland was connected to Newfoundland in Canada, and the rocks are particular to the Scottish coast.

“During World War II, the lighthouse was blackened with soot to hide it from German bombers. But the Luftwaffe accidentally bombed it anyway, mistaking it for key military targets across the Irish Sea in Belfast.

“There are four resident deer, seals, porpoises and a sea otter has been seen swimming around the lighthouse. It’s a photographer’s dream.”

After buying the lighthouse hotel through estate agent, Christie and Company, the couple have made a few changes; opening up some of the informal dining areas and removing some of the dated ornaments the previous owners had left behind. They have retained the five staff members who had been working at the hotel before its change of ownership and plan to employ more seasonal workers in the summer.

Andrew Downie, who has been at the hotel for the past 20 years will continue as head chef and will continue to work with local suppliers to focus on seasonal produce such as locally-reared Galloway beef, in preparation for its re-opening following lockdown.

The business has five self-contained holiday cottages on site, one of which is Helen and John’s home, with the rest available for rent. The hotel is also a licensed wedding venue and can accommodate small parties of up to 25 guests.

Helen said they had not been put off buying by reports of record numbers of Scottish hoteliers selling up as Covid continues to impact the hospitality industry. She said: “We have put a strong business plan in place and believe that, once restrictions ease, there will be more people looking for UK-based holidays and we have the perfect place for them to come and stay.”

John, a member of the Stranraer Coastguard, added: “People are looking for boutique hotels in slightly remote locations and, living in a post-Brexit Britain, I think people will not want to travel abroad as much as they have done, preferring to staycation in the UK and explore what’s on their doorsteps.”

The hotel owners initially found it difficult to get a commercial mortgage from mainstream banks, finding a reluctance to lend on a hospitality businesses in the current climate. They managed to secure the loan they needed from us, after being introduced to by Christie Finance, the estate agent’s in-house broker.

Steven Clark, regional development director for Scotland, said: “The lighthouse hotel is a Grade A-listed building with a fascinating history in a beautiful, remote area of coastal Scotland.

“After hearing Helen and John’s plans for its future, we were delighted that we were able to provide the finance they needed, helping them follow their ambitions and complete their dream move.”

Stephen McConalogue, Senior Finance Consultant at Christie Finance, which helped to secure the funding, said: “My clients are looking to develop the customer experience at an already-established hotel by creating a more-personalised touch. I wish Helen and John the very best for the future and am looking forward to hearing of their successes.”

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