Steeped in history and at the heart of its community for over 250 years, the small inn in the Trossachs offered a warm welcome, comforting dram and the possibility of plenty of good chat.
And when last orders threatened to bring down the Black Bull’s shutters for good, the Gartmore locals who couldn’t bear to lose their village pub, stepped up.
Now the pub is preparing to unveil its new look, after a lockdown revamp that saw an army of volunteers including a marine biologist, fireman, Antarctic traveller and a secretary on crutches, swung into action to transform it from old drovers’ inn to modern hostelry and community hub.
The pub is just one of a rising number of inns and hotels dotted across Scotland to be snapped up by communities who loved their local so much, they simply had to buy it.
From the Knoydart Peninsula – where a crowdfunding campaign will be launched next month to support the community buyout of Britain’s most remote mainland pub – to Tweedsmuir in the Borders where fundraising for the Crook Inn, thought to be the oldest inn in Scotland, is said to be at a crucial stage, locals have shown impressive community spirit to become their own pub’s bosses.
At Gartmore, the 250 villagers were ahead of the pack: the Black Bull was taken into community ownership in 2019, making it the first rural community to take over the running of both its village shop and its pub.
The beer had barely been allowed to settle when lockdown restrictions struck.
According to Black Bull board member Suzanne Teed, the enforced closure sparked a major community revamp which has now seen the pub’s interior transformed.
“It needed a lot of refurbishment because not a lot had been done to it for 30 or 40 years,” she says. “It was actually fortuitous that we ended up having to close.”
Groups of volunteers painted and decorated the interior, while others in the village busied themselves creating soft furnishings.
“Everything had to be done in line with Covid restrictions,” adds Suzanne. “We would never have been able to afford what’s been done if people hadn’t given their time free of charge.
“But it’s also been good for their mental health, they’ve not been sitting around during lockdown and have had the focus of the pub to keep them going.”
The community used a £200,000 Scottish Land Fund grant and raised around £55,000 to take over the pub.
Suzanne adds: “I’m a humanist celebrant, our chair works in television, our secretary is retired – and on crutches after breaking her feet. There’s a guy who works for a travel company who is usually off in Antarctica, a marine biologist and a fireman – you couldn’t make it up!”
At Ballantrae, the 18th century King’s Arms was the last pub standing in the village. Faced with losing the inn, the community rallied support from the Scottish Land Fund and others to take over ownership.
It has now launched a Community Share offer to give locals and others the chance to buy a share in the pub from just £25 and ensure its future.
“It had lacked investment and over the years people had drifted away,” says Dan Cunningham of the Ballantrae Trust.
“People want somewhere with a broad offering, where they can go for coffee and a cake during the day, have a drink and get together in the evening, and with space for a get together.
“It needs some TLC but it’s a busy road and we think it has plenty of potential.”
Meanwhile in the village of Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula – accessible only by boat from Mallaig, an 18-mile hike from Glenfinnan, The Old Forge Community Benefit Society has launched a £250,000 crowdfunding campaign in the hope it can buy The Old Forge Inn.
It has been put on the market by its Belgian owner Jean-Pierre Robinet at £425,000.
The society said: “We know how many folk there are from out with Knoydart that hold the Forge in high regard and want to help us achieve our dream of community ownership.
“The theme of our campaign will be ‘community’ – we want everyone who has a tie to Knoydart and the Forge to be a part of this buyout regardless of where you live.”
Unfortunately, not all communities achieve their dream.
Plans by locals to take over the 18th century Garmouth Hotel in Moray appear to have been scuppered after the owners decided to take it off the market, apparently to turn it into self-catering properties.
“It’s disappointing,” says Roddy Robertson, chairman of Garmouth and Kingston Amenities Association. “We had a lot of support and plans to turn it into a community hub, hotel and pub whichi made the most of local produce.
“Not being able to move on with our plans has ripped the heart out of the village.”