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A day in the life at Belmont House

by Promote Shetland -

Belmont House in Unst, is one of Shetland's grandest self-catering accommodation options. We chatted with house manager Sharon Calladine about the efforts it takes to keep it running all year round.

Belmont House was built in 1775 by Shetland landowner and businessman Thomas Mouat of Garth. The classical Georgian manor house has had little alteration since and today offers luxurious self-catering accommodation for up to 12 people.

The house was restored and is now managed by the Belmont Trust, with the day-to-day running overseen by Sharon Calladine. Sharon, an Australian former secondary school teacher, has looked after Belmont House for the past three years.

Is Belmont House a unique property in Shetland?

Yes. It is a Grade 1 Listed Building, which limits a lot of what can be done to the property. It was first built in 1775 with the restoration under the auspices of the Belmont Trust – a Scottish registered charity that was established to restore and preserve the property for the community of Unst. The restoration won numerous awards.

The Trust is a not for profit organisation – revenue from letting the house is ploughed straight back into it to keep it running. It is often described as a ‘Georgian gem’ which sometimes sounds a bit cold – like we are referring to a museum piece – but I think it really highlights the tenacity and dedication to detail of Thomas Mouat, and later of the numerous locals who played such a significant role in its restoration.

What’s special about Belmont House?

Despite being a rather grand house, it has been lovingly restored and it feels incredibly warm and inviting. Its situation looking across the Bluemull Sound is gorgeous, and it is very easy to imagine how the house and view must have been when it was first built. It is a place that encourages people to relax, unwind, enjoy good company and entices you to linger in the gardens, explore the history and coastline of the area- and cook some special meals!

What does looking after Belmont House entail?

It’s not really a lot different from any other house – just on a larger scale! And trying to keep it clean between one set of guests and the next is not the easiest. There’s the usual housework – especially dusting and polishing, trying to keep the woodwork seasoned, checking for any signs of damp or any pests. In summer, flies are a real nuisance – and I’m Australian so should be used to them!

What do you enjoy about working at Belmont House?

I love the property – it probably sounds strange – but I almost feel as if it were mine! I think the Trustees also feel the same, which is a testament to how much the place means to us. So, I want it to look its best for guests, and for them to feel happy and comfortable.

At the same time it is a real challenge, trying to follow the restrictions placed on it because of its listing, all of the legal requirements necessary for a self-catering establishment, dealing with issues associated with the maintenance – and invariably being forced to accept that with the best will in the world that there are going to be delays and things that simply have to be put off because of the weather and geography.

It is wonderful to hear the guests say how much they love it – and the island. It is magical here and it’s important to try to keep this part of the island’s history going for future generations to enjoy.

Is Belmont House open to the public year – round?

Yes, both for guests and for visitors to the main gardens. Weather and guest dependent, we often have both open for special events such as exhibitions, tours of the house, and so on.

Do your duties vary depending on the time of year?

Winter is usually quiet, so that is when we can do as much deep cleaning as possible. That means washing walls, shampooing carpets, washing light fixtures – including the chandelier, oiling all the woodwork, disinfecting all the shelves, cupboards and drawers, repairing, repainting etc.

I try to check on the house at least twice a week – especially if there has been really bad weather – making sure there’s no damage and checking on the garden. When it is busy – especially when we have a quick changeover of guests, Allyson Williams, our wonderful cleaner is flat out stripping beds, remaking them, dusting, polishing and vacuuming and cleaning the whole house as much as possible.

Throughout the year I deal with enquiries and the various stages of booking, and deal with our web page, social media and Trip Advisor. I order supplies, report to the Trustees regularly so they know what is happening at the property, liaise with the National Trust for Scotland with whom we have a loan agreement for some of the furniture, and keep abreast of tourist initiatives that may help Belmont raise its profile.

I’ve had to develop some skills in dealing with maintaining a large house, which always seems to need some work done. And when neither Allyson nor I can do it, we call on Charlie Clark to sort out the larger maintenance issues!

What facilities and attractions are near to Belmont House?

The house is in the south of Unst. You can’t miss Belmont as you see it crossing Bluemull from Gutcher. In terms of attractions, there’s the remains of a Viking longhouse on the hill overlooking the property as well as a plethora of other archaeological sites in the immediate area.

The stunning scenery is one of the main attractions of the island, especially the beaches which are gorgeous. Seals, otters, birds and of course, Shetland Ponies can be seen throughout the year and then there are the whale visits. Hermaness National Nature Reserve, the Unst Boat Haven and the Unst Heritage Centre, Skidbladner and the Viking Longhouse reconstruction at Haroldswick, are all well worth a visit.

Why should people book a stay at Belmont House?

There is no other place like this in Shetland. It’s a great place to spend some quality time with family or friends, to celebrate a special occasion, to switch off the outside world. We don’t have a television licence – there is a TV for watching DVDs – and this seems to encourage people to spend more time talking and enjoying their company.

It is also a great base for walking and, according to the children of guests here in October, it’s wonderful catching crabs on the beach in front of the house. The gardens are a safe place for children to play, as well as having lots of places to simply sit and contemplate the scenery.

And by staying at Belmont, people are helping keep the property open to the public. It is an island resource which without the revenue from guests would probably have to be sold and placed in private hands. The Belmont Trustees have spent an incredible amount of time and energy – all voluntary ­– in order to restore, maintain and hopefully see the property become sustainable. It would be an enormous loss to them and the island if it were no longer in public hands.

For more information and bookings, visit the Belmont House website.

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