Friday, 20 July 2007

Fawlty Towers - eat your heart out!

I have always wanted to run a B&B. It has been an unfulfilled dream for many years and when we moved to the country, as much as I adored my little cottage, there was a tinge of regret that it wasn’t a rambling farmhouse that I could open up to paying guests. And so, when the opportunity came, two weeks ago, to help my mum run a local “country house” B&B, I jumped at the chance. It was all arranged so quickly, I didn’t even have time to ask Headmistress for an absence pass!

Mum works there part-time helping the owners to get ready for large house-parties and weddings – preparing rooms, helping with breakfasts and even waitressing of an evening if a meal is provided as part of the package. She could now run the place blind-fold and the owners took the opportunity to slope off for a long weekend, knowing that mum would look after the 9 guests. My job was “support” – running the tea/coffee/extra toast in to the breakfast room, clearing up and making beds.

We arrived on the Friday, an hour before the guests came, and settled ourselves into the room up in the attics. The house is a romantic, 4 storey (including cellars) 15th century dream. There are paneled rooms, creaking, wide elm floorboards, nooks and crannies galore, a “servants’ staircase” complete with green baize door and a huge kitchen with a solid fuel, cream Aga. My idea of total bliss.

There are four letting rooms in the house, each complete with its own ensuite, two holiday cottages plus a further two letting rooms in the grounds. Two of the rooms are four poster and they are all furnished with antiques sourced at Tewkesbury auction rooms. The beds are traditionally made up with sheets, blankets and eiderdowns – just as I like them! And, of course, there is the obligatory tea tray and homemade biscuits or shortbread.

After we settled ourselves, we greeted the guests and showed them to their rooms. They had made dinner arrangements in Ledbury and so mum and I cooked our own supper and opened a bottle of wine (as you do!). It was a little chilly and the huge inglenook fireplace looked stark and empty without a fire, so we lit it and settled down to gossip and flip through the pile of magazines on the table – Country Homes & Interiors, Herefordshire Life, Period Living & Traditional Homes, Horse & Hound (oh, yes, really!).

We were a little perturbed when we heard some of the guests return, what we considered to be, a little too early. They went back up to their rooms and then as we shrugged and settled back down, we were amazed when the kitchen door opened and one of them was stood in the private lounge. They wanted water from the kitchen tap, but instead of coming down the front stairs and knocking at the lounge door, they walked around the back “servants corridor” and in through the kitchen and then into the lounge. We jumped out of our skin! This was to set the tone of the next 3 days.

Whenever we have stayed in B&B’s, it has always been that we vacate after breakfast and then go out for the day and return after 4pm, in order for the owners to do bedrooms, clean and prepare for next morning. Hotels are a different matter, but when you are staying in someone’s home it is polite to give them some space – well, that’s the way we have always viewed it. These guests, however, went out for about an hour and half after breakfast and then came back and hung around their rooms all day. We just had time to make beds, clean bathrooms, tidy up after breakfast and pop back to our own homes for half an hour, when they were wanting more hot water for baths at 2pm!

On our doorstep we have the Malvern Hills, the Wye Valley, the Vale of Evesham, the Cotswolds, Cheltenham, Worcester, Hereford, and a little further on (just over an hour) Stratford-upon-Avon. A tourists dream location – or so you would have thought. But, no, these ones just wanted to stay in, and the weather was nice then too!

Two of the bedrooms were just one night bookings and so on Saturday morning we had to do a full change-over after breakfast. We didn’t stop all morning and just had time to pop into Ledbury for some extra supplies before getting back to the house to be on duty for 4pm.

I knew it was hard work running a B&B, but I really had no idea how hard! By Monday morning, when we had waved the last of the guests off, we then did a full strip out and remake, clean, bedding wash and general tidy up before leaving to go home, eventually, at 3pm. We were both exhausted and felt absolutely no guilt at leaving the ironing for the owners to return to! Well, they do have one of those fandangly industrial press irons and they hadn’t asked us to do the washing, so that was a bonus!

That evening, I told J if ever I banged on about not fulfilling my lifelong ambition to run a B&B, he was to remind me of this weekend. I’m glad I did it. It was an eye-opener and my respect has grown ten-fold for those that embark on this venture. But now I am glad that our home is just that. Ours.


Anonymous said...

Rather you than me!! I wouldn't even attempt running a B&B. At least like you say you got a taste for it and now realise it's not for you. I have good friends who run one near to here and it's jolly hard work - they have a new baby also. Privacy is so important and I don't think I could constantly share my home with complete strangers. However, I love having friends and family to stay so long as they realise it's self service!!

Crystal xx

mountainear said...

Exhausted just reading it!

I'm afraid I like my own space too much to share it with the world and his wife - can just about tolerate my own children.

Better to find out about the pifalls now rather than later I suppose.

@themill said...

I've got two in tonight and I rather think they may be hangers around!

bodran... said...

My mum ran a b/b when i was a kid, it was bloomin hard work, and even though there where a list of rules and regs, there was always one who was a pain!! lovely to have you back..xx

The Country Craft Angel said...

So good that you had a flavour and see that it's not for you!!
Far too much like hard work for me. ANd like Mountainear, I rather like my own space too much to want other people around!!

Good to see you blogging my friend

warm wishes

Posie Rosie said...

Oh that sounds like very hard work, the worst part being the intrusion of privacy, eek I would not like someone coming walking into the lounge unannounced like that. House sounded lovely though.

Suffolkmum said...

Thanks Woozle for the reality check! It's always been a dream of mine too, but I think what I REALLY want is just the house, having a B&B just seemed like an option to help pay for it!

CAMILLA said...

Hello Woozle, nice to see you again. Yes, running a B& B does seem like very hard work.At least you know now it is not the venture for you. I marvel how one can do it, and take my hat off to them.
Wonderful to see you blogging again Woozle.


annakarenin said...

It is funny how we have dreams and the reality never quite lives up to it. I suppose the thing with dreams is you dwell on the positives not the negatives a little too much. At least you know and will no longer regret not going for it. I have always known something like that is not for me, hate cleaning to much and cooking on demand can become a bit of a chore at times, takes the joy out of it.

@themill said...

Time for the next blog Woozle!!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

hello Woozle..have often wondered what it would be like to run a B and B ...don't think I'll thing worse...a pub!
but the house sounds amazing

sally's chateau said...

I made a comment and then deleted it !!