Saturday, 11 November 2017

Room at the inn

It was around 25 years ago that my parents moved up to Norfolk, following my father’s retirement from the Royal Mail. The Post Office, as it was then known, had been his only employer since completing his National Service, so he was able to retire at 60, on an index-linked pension, which had also been non-contributory.

Nice work if you can get it, but I don’t begrudge my parents this opportunity; let’s just say it was a different time and a different era. My wife and I were fairly infrequent visitors during the first years of my parents’ retirement. We had only recently started a family of our own, and things were a little tight financially. When we did visit though, it gave us the chance of getting to know Norfolk a little better.

Strangely enough, we had spent a couple of holidays in the county, before the arrival of our son, staying one time just outside the town of Diss, whilst for the other holiday we rented a house overlooking one of the Broads, a short distance from the village of Horning.

Much later on, after we had started our off-licence business, visits to my parents largely dried up, due to the difficulties of getting someone to cover for us, and also finding the cash to pay them. We sold the business 10 years ago, after I had started work back in the healthcare industry. Visits continued pretty much on a two to three times a year basis, initially staying with mum and dad at their bungalow in Swanton Morley, but later on we either rented a cottage or put up at a hotel.

It is the subject of hotels and bed & breakfast places that I want to write about now, so apologies for the rather lengthy preamble, but I wanted to set the scene. It’s a well known-fact of life that wives do not always get on with their mother-in-laws, and the relationship between Eileen and my mother fell into this category. In defence, mum didn’t get on well with her mother-in-law either, which illustrates just how true this oft-quoted fact of life is.

The upshot was that in later years, it was normally me who visited mum and dad; although our son Matthew quite often accompanied me on these visits. Grandmothers’ love seeing their grandchildren, particularly when they’re the first-born, and mum was no exception. The first place we stayed at was the rather nice Hill House Hotel, right in the centre of Dereham. The hotel was privately owned and run by a proprietor who really cared about his business and his guests; in short, nothing was too much trouble – you could even have kippers for breakfast, if you wished – a big bonus from my point of view.

The business must have been doing well because extra, ground floor rooms were added at the rear. I think they must have been the stables, at one time, but they provided extra capacity to Hill House. Both Matthew and I stayed there on several occasions, and thoroughly enjoyed it – especially as the hotel was right in the centre of Dereham, with all its numerous pubs. Imagine our disappointment when my mother informed me that Hill House had changed hands.

Undeterred, I booked a three night stay back in 2011, as I had travelled up to Norfolk to help celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. I discovered the property was now owned by a group called MJB. Payment was in advance and, as there was now no manned reception, guests were sent a PIN code in order to access their room. That was the theory, but in practice I had to phone the company several times prior to my arrival, as no code had been sent through.

The long and the short of it, was I didn’t have a good stay; in fact, I decided to cut my losses and spend the next two nights at my parents, sleeping on the sofa. I won’t go into details as to why I didn’t stay longer at Hill House, but if you want to know more  about the MJB Group, just take a look at the comments on Trip Advisor.

It was obviously time to find another place to put up at, and this came in the guise of Bartles Lodge; a privately owned B&B complex next to a couple of fishing lakes. The lodge is situated in the tiny village of Elsing, which is just a few miles down the road from Swanton Morley. With the Mermaid pub virtually next door, serving good food and equally good beer, Bartles Lodge was ideal.

I stayed there several times, and would quite happily return, were it not for the fact that, on account of its fishing lakes, the place is terribly popular, and each time I have gone online to book, there are no vacancies for my chosen dates which, admittedly are usually at the weekend. However, if you do manage to book a place there, then I’m sure you will have a lovely peaceful stay, followed by an excellent breakfast the following morning.

For subsequent trips I resorted to that old favourite, selecting properties based on their distance from Swanton Morley, the room-rate, the proximity of a decent pub or even staying at a decent pub, plus, of course availability. Consequently I have stayed in a wide variety of establishments, most within a 20 mile radius of Swanton Morley/Dereham.

I won’t list them all, but special mention should go to Meadow Farm Cottage at Mulbarton, to the south of Norwich and Moorsticks, on the other side of the city, close to the airport. Both are excellent bed & breakfast establishments. The Swan Inn at Hilborough, to the south of Swaffham and the Ugly Bug Inn at Colton, roughly halfway between Norwich and Dereham, were both excellent pubs offering overnight accommodation.

Finally, for those who appreciate the slightly faded, 1980’s utility look, the Best Western Brook at Bowthorpe on the outskirts of Norwich, sometimes offers rooms at bargain rates. Matt and I have stayed here a couple of times, and with  regular buses into the city centre, this sprawling, single-storey hotel provides a good base for those wanting to explore Norwich.

For our most recent trip, which was last weekend, we stayed at the George in the centre of Dereham, but that was the first time in several years of making these trips, that the hotel had rooms available.

As I wrote in my post about that last visit, the fact that my sister is shortly moving out of the area, means that I will no longer need to base myself quite so close to Dereham. As long as I can find a location within easy travelling distance of dad’s care-home at Gressenhall, then there are opportunities of getting to know other parts of  Norfolk, such as the coastal region to the north, or the area looking out towards the Wash.

Finally, this isn’t a plug or anything and I am not on commission, but I have used for the past 12 years as a means of finding and securing accommodation in locations at home and abroad. The places I have stayed in have ranged from four star, city-centre hotels, to rather more basic penzions, self-catering apartments and simple bed and breakfast establishments.

The site provides an insight into where you might be thinking of staying, with reviews from guests,  backed up with photos and location maps. The site takes the hassle out of booking with in most cases, no payment upfront. Many of the places listed, offer free cancellation as well,  allowing for last minute changes of plans or finding a better offer.


retiredmartin said...

As usual, Paul, I find the scene interesting as the content.

Would agree on, though.I've heard B&B owners complain to me about the commission and the strict policies on occasions.

Russtovich said...

Nice read. And yep, sucks when an establishment changes hands for the worse.

Have to love the Internet though for doing bookings for various things these days. I can't imagine the old days of having to go to a travel agent. I use Expedia over here mostly, but that's mainly because my bank's credit card gets extra points if I go thru them. Five hotel rentals plus a car rental this year and they all went well. Especially being able to cancel without a penalty. Gotta love that. :)

Good luck with the expanded opportunities vis a vis accommodation now that your sister is moving away.


Stanley Blenkinsop said...

Yes,I'm a big fan of Booking.Com too.What I most like is that you can book a hotel well in advance and if the rate goes down cancel and re-book at the new rate.
I did this three times with one hotel in Sri Lanka.
Rates fluctuate all the time and anything that gives the ordinary Joe an advantage is good news.
That breakfast looks tasty too !

Paul Bailey said...

Strangely enough I've had mixed feedback after talking to various hotel/bed & breakfast proprietors about

Some have suggested getting in touch direct next time, in order to obtain a better rate, but when I enquired about doing this at the hotel we stayed at in Regensburg recently, I was advised I would still get a better rate via

Confused or what?

ps. I've done the cancelling and re-booking thing myself, Stanley; but usually when a better hotel becomes available. It's a real bonus if it's available at a better price as well.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, I've generally had good experiences with, although sometimes I've got a better rate directly through the hotel's own website.

Its coverage of guest houses is less comprehensive than that of hotels, probably because of the high commission rates, but you're taking a risk if you decide not to sign up. It also doesn't list Premier Inns, which it once did.

My one gripe is with the "parking" symbol, which sometimes means no more than "you might stand a chance of getting an on-street parking space if you're lucky".