Although it does do a lot to highlight what is wrong with so many places to stay in rip-off Britain. Mattresses that are manky, toilets that aren't clean, bathrooms that are awkward, rooms that are too hot or too cold, breakfasts that don't do what they say on the tin.
This week our competitors were Norfolk House near Newmarket, the Cromwell Arms in Romsey, and Full Circle Yurts at Rydal Hall in the Lake District. Three completely different establishments, so inevitably three very different sets of owners.
Norfolk House was a beautiful minor mansion set in a large garden that had its own pool, not that anyone braved it at whatever time of year this was. The retired owners were rightly proud of their lovely rooms and kitchen diner, and really tried to go the extra mile. However, they didn't do bacon and eggs, and their piece de resistance Bircher muesli was not seen as a suitable alternative to one set of guests. They also hadn't designed very practical bathroom solutions - one en suite was so narrow you had to sit sideways on the toilet, and another en suite was not - well, en suite, but across the corridor. And a stray pubic hair had been left on that toilet by a rogue carpet fitter, which unfortunately instantly killed Norfolk House's scores. Owner Lynne claimed she would normally eat her Bircher muesli off that toilet, and I believe her. One set of guests found that staying in a B&B was rather confining and I could see her point - you are essentially living in someone's house, which naturally requires a stiffer behaviour protocol. Particularly if you have young children and the owners don't. (Although looking at Norfolk House's website, it seems that children are not allowed, so I am a little less upset with the carpet fitter now.)
The Cromwell Arms was a pub with rooms, so more like a hotel. All swish and newly done, but goodness me, our beady-eyed guests spotted a smeary shower screen and a dusty door. And the bedrooms were too hot and in need of air conditioning. Breakfast was in the pub, but at least bacon and eggs were very much available.
Full Circle Yurts was not a B&B as in Bed and Breakfast (you had to provide your own bacon and eggs), but B&B as in Bed and owner Ben. I couldn't work out if Ben was a bit weird or simply taking the piss. He liked climbing trees, being late for dinner because he was shaving his head, and not wearing shoes. And he didn't let you wear your shoes inside his yurts because he claimed they made them dirty. But this didn't stop him marching over the cream carpets in the other B&Bs with his mucky feet. (Obviously you couldn't ask him to remove his feet without involving a lot of blood.) Still, all the gravel he had to walk over from his car to the B&B doors can't have been fun.
The yurts had the most stunning setting imaginable, and although well furnished with proper beds and a wood-burner, were still camping at heart. Cooking was done on a gas stove and the toilets were in a block down the hill. A bucket was provided for emergencies. A stay there was the most expensive of all - £120 a night, with a three-night minimum stay - whilst providing the least facilities. I suppose it's all about the unique experience of sleeping out on the fells, and that marvellous Cumbrian air.
The winner, by tactical voting and an unnecessary overpayment by Ben, was the Cromwell Arms. Which was probably the place with the least personality, and the one I would least like to stay in, out of the three.
I have been to Newmarket only once, and that was to take part in a Girl Guides national Kim's Game competition when I was about 13, and not to see any horse racing. Random objects were paraded through the ring for us to remember. Kind of like the Generation Game, only without the conveyor belt or Larry Grayson. But I did make my own bowl of Bircher Muesli last week, courtesy of a Fay Ripley recipe, and it is pretty delicious. We used to make something similar (but probably more authentic) when I worked on a farm in Switzerland, with oats, yoghurt and frozen fruit, only there we ate it for tea and not breakfast.
I have never been to Romsey, but I did watch a lot of the Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford Mysteries on ITV, where Romsey played the role of Kingsmarkham. I am not sure how much there is to see there anyway - the owners of the Cromwell Arms take their guests laser clay pigeon shooting for their local activity. I could think of better ways to pass an afternoon.
|Rydal Water. Photo by H Preston|
|Mighty Rydal Cave with |
Photo by S Dodgson