Over breakfast this morning, Alison & Robin shared a few photos they'd taken yesterday, which are just beautiful. Here are two of them; Ali is an avid bookshop fan, and so Robin waited for just the right moment to capture her in Barter Books yesterday - a lovely shot! The other one (click on the Title of this article to open it up) they've called 'Dandelion and the Keep', but you'll have to guess why... It was taken in Bamburgh Castle.
Ali & Robin are http://cotswoldhousephotography.uk/ - if you're in that neck of the woods, I am sure you'd enjoy their company as teachers and companions!
So last night we went for a stroll in the evening, and ended up in the harbour as the sun went down. The camera doesn't really capture that sweeping vista, eastwards out to the Farne Islands and then turning north and westwards to see Bamburgh Castle with the sun blazing behind it...
Somehow, whatever one is carrying - whether stress, anxiety or joy! - takes on a different, more reflective perspective. It just feels such a privilege to be here, watching this.
Especially when the Ship - which is absolutely the best pub anywhere in the world - is just ten paces behind you, in the harbour. It would have been rude not to, dontcha think... So we did! It was indeed a perfect end to a perfect evening.
We're delighted to use local potatoes from Carroll's Heritage Potatoes just up the road. They grow interesting, traditional crops which are so full of flavour. These Red Emmalies are really striking - red skins and flesh - and were perfect on our Valentine dinner plates tonight!
We were invited to London this week to receive TWO fabulous awards on the same day!
The first was a VisitEngland RoSE Award for 2015 - in 'Recognition of Service Excellence'. This is a new Award which VE are giving to just 100 quality-assessed businesses every year, and we had no idea one was coming our way until we got the call! Lovely.
The second was an 'Editor's Choice' Award from the Good Hotel Guide. GHG is fiercely (and rightly) proud of it's staunch independence, whereby no business can 'buy' an entry to the Guide - we have to be recommended and nominated and checked out. So to get one of their coveted Editor's Choice awards was just fab!
Awards are great to receive, but the real value for us is that they can help to show you that you're not just 'taking a chance' when you come to stay here. We've been measured and assessed and placed amongst the very best - and that is good news for you!
We enjoyed a couple of days in the big city, and had a lot of fun. But were soon yearning to be back in the wilds of beautiful Northumberland...
A lovely feature appeared on Silver TravelAdvisor today, following the visit of Linda & Steve recently. That's Linda in the picture above, with a whole Northumbrian beach to herself!
It turns out they're bloggers on behalf of STA, which is a really influential and well-respected tome of insight and knowledge for the more discerning (not necessarily older!) traveller.
We were so pleased to be able to direct Linda & Steve to some of our favourite 'off the beaten track' places during their visit, and even more pleased to see her writing so enthusiastically about them!
We all know that we're much more likely to respond positively to reviews and information made by people we feel we can trust (rather than by someone with a vested interest!) and so we're thrilled to see Linda's piece online. Have a look at it here.
Unbeknown to Margaret, several of their friends also travelled north, and stayed locally.
Meanwhile, we needed to come up with a plausible story why R&M should arrive for breakfast at 9.30am, slightly later than usual (and sound convincing in relaying it - there were some oscar-deserving performances from Richard and myself...)
When they arrived in the dining room next morning, their friends had gathered, and were waiting to greet them here for a breakfast party! What a hoot.
Margaret didn't suspect a thing, and was completely bowled over by the efforts everyone had gone to. She said "I have some lovely friends" - but it seems to us that she must BE a really good friend, for folks to want to go to all that trouble. Richard did pretty well too, dontcha think? Especially with that ruby stone he presented too...
Here's the party gathered... we were pleased to be a part of this! You have to imagine the big balloon attached to the red ribbon.
We have a couple of honeymooners staying at SCH just now, which is lovely! Sue had told us that they were coming to Northumberland directly from their wedding - so when their room was ready we spent a few minutes scattering some rose petals in their room as a bit of fun, and we put them a nice bottle of wine and a card there to greet them too.
They were both really taken aback, and Sue immediately posted a few photos on her Facebook page, and her friends shared in her delight. It's lovely to be creating memories with people - we'd like to think they'll come back to celebrate many an anniversary in Northumberland, and walk these beaches together again - and maybe remember how a few rose petals made their arrival a little bit special!
