The Inn takes its name from Isabella (Tibbie) Shiel who moved with her husband Robert Richardson, a mole catcher, in 1823 into what was then known as St. Mary’s cottage on the estate of Lord Napier.
After the death of her husband in the following year Tibbie, who following local custom resumed her maiden name, determined to support herself and six bairns by taking in gentlemen lodgers. Thirteen beds in all were available for guests in the room which is now the Bar and in the attic, although on occasions such as the 12th of August, “when the shooters come up among the hills”, as many as 35 were accommodated, the excess being “made comfortable” on the floor.
Tibbies KitchenThe room that was the kitchen held two double box beds, as well as Tibbie’s grandfather clock, spinning wheel and a huge open grate with white-washed ‘jaws’.
Tibbie, who was a small active woman with a great sense of humour somehow managed to add to the cottage; an extension to the rear relieved pressure on the kitchen and an annexe at the North gable catered for parties.
Till her death in 1878 in her 96th year, Tibbie played hostess to many famous men. One of the first, the publisher Robert Chambers, recommended the house in “The Picture of Scotland” in 1827. James Hogg ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’ was a regular visitor. An old friend of Hogg (she had worked as a girl in his mother’s household) Tibbie was unimpressed by his writing, saying: “He wrote a deal o’ trash but was a gey sensible man for a’ that”. His work however is still widely known, in particular songs such as ‘when the kye comes hame’, or the Jacobite ‘Maclean’s Welcome’ are very popular. The ‘sensible man’ also wrote a novel much ahead of its time which is only now gaining recognition as his masterpiece: “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’.
One of the most frequent guests was Prof. Wilson (Christopher North) whose meetings here with James Hogg probably inspired his famous ‘Noctes Ambrosianae’. In one of the best known of these he compares TIBBIES with a wren’s nest. The story goes that the morning after one of these nights, when they feasted, recited, philosophised, and no doubt enjoyed a few drams, Hogg was heard to call: “Tibbie, bring in the Loch!”
James Hogg’s friend and contemporary, Sir Walter Scott, was another of Tibbie’s admirers and, although there is no record of Wordsworth as visitor, it is difficult to imagine his being in the area twice, especially in the company of Scott and Hogg, without being introduced to Tibbie. Wordsworth did at any rate record the quiet enchantment of the place: “The swan on still St. Mary’s lake floats double, swan and shadow’.
Other names appearing in the visitor’s books (still existing in the care of Tibbie’s descendants) are Robert L. Stevenson, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Stoddart (angler and angling poet) and Gladstone while still president of the Board of Trade
The inn has been further extended over the years and so have the activities associated with it. Fishing is popular still and ramblers are growing in number. Sailing and windsurfing also take place on the lochs.
Throughout its changes though the spirit remains unchanged – low ceilinged, cosy, full of character, hidden away in a place of incredible beauty and tranquility, a haven ‘just like a bit wren’s nest’!