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DO NOT book a visit at Balkissock Lodge if you want to leave the door open when you go to the toilet!!

 

Intrigued? Read on…

 

I’ve been asked only once why I don’t display my Visit Scotland rating but the answer intrigued the enquirer to a degree that I thought it worthy of a blog post

 

For those who are not aware, it would cost me £173.28 per year every year (2015 figure) to be part of the Quality Assurance Scheme:

Annual Fee (1 to 3 bedrooms)                        £122.00 + VAT

Additional fee per bedroom                           £11.20 + VAT

Source: http://www.visitscotland.org/pdf/QualityAssurance%202015Fees.pdf

 

To be part of the Scheme, you apply, pay your money and then an inspector visits, inspects, reveals their identity and awards you the grading.

Border Collie in the garden

 

With me so far? OK! This is where is gets interesting…

My business is B&B … BED and BREAKFAST … so you’d expect the majority of the grading criteria to be based upon the quality of the bed and breakfast … yes? OK, so the manner that you greet guests is important, and the information that you provide can make their stay more enjoyable and it’s nice to have a tidy driveway or garden but did you know that of the 42 criteria that a B&B is judged against, only TWO relate to the breakfast. That’s 27 lines of a 9 page document. There is more column space dedicated to the state of my gutters than to what I’m providing for breakfast!

Check it out for yourself: Visit Scotland Grading Criteria for B&Bs

 

How did the inspector rate Balkissock Lodge B&B based on a stay in my popular Arran Room:

IMG_9818

IMG_9492

IMG_9218

  • Cleanliness: 100% (5*)
  • Hospitality and Friendliness: 100% (5*)
  • Service and Efficiency: 100% (5*)
  • Exterior, Maintenance and Car Park: 60%
  • Bedrooms (Arran room): 62%
  • Bathroom (Arran room): 60%
  • All Public areas Quality and Maintenance: 72% (4*)
  • Dining Room: 60% (Inspector not sure it would hold four guests comfortably …. even though it does)
  • Breakfast Choice and Range: 80% (4*) and awarded a Visit Scotland “Taste our Best” Award

 

Not too shabby don’t you think?

The criteria are grouped into five sections and you have to have at least the same grading in all areas but because the Arran room and its ensuite score only 62% … Balkissock Lodge is only rated:

 

I know … Shock! Horror!

Interesting that guests staying in the Arran room this summer have left seven of the 10 5* reviews on Trip Advisor and four of these couples have commented that I’m not charging enough for the room!

“The [Arran] room was comfortable, spotless with all amenities.” TA review

“…the [Arran] room was spacious and comfortable…” TA review
So what were the inspector’s comments about what I could do to get a further 8 marks in that one section in order to get a 4* grading:

  • Put more pictures on the walls in the lounge and the corridors: there is a huge, expensive, signed print on one wall in the lounge plus two free-standing photos which apparently isn’t enough and I have no pictures (in frames) in the narrow corridor for safety reasons. There are a total of seven pictures in the two bedrooms.
  • Put a light inside the wardrobe because it’s dark in there: hands up everyone who has a light inside their wardrobe? Nope? Didn’t think so!
  • Put the coffee table and tray inside the large wardrobe because the door hits it when you open it: only if you open it over 110º, ie open it further that the other door which only opens to 90º before it hits the wall which apparently is OK though!
  • Buy matching furniture: the other bedroom was fine apparently until I pointed out that the furniture didn’t match in there so what was the difference? A bit of backtracking from the inspector at this point.
  • Provide more sockets as there weren’t enough sockets to plug the hairdryer in: there were three available but the computer, tablet and TV were plugged into them and I have NEVER in five years of B&Bing had anyone pull out the bed to use the socket behind it!!!
  • Change to motion activated lighting: apparently the 11W lamp that I leave on in the corridor all night (the bulb is still cold enough to touch in the morning by the way!) uses more energy than producing these battery operated expensive devices.
  • Put pebbles from the beach and a candle in the fireplace to brighten up the black hole
  • Get rid of the lounge facility (i.e. the sofas, bookcases etc) so that the breakfast room is larger and can comfortably seat four (despite the fact that it already does!)
  • Put a folding garden chair in the room as it takes up less space and there must be a chair in there to get four stars despite it being next door to the lounge!

Table set at Balkissock B&B

… and you’re going to love this one …

Change the door on the bathroom so that it slides into the wall cavity like the 5* new-build holiday cottages in the village so that you don’t have to close the bathroom door to get passed it to get to the toilet!

Oh and apparently there were too many towels and too many mirrors in the room!

