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Christmas Present #2

Another chance to win in the second of our festive giveaways ….

Would you like to stay for two nights B&B at Balkissock Lodge in 2018 completely free?

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Christmas present

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There are two easy ways to enter:

  1. Head over to Facebook, find and like the post “Christmas Present #2” then either tag the person you’d like to share the prize with or share the post with your friends so they can enter too.
  2. Email me and ask to be added to the new monthly e-newsletter (first edition will be Jan 2018) which will include news and information about promo codes exclusively for guests who book direct.

You could of course do both and double your chances of winning!!

T&Cs:

Entries will only be accepted via the two options outlined above.

The prize is two consecutive nights B&B for two people (sharing a double room) OR two consecutive nights for one person only.

No cash alternative is offered.

I’m happy for you to gift your prize however to avoid fraudulent claims the winner MUST book the accommodation.

Closing date for entries: 8pm on Friday 15th December 2017.

Name drawn from a ‘hat’: 9pm on Friday 15th December 2017.

Prize winner(s) must book before the 31st December 2017 and stay before 31st May 2018 (subject to availability).

Once booked, dates cannot be changed.

Additional nights can be added to the stay at the specified nightly rate (subject to availability).

Evening meals can be added at the specified rate.

This competition is not endorsed by WordPress, Facebook, Twitter nor anywhere else you may see this competition advertised.

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GOOD LUCK!!

Cordelia @ BalkissocklodgeB&B

 

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I’ve decided to go public about our on-going internet issues. Those of you who have stayed this year know the difficulties we’re experiencing and until tonight, everyone has been so understanding realising that it’s completely outwith our control.

Tonight … well tonight was a different story. The internet dropped out completely so there wasn’t a thing we could do about it but one set of guests complained so bitterly that I ended up phoning a local hotel and moving them there!

Well, if you’ve got a spare 10 minutes then please read on (go on, make a cuppa and put your feet up and share our utter frustration). If you’d like to help us …. please share far and wide … we cannot be the only ones going around in circles and I’d like to find some kindred spirits:

 

Dear Mr (name/position withheld for this post),

 

I’d hoped that after all of this time, I wouldn’t need to bother you again with our internet/phone issues but we find ourselves back to square one … no, actually, we are worse off than that!

 

As you know, when we first contacted you and you were kind enough to help us, our internet was running at between 0.2mbps-0.8mbps (when it was working) and we were suffering from ring trip. BT had told us not to contact them again because they were fed up with us complaining that the internet kept dropping out telling us that there was nothing wrong with the line!

 

Let me briefly explain what has happened in the intervening months: mostly because everything over the past few months has just blurred into one huge communications nightmare that is affecting our health and our small businesses both financially and on the practical day-to-day running of them both more than I’d like to attempt to make it brief!

 

Your guys from Open Reach have been here so many times that the dog doesn’t even bother to bark at them anymore. They’ve tweaked and fiddled and done what they’ve been told to do from whomever they answer to. They’ve found a number of faults with the line between our house and the exchange that have subsequently been repaired. There have been experts here from ‘down south’ (can’t remember where) fault finding at the exchange in Ballantrae as that’s where they believed the fault was.

 

Despite this, no one could sort the ring trip issue out so they divided our service with the phone being on one dedicated line and the internet on another. At the time we were led to believe that this would remain in place as a viable solution. It was a huge improvement in terms of ring trip (as it didn’t happen any more!) although the internet was still running very slow (generally under 1mbps) and still dropped out several times a day which your guy Jim in Leeds (or is he BT’s guy?) said was ‘acceptable’ to him … but then again, he doesn’t have to live with it!!! They did continue to fiddle and tweek and we did reach the heady heights of 1.8mbps on several occasions but it was short-lived. Foolish thoughts of uploading more than one photo to facebook at a time and updating an app on my phone in under half an hour were cruelly dashed.

 

Your guys were then given orders to put our service both back onto one line (as the fault had been fixed apparently) and low and behold, not surprisingly, everything has gone ape shit again! (Excuse the language but I can’t think of a better description!)

