Booking hotel rooms…

How much faith do you have in “visitors comments” ?

I’m speaking principally of Trip Advisor and its like.

Currently involved in trying to find accommodation for twelve healthy (citation needed, may be challenged) 55 year old males on a cycle trip from Edinburgh to Newcastle I quickly booked six rooms in hotels in Berwick and Morpeth and feeling very pleased with myself at being so efficient I then had a look at Trip Advisor to see what other folk thought of them.

Comments ranged from “absolutely dreadful, I’d rather sleep in a cess pit” to “absolutely wonderful, this is the best hotel on earth”, those being for the same hotel in the same month of writing.

As always the truth probably lays somewhere in the middle, let me lay my cards on the table here, I have stayed in some dumps in the past, I served my time staying in hotels constantly for seven years in the 1970s, an era when hotels didn’t actually have to do anything to earn the praise of their clients mainly because they didn’t give a stuff about their clients, hospitality was a word that hadn’t been invented yet in the 1970s.

We discussed this issue during our Old Gits Cycling Club final pre-event meeting in, erm, a pub, last Friday.

During our previous three day cycle “lets get away from the wives and pretend we are 18 and still playing for Cookridge Rangers again” events we have stayed in Travel Lodges and Premier Inns and while we have never been disappointed by such establishments then neither do we still speak of them in the same way that we speak of Mad Helen’s B&B in Nenthead two years ago.

Mad Helen, so named because she is without doubt the maddest woman I have ever met who is not yet restrained by straps and a cage, owned a row of three terraced cottages which had been “knocked through” to provide a ten or twelve bedroom Bed and Breakfast establishment for the constant passing trade of walkers and cyclists on the Coast to Coast route, we knew we were in for a treat when the booking was answered by a local in the village rather than Helen herself because in his words “She is barmy you know, far to barmy to answer emails”.

And indeed she was, delightfully barmy in that way of English eccentrics, she would offend if you were easily offended but if you weren’t then she was a source of constant amusement and it started from the first minute of our arrival as we pulled into her yard and she appeared from the back of her considerable property looking like an woman who had slept under a hedge for the last week, covered in chicken shit but clutching a basket of eggs and explaining that she’d been in the chicken run sourcing our breakfast for the morning – it was a good start.

She had twelve bedrooms to let, some with more than two beds in and split over two different properties, we were a party of ten and needed four or five rooms, she insisted on showing us ALL of the rooms and ALL of the bathrooms even though after the first property had been covered we had simply told her “We’ll have this one”, she explained that she wasn’t sure yet because she had another party of cyclists staying that night, four of them, and they might want one of the rooms that we had chosen too.

We pointed out that if we took one of the cottages that had five bedrooms then they could have the cottage that had seven bedrooms and if there were only four of them then they’d have almost two bedrooms each to pick from, she thought about this for an awful long time, rubbing her chin in deep thought as we all stood outside in the yard, “I don’t know” she said, “they might want one of your bedrooms you see”

She couldn’t be persuaded otherwise and eventually we just got our bags out and claimed as many bedrooms as we thought we’d need with the promise that if the other party turned up and wanted one of our rooms then we’d move, Kev ended up in a bedroom on his own with three beds and an ensuite bathroom while me, Steve and Rod all shared one room with a bathroom down the corridor, you can see how she was concerned that we weren’t capable of sorting the rooms out by ourselves can’t you ?

We were bollacked by her at breakfast for trying to rush the process but her breakfast was home grown and home baked and wonderful and as we all mentioned on Friday night in the pub at our final pre-event meeting, the night we spent at Mad Helens in Nenthead is the night we all still talk about.

So, rooms booked, vehicles to sort out next, too late for a last minute training programme now, “Its all downhill from here lads” anyway


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