They told us a lovely story at breakfast this morning; last night they'd decided to indulge in that seaside tradition of having fish 'n chips for supper. We advised them to go to Lewis's, our chippy of choice. Somehow, in chatting with the waitress, the fact that they were on honeymoon had come up. Then, to their delight (and amusement!) the waitress brought this special delivery of mushy peas to their table! Brilliant - and very kind. So - that's Lewis's for your fish 'n chips, OK?
Weary travellers arriving exhausted from all corners of the world, or excited people setting off on the trip of a lifetime, perhaps... all of them will be stopping in their tracks as they make their way through each of Heathrow's enormous terminals, when they see the stupendous imagery and stories which will soon be adorning the walls and spaces there, and asking that question - 'Hey - where is THAT?'
I've no doubt they'll go on to say "cancel that ticket to London/Canterbury/Bath/Salisbury (delete all traditional destinations which makes a foreign visitor believe he's 'done' England) and get me THERE! What - it's only 3 and a half hours from central London on the train, or 50 mins from this airport?!"
You see, the North-East just won a 'competition' on Heathrow Airport's Facebook page, and the prize is £1m worth of advertising in and around the airport. I'm not sure how many posters that buys, or how many people that means will see them, but I do know:
So that's good. Hopefully we can bust some stereotypes, and in the process show them that Northumberland (that's my bit!) has the friendliest people, the best beaches, the biggest and best dark skies, the most castles, the best castles, the least traffic, and the best value no-nonsense food.
If I get the chance, I'll also be pointing out that here on the Northumberland coast we get rainfall of just 600mm per year, and only East Anglia beats that as a dry place. See - I told you this place has its secrets.
Yesterday, we said goodbye to a lovely couple who had been here for their first visit, although they assure us they can't wait to come back.
Catherine said that one particular thing had really touched her, and impressed - it was that from the moment they arrived, we'd called them by their name. She said that they'd visited a similar high-quality B&B in the Lake District regularly for several years now, and that they had never once, in all their visits, been addressed by their names.
I think this is important on a number of levels. Our name is a precious thing, for sure. I get really cross when people reply to my email (signed by 'Jeff') with 'Hi Geoff' - and I'm amazed at how often it happens. What's the matter with you?!
But in hospitality, where our purpose is to make you feel valued, special, respected and cared for, there really is no excuse for a business not making an effort to learn, and use, guests' names. It's common courtesy, as much as good business!
So if you have a nice B&B in the Lake District and you don't see Catherine again, you now know why. Oh wait - you don't know who Catherine is...
This last week, some guests paid me a great kindness. Not in a showy way, but just because they're kind people. They'd seen on our website that I'm passionate about real ale, and so they brought me a bottle from the craft brewery in their village in Yorkshire. Unexpected kindness is the best sort, don't you think?
Then we got talking about music - another passion - and they asked me if I'd heard of someone they really liked. When I said no, I hadn't, she instinctively passed me her iPod and said "here, have a listen, you can give me this back tomorrow." I needed to spend a couple of hours on the road that day, and I had some new music to enjoy!
When it was time to check out, they pointed out that I'd missed their drinks off the bill. I said yes, I know, they're on me. It was hardly outrageous generosity, but I believe what goes around should come around (if it's nice). I feel sure they'll return, and we'll be glad to see them again.
In the same week I had another conversation, with a couple who had stayed in a family-based B&B whilst abroad. It seems it was more like staying with the family, who live on meagre means, and this couple had gone out of their way to spend as much money as possible with the family - by eating in, and buying wine - and were careful to tip well, too.
Late on their final evening, the hostess (who was an ex-pat English lady!) had offered them a last-night farewell drink. They didn't really want one, but it seemed rude to refuse. So they were dismayed to find it itemised on their bill the next morning. Of course, they realised that was perfectly fair - but they were left feeling used.
Now, the only thing I know about that holiday of theirs is that their hostess seemed pretty mean-spirited and ungrateful. It's a shame that is the main headline for a trip which had lots of other things to talk about. Our guest said "for that one drink, she's made sure we'll never go back." Wow, she could have made so much more by giving away that one drink! Generosity usually does perpetuate itself, one way or another.
We had a lovely house-concert here last night, with Gareth Davies-Jones. He brought his 'Nine Lessons' show, which is a reflection on Christmas and the tradition of carolling. Part of that tradition has always been that those songs 'evolve', and are set to new tunes and settings through the ages, and we felt that we were brought into that story last night. And - it was lovely to 'prepare' for Christmas in a way that's so much deeper than the tidal wave of nonsense which TV ads and the shopping centre muzak sweep us along on...