Interestingly if you live in the town and only have one hanging basket, the same grading system is used to assess it as was used to assess my almost one acre of not weed-free garden and if you live in the town and have no parking at all then that doesn’t get marked (nor does it lose you marks) but because I have ample free parking it’s marked down because it’s not kept in a pristine condition!!

Also, I provide a huge selection of quality teas and coffee and the inspector even commented that it was the only place that they’d been offered their favourite Chai Tea. It’s all from Taylors of Harrogate, Clipper, Twinings or a similar quality renowned company but the examiner went to their car to bring me a sample of a tea that they thought I should be serving because it’s promoted as “Scottish Breakfast Tea”.  I checked the company’s website.  It’s imported and packaged in Scotland…nothing special!

Twinings, Clipper and Taylors of Harrogate Tea for B&B guests

So to sum up …

Basically, if you’re OK with too many mirrors and towels and a huge range of quality teas and coffees from the UK but not necessarily packaged in Scotland, it you don’t mind looking at facebook/twitter/Pinterest/Instagram and the website for your ‘fix’ of additional photos, aren’t bothered about neon lights in your wardrobe, can sensibly open a door without hitting a table, don’t mind if the bedside table and the table that the tea tray sit on don’t match, don’t mind unplugging one of your chargers when you want to dry your hair and normally close the bathroom door to when you go for a pee then Balkissock Lodge is perfect for you!!

Afternoon tea on the lawn

Alternatively, I could spend all day doing the gardening so that the garden, driveway and car park are pristine and not cook home baked biscuits for the guests and not make evening meals and home made preserves, and not bake any bread …..!

home baked wholemeal bread

To top it all, because I would not let VS add the 3* rating to their website as I believe that it would put people off visiting, they would not display my lovely “Taste our Best” Award … now that’s just spiteful!

Visit Scotland Taste our Best Award for the B&B, Ayrshire

I spoke to 24 accommodation providers, most in Scotland and some in England, and asked them about their respective grading systems. All but five had abandoned the rating systems because they felt that it did not properly reflect the needs of the modern visitor and they did not see that paying a yearly fee was a good investment for their business.  Of the five still with the grading systems, four didn’t like them but thought it brought additional business and only one was happy with their grading!

“A lot of us in England have left the star rating scheme and seem no ill effect but then visit England website never sent us any business so we weren’t relying on that” private conversation with someone who ran a 5* Gold B&B.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that I’ll not be renewing my grading next year … or ever!!

As an aside: I do also wonder about the business acumen of an inspector that refers to the money paid for the night’s B&B as “pure profit” just because it was paid in cash.  I’m guessing that I don’t need to pay for the water purity tests, the business insurance, advertising, maintenance, the food, electricity, laundry etc. etc. etc. out of this money then?

 

Visit Scotland have not yet responded to either my letter of complaint or to the comments that I added to their on-line questionnaire despite asking if I wanted someone to contact me so I’m unable to give you information from there as yet.

Bitter? Yes, actually I am a little. I know that overall Balkissock Lodge B&B scored 172/200 points which put it firmly in the 4* bracket and that there will be businesses out there that have been awarded a 4* grading with far fewer points which seems dreadfully unfair.

I know from guests comments, from online reviews and from kind comments on Trip Advisor that my guests value the warmth and hospitality and great food and I that no one has ever complained that the Arran room is too small.

Now, I do feel better getting that lot off my chest ;0)

Ayrshire B&B

Thank you for reading,

Copyright © 2016 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Balkissock Lodge

 

Well if that hasn’t put you off …

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Howard at Glen Trool, Galloway Forest

Having spent many years fixing cookers it was a great achievement for Howard to step up to the front of the appliance and actually use it for a living instead!!

We divide the work as best we can with Howard cooking breakfasts and myself the evening meals.  I have to say that he does a mean cooked breakfast as countless guests have testified to.

There have also been a couple of occasions where I’ve been unavailable to do the evening meals so Howard has been called upon to deputise and has coped admirably.

The story begins one windy afternoon.  I’m working away from home, we have three couples booked in, one of which has booked an evening meal.

No problems so far.  Beloved begins preparing the evening meal and, as is always the case, the next set of guests whom we’ll call the “Browns” (not their real names) arrive and need to be registered and settled in.  Still no problem; he’s a dab hand at this by now.