 

Jim in Leeds, who clearly has never been self employed and never had to rely upon communication in order to generate income, decreed that it was the 1470 service that was at fault. His solution was to increase the length of time the phone rings to 25 rings before the answering service activates which would stop the fault. I pointed out to him that no one …. ABSOLUTELTY NO ONE … will hang on the phone for 25 rings let alone leave a message after all that time but he went ahead and did it anyway. Feeling proud of himself, he phoned back a couple of days later saying he could get it down to 50s or possibly even 40s … he wasn’t given to most welcome of responses to this news! Most businesses, as you know, have a three-ring policy and from a survey I did on FB/Twitter, without exception, everyone who replied said that they’d put the phone down after 4-6 rings! His only solution was for us to buy an answerphone that we were forced to do because God only knows how much business we had lost in the intervening few days and would have continued to lose had we not.

 

He also suggests that it’s the distance from the exchange to the house, quoting resistance figures, that is to blame. Well excuse me for saying but to the best of my knowledge the exchange in Ballantrae has not been moved in the past year and the house has not moved in almost 200 years so I’m at a loss to understand his reasoning for this. The internet worked at about 1.8mbs for a number of years; we could certainly watch iplayer until last year and did not suffer ring trip until this year and I can no longer facetime my grandson and mother which saddens me greatly. I’ve moaned to many, many people about our internet woes this year and you wouldn’t believe how many people are experiencing similar issues. One lady last week who lives about five miles away said that her problems also started early this year and both she and her husband work from home but their service is currently so bad that she often has to drive to her office just to use the internet!

 

Jim also suggested that we had too many devices connected to the wifi (two phones, a router, Sky box, a printer and a computer … not excessive in this day and age) which was why the internet was so slow! So basically what he’s now telling me is that the internet works just so long as we don’t need to actually use it!!! He even had the audacity to suggest that it was our fault for living here and what did we expect?! Well, we expected to at least have the same level of service that we had when we moved in and (as it turns out) stupidly expected that the service would improve over time especially given the multi-billions of pounds the UK and Scottish Parliaments have given to communications companies to develop better coverage.

 

To complicate matters, our phone line was dug up by a tractor (so we were told) about six weeks ago leaving us without phone or internet for several days and the ‘temporary’ repair is still sitting above ground in a passing place on the bend of a narrow road about three miles from the house so with the dark evenings upon us it’s probably only a matter of time before it’s destroyed again despite the orange cone.

 

I’m also about to remove the ‘free wifi’ feature from the B&B business advertising because it’s now so slow and completely unreliable that guests were complaining and as any B&B business is only ever one bad review away from being completely destroyed I’m considering re-branding … how does ‘turn your clock back 40 years and relax!’ sound? It certainly reflects the infrastructure that Jim seems is ‘acceptable’ but will hardly attract modern travellers who, according to Visit Scotland, today travel with an average of THREE wifi enabled devices each!! We’ve even installed USB chargers in our rooms to assist guests. Reputation and excellent reviews are of paramount importance in our industry. Free wifi is the top feature people look for when booking a B&B these days behind cost/location and ahead of free parking according to the Visit Scotland assessor who visited this summer. The internet has failed twice this summer whilst I’ve been in the middle of taking card payments; not only is it inconvenient, it’s stressful it’s embarrassing and completely unprofessional and I can only say that it’s only thanks to some extremely pleasant and understanding guests who waited patiently until the whole process could be gone through again that I’ve managed so far. Every time the internet system drops out I am disconnected to whichever secure site I’m using (internet banking, B&B booking systems, Booking .com, Visit Scotland intranet, etc) which means that not only do I have to go through the often lengthy process of securely logging on again but I then have to waste more time finding out whether payments/processing etc were processed or not before the connection was broken.

 

My husband, who has had the patience of a Saint throughout this process, is losing out on business too. Over half of his work comes via Facebook and it’s a sorry state of affairs when people are waiting for replies but he hasn’t even received their messages because they won’t load! The rest of his work comes via phone. People leave messages when he’s out of the house which he used to be able to pick up via the 1570 service and respond to them fairly promptly and could sometimes get to people the same day which was particularly important to some elderly customers who do not have family in the area to help them.

