Three cheers for 30 years

Family marks milestone at Moffat hotel

Matthew Lynas reports

In the town of Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, locals and tourists alike were recently treated to four days of festivities at the Star Hotel as husband and wife team Allison and Tim Leighfield celebrated three decades at the helm of the bar, restaurant and hotel business.

Situated on Moffat’s High Street, the hotel is said to have welcomed guests since the 1700s, but it’s the last 30 years, in which the venue has been run by the Leighfield family, which came into focus this summer.

Celebrations at the hotel kicked off on Thursday July 30 with a 1985-themed pub quiz, marking the year in which the Leighfields took on the premises following a move north from Oxfordshire.

The festivities rolled into the weekend with a party on the Friday night in the hotel’s public bar, while guests dining in the hotel’s restaurant were welcomed with a glass of bubbly on the Saturday.

The Star Hotel’s celebrations were brought to a close on the Sunday with live music in the venue’s public bar which was full to its capacity of 150.

The events marked a successful three decades for the Leighfields.

As a third generation publican whose family had a traditional thatched-roof pub in Oxfordshire, Allison said she was well aware that taking on the Star Hotel in the 1980s was no small task.

However, she said she and Tim embraced the challenge.

The husband and wife team have implemented a programme of regular refurbishment since taking over, with Dumfries-based decorator Andrew Walker playing a key role.

“We started from scratch – did the bar first, the toilets, then put in en suites [in the rooms],” said Allison.

Hard work and supportive staff, including manager Kenny Wilson and their son Marc, who has taken a more active role in the business, have been vital to the hotel’s success, she said.

Support from the local community has also been key; as well as locals, the hotel attracts a broad customer base, from tourists and walkers to the post-event crowd at the town’s annual sheep race.

The hotel’s Guinness world record hasn’t done any harm to trade either.

At just 20 feet wide, the Star Hotel featured in The Guinness Book of Records 1988 in which it was named the narrowest hotel in the world.

It’s an accolade that’s still paying dividends today, according to Tim, who said the hotel continues to be “well photographed” thanks to its unusual dimensions.

While interest in the narrow 18th century building has remained, there have been big changes at the hotel through the years, some of which have surprised the Leighfields.

“The big thing for us was when the smoking ban came in,” said Tim.

“We thought it was going to hit us but it’s been the best thing ever.

“It’s brought more people out, brought more women out.”

Families have also made more regular visits to the Star Hotel, which has a major focus on food – in both its 30-cover lounge bar and in its restaurant, which can seat 52.

The menu, a collection of traditional ‘pub grub’ and other dishes incorporating local produce, falls under the purview of chef Alfie Jahn, who has been with the Star Hotel for the last 20 years.

The business works with a number of food suppliers, including larger wholesalers such as Booker which do a “great job”, said Allison, as well as local supplier Pioneer Foodservice, which is based just over the border in Carlisle, making it handy enough to supply the restaurant at short notice.

“If we wanted something this afternoon, we could ring [Pioneer Foodservice] up and they would bring it,” she said.

The hotel also has a public bar with all the trimmings, including games machines from Prize Coin Equipment and a dart board used by the local team. While Allison said the bar, which is accessible by a separate entrance to the rear of the hotel, may be described as “traditional” by her son Marc, it attracts a varied clientele, which has seen the drinks offer change down the years.

Tim said cask ale has “taken off” over the last 18 months, while there’s also been an uplift in sales of wine.

When it comes to beer, the Leighfields buy from a number of suppliers, including Heineken, Belhaven, Wallaces TCB and Sulwath Brewers in nearby Castle Douglas.

The hotel may have moved with the times, but it’s its ability to hold onto its identity which keeps customers coming back, suggested Tim.

“There’s a solid group of people that have been coming in [to the hotel] for 30 years,” he said.