Sometime later with the meal well on its way the Browns say their goodbyes as they’re off to the local pub for a meal … only to return a few minutes later.  Now if you recall it was a windy afternoon.  Well, it turned into a very wet and very windy evening…

Archive Storm Picture: Ballantrae Beach May 2011

Archive Storm Picture: Ballantrae Beach May 2011

Archive Storm Picture: Ballantrae Beach May 2011

… windy enough to bring down a tree completely blocking the road to the house and the whole of Balkissock was now cut off from civilisation and the local pub.

What’s worse, they expect Howard to stop cooking and go out there with his chainsaw and remove the tree so they can get out!  There’s customer service and there’s customer service and Howard outside in an apron with a wooden spoon in one hand and a chainsaw in the other would have been a sight to behold.

Having reassured them that he’ll make a few phone calls they then decide to stay in and eat.  Now this is where things in the kitchen really hot up.  With one meal on its way and another one being prepared, there was Howard cooking with a telephone tucked firmly under his chin …  multi-tasking or what?

Leaning trees near to the house

We hadn’t lived in the area long and tracking down who owned the offending tree and hence the person responsible for its removal, was the first task.  That done, Howard contacted the owner who was apologetic and promised to take a chainsaw to it straight away.

Now you’ll see why I gave the guests a fictitious name … on hearing that the tree was to be promptly removed they decided to go out to the pub after all leaving Howard with a half cooked meal and not so much as a “thank you” …  I still say we should have charged them for the full cost of the meal!  Grrr!!

Copyright © 2011 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

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You may have read my recent post The “Mechanics” Hour which ended “To be continued….” well, read on for the continuum …

Fast forward one full week, two more guests (from Yorkshire this time) and one more motorbike.  A lovely day, damp evening and…yip…the bike refused to start in the morning!

Keyfob for Motorbike

“I don’t believe it, are you doing something to these things at night?” asked our neighbour incredulously.

The mechanic duly arrived, much more quickly than the last and with only one phone call for directions.  He declared the bike “fit” and after much deliberation between the three men decided the problem was with the immobiliser.   It wasn’t in his remit to fix immobilisers so didn’t have the correct sized battery but he did offer to give our guests a lift to the nearest town as it was on his way back to base.

Our guests  returned a couple of hours later, having scoured the small town but failing to find the correct sized battery – they’re really odd shaped dinky little things – the batteries that is, not the guests!

Howard at Glen Trool, Galloway Forest

Whilst we ladies chatted over a cuppa, warming the old battery in an attempt to breathe life into it, the chaps hunted through boxes of junk on the off-chance of finding something useful amongst our cumulative collection of old electrical equipment and spare parts.

Neither tactic was successful.

Eventually, Mr Fix-it, aka my beloved, came up trumps again.   Getting out his soldering iron (he never misses an opportunity to whip out a gadget) he jerry-rigged a 6V battery and soldered it directly onto the connections inside of the immobiliser itself.

With the words “s**t or bust” being muttered by the male contingent, the motorbike was approached and zapped.

Low and behold, it worked!

Now, if  you’ve never seen a 15 stone, leather clad Yorkshireman bear hug a fellow compatriot I can tell you, it’s a sight to behold!

With the motorbike running and profuse thanks, our guests declared themselves founder members of the Easingwold Branch of the Howard Galley Fan Club and drove off into the sunset.

Copyright © 2011 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

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Out of focus lonely earring

Today I’m sad ….

I was brushing my teeth last night when I glanced in the bathroom mirror and I noticed only one earring.

“How long have I been wearing one earring?” I enquired of my beloved.

“No idea, I hadn’t noticed” he replied.  Oh how the love fades 😉

How could you possibly be sad over an earring I hear you say.  You are thinking that, now be honest!

It’s not just any old earring … it’s one I’ve worn almost every day for the past 25 years … a pair of pretty Celtic knots that were bought in Stirling on a visit to an old school friend who went to University in that beautiful city.  I remember buying them like it were yesterday.  It’s been on holiday with me, on dates with me, on honeymoon with me, features in treasured photos of me with my wonderful children … and grandson … you get the picture!!

Me with my grandson aged 4 weeks

25 years? Yes, I hear you say [again? I must be cracking up!], it’s about time I bought a new pair.  I have more earrings; some beautiful ones costing 10 times the price that come out for special occasions … but you know … I feel naked without these ones.

I’ll have a good hunt around the house and scour the grounds at work and I just know that I’ll keep its forlorn partner pictured above for about another 6 years and eventually discard it precisely 3 days before it turns up in the sock drawer or an equally obscure place…!

Copyright © 2011 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

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Afternoon Tea in the Conservatory

It turned out to be a foul summer’s day.  The rain, although admittedly warm, came down like stair rods all morning.  The guests, whom we were expecting in the evening, arrived a little after lunch.  They had given up on sightseeing and decided warmth and comfort were a better option.  This is even more understandable when you consider that they lived in beautiful, sunny Barcelona and arrived on a motorbike!  With leathers hung up in the laundry room to dry, guests showered and changed and the offer of putting the bike in the garage declined, our guests made themselves comfortable in the conservatory with a cup of tea, scones and biscuits and a book each to read.

And wonderful guests they were.  They were touring the country, as they had done for a number of years and their English put our three words of Spanish to shame.  They were pleased when I presented them with a Spanish feast for their evening meal and we all chatted by the fire long into the evening.

The Log Fire

A full Scottish breakfast was requested and, with the sun beginning to break through, on their bike they jumped.  And that’s where everything stops, literally, for a while at least.  The motorbike refused to start.

As his lordship knows as much about motorbikes as I do we called a recovery service!

“He’s on a job at the moment Mrs Galley”, said the operator when they phoned back an hour later “but will be with you in an hour”.

You have to remember that these are “mechanics’ hours” which are quite unlike any measurement of time that you or I are used to.  As time went by the guests progressed from the conservatory, to sunbathing on the lawn, to seeking shade from the mid-day sun.  The recovery service did eventually arrive, having phoned twice for directions despite being confident that he knew the area … three and a half hours later!

No, the saga doesn’t end there … after two hours of blowing pipes (whatever that is?) and lengthy calls to the bike manufacturer, the bike was officially declared ‘sick’ and needed to be taken to the nearest main dealer – 90 miles away and “no, it won’t fit into this van, I’ll have to call for a recovery vehicle which will take about an hour”.

Yes, a mechanics’ hour once again! By then, the sun had vanished behind the storm clouds and thunder was rattling around the hills above Balkissock.

Knockdolian Hill

The guests had retreated to the shelter of the summer house to continue reading their books and I was preparing the tea when the recovery vehicle arrived.  Not a good advert for our automobile recovery services!

As I said earlier, lovelier guests we couldn’t have asked for, they remained upbeat throughout “it’s only one day, we’re fine” their parting words following profuse thanks for the extended hospitality.

To be continued ….

Copyright © 2011 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

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I’ve been learning to teach for almost 20 years now … I say “learning” because every day brings new challenges and just when you think that you’ve conquered this whole teaching malarkey someone or something throws a spanner in the works and you’re back to the drawing board.

Now normally it’s the Government … but I’ll save that rant for another post!!

I’m currently teaching out of my comfort zone … having trained in Design Technology I’ve taught Product Design, Electronics and Engineering for 15 years but have been doing long-term supply, teaching Home Economics in my current school.  The children are quite surprised to learn that I have a welding certificate!!

This particular spanner was completely of my own doing … I thought that all eventualities had been covered: bowls, sieves, wooden spoons etc. lay in nice neat piles for collection by the pupils.  All the ingredients that I required for the demonstration were strategically placed on the centre table and the whiteboard displayed a carefully crafted recipe:

  • 50g margarine
  • 2 x 15ml spoon (tablespoon) of icing sugar
  • 50g plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1 x 15ml spoon custard powder

…complete with learning intentions and success criteria and a beautiful picture of what the end product was going to look like:

My Delicious Empire Biscuits

Things were going as well as could be expected … the children had creamed the fat and sugar and were waiting expectantly for me to impart a few words of wisdom.  Gathered around the centre table, they’re hanging onto every word and I picked up what I thought was the dish with the specified quantity of plain flour and sieved it into my mixture.  Picking up the other dish to add 1 x 15ml spoon of custard powder … I realised that I’d mixed the two up!!

To be fair, at this point I could have bluffed my way through … they didn’t know what was in the dishes!!  My old Head Teacher always used to say, “Cordelia, you’re too honest for your own good!” … I was never really too sure if it was a compliment or not … but I’ve always maintained that, “honesty’s the best policy” and if you expect it from children then you have to lead by example…!

“That’s what happens when you talk and work at the same time, but of course you’re not going to make that mistake because you’re not going to be chatting!!” I said emphatically as they giggled.  Then, taking heed of the poster on the wall:

Picture courtesy of the internet

…I completed rolling and cutting then put the biscuits into the oven (150 °C / Gas Mark 4 for 15 mins) and the pupils completed their recipes using the correct ingredients!!

You’re wondering what they tasted like now aren’t you? Delicious (if I do say so myself) … I also appear to have inadvertently discovered Millie’s Cookies secret recipe for gooey white chocolate cookies 🙂

Copyright © 2011 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Balkissock Lodge

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