 

It’s not like we can even rely upon accessing the internet on iphones/ipads/devices as there is absolutely no phone coverage at all in this area for any of the service providers. I have to walk out into the middle of the farmer’s field to send a text! I realise that is not your fault but I mention it to give some sense of the situation as a whole.

 

Do you actually realise how many lives and businesses are being affected by this woefully poor service and how much stress you are inflicting upon people in our situation? I challenge you and anyone else sitting in an office somewhere in your organisation to come here and attempt to go about their work under these conditions!

 

I also wonder how much money is being squandered in the vain attempt to stabilise a system that quite clearly is not fit for purpose and unable to cope with the demands of modern-day communications when what seems to be needed is that the physical connections themselves need to be replaced by something that were at least manufactured in the 21st Century!

 

So now, in summary, not only are we out of pocket for the cost of an answerphone, we no longer have access to the 1570 service which allowed us to access messages when we were out of the house (which was our primary reason for paying for the service), we are also back to square one with the ring trip issue and we are losing business opportunities.

 

Low and behold the phone has rung twice this morning (Thursday 14th Sept) whilst I’ve been writing this email on the computer and twice the internet has dropped out! You couldn’t script it! EDIT: As we were awaiting replies from the emails that Howard sent to Jim and yourself I didn’t send this email straight away … it’s now Sunday evening (17th Sept.) and I’ve had a huge problem with a set of guests who were complaining so bitterly about the internet which was not working sufficiently well for them to even get logged on that in the end I telephoned a local hotel and found them alternative accommodation. No income for me today and as I’ve already bought food for breakfast I’m actually out of pocket. No doubt, given how disgruntled they were by the time they left a dreadful review is indeed in the offing now … thanks for that!!!

 

To say we are fed up would be a gross understatement. I’m not even sure if I know sufficient colourful words to describe the frustration, anger and stress this is causing us and believe me I know quite a few! Enough is enough! We cannot carry on like this. The situation is damaging our health. The situation is damaging our businsses. To this end, I’ll be sending copies of this email (or hard copies if more appropriate) to absolutely every single person I can think of in the vain hope that someone may be in a position to help. BT and OpenReach have already missed Phase 1 of the government’s big plans and I’m not waiting until 2020 for them to miss the rest. Something must be done … not just for us but for countless thousands of others in similar positions.

 

  • “to provide superfast broadband coverage to 90% of UK premises by early 2016 and access to basic broadband (2Mbps) for all from December 2015 – “Phase 1” 
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  • “Ofcom currently states that a connected speed of at least 10Mbps is necessary to deliver an “acceptable user experience” of broadband – this is based on a typical household’s uses, including basic web browsing, video calling, catch up TV and film streaming in HD. “

House of Commons

Briefing Paper No CBP06643, 9th March 2017

 

I’ll also be sharing the contents of this communication as far and as wide as I can on social media: we’re not the only ones suffering and going around in circles and it would be nice to find out just how we fare in comparison to others throughout the nation.

 

Regards,

 

 

Are you still reading … thank you ever so much … I hope your cuppa was nice :0)

Cordelia

So what was it? Put your clock back 40 years and relax!! I’m only taking bookings until the end of October as I need to do some maintenance work this winter.

 

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… or 

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:

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  • 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 …

Check availability and book direct with the owner here!!!

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Work has been particularly time consuming and I’ve not found time to keep up with my virtual life which got me on thinking about what else I’m missing … so sitting here relaxing during my Easter break in no particular order:

Cooking and baking….

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(Both ready for friends and neighbours who are coming over for afternoon tea!)

Watching the wildlife…

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Spending more time with family…

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(Grandson’s self portrait using my ipad)

I’m not complaining really. There are so many people out of work and struggling these days. I really hope that there’s an end to this recession soon …. for everyone’s sake.

Hope you all had a good Easter and hope to catch up with some of you soon!

Book your Scottish break direct with the owner

Cordelia 2013

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It’s been some time since I last posted … and for a good reason … my real life has over taken my virtual life (how dare it!).

I’ve barely used facebook or uploaded a picture to blipfoto and I miss all my virtual friends that I used to tweet to on a daily basis.

But my New Year’s Resolution is to remedy that … I love my new job which is consuming so much of my time but armed with my new ipad and internet access I hope to restore my work/life balance.

Happy New Year to you all and