THE OWNERS of a Shetland hotel have been devastated after the Canadian couple running it abandoned the business and left the island leaving a trail of debt behind them.
The Maryfield Hotel on the island of Bressay was leased to Patrick and Morgan Blanch last August after owners David and Linda Wood retired.
The three year lease included an obligation to buy the property, but after less than a year the couple have disappeared without trace.
The couple were last seen on Bressay on Monday 7 April, when a note was left on the hotel door saying Mrs Blanch had gone to hospital in Lerwick.
When there was still no sign of them two days later at work or at home, it became obvious they had “upped and gone”, leaving substantial debts behind them, Mr Wood said.
“This has come as a massive blow, it’s heart breaking what’s happened. The only good we are getting out of it is the amount of goodwill people having been showing us,” he said.
The Blanch’s arrived in Shetland in March last year and took out a lease on the Maryfield after falling in love with the islands.
They said they had 28 years combined experience in the catering industry running Irish pubs, hotels and nightclubs.
Their initial plans included upgrading the hotel to five stars and increasing the number of bedrooms from six to 16.
They employed a full time barman and a chef, who later resigned, as well as casual staff.
However islanders said that the hotel never opened at lunchtime while they were in charge, and the management was “erratic” and “haphazard”.
Mr Wood said he had contacted the police but had been advised it was a civil matter.
The Woods ran the Maryfield for 26 years before deciding to give the business up two years ago.
Both in their late 60s, they now face a costly legal process to annul the lease and regain access to the building they own, while the isle of Bressay remains without a hotel and bar in the run up to the tourist season.
Bressay community council chairman Alistair Christie-Henry said Mr Blanch had been a member of the newly formed Bressay Development Association set up in the wake of the closure of the island’s primary school.
“We would hope this is just a transient arrangement for now and the Maryfield will open in due course under better management,” he said.
There were rumours on the isle that all was not well at the hotel and the couple were in financial difficulty, and since February they had only traded in cash.
A company called Ourmark Ltd was formed by the Blanch’s on 13 March with an address in east London.
In an email sent on Friday evening, the Blanch’s said they did not know when they would be returning to Bressay and that the decision to leave had left them with “heavy hearts”.
They said the business venture had “a tremendously negative effect financially for our company”, and suggested they had been left “a faulty product”.
They added that they had left the keys for the hotel along with a formal letter granting the Woods permission to “veto the current lease agreement”.
They added: “We hope for an amicable solution between the two companies, and one that will feed the void that is desperate on beautiful Bressay.”
Mr Woods said they had only discovered the keys and letter on Thursday and needed legal authority to re-enter the building and annul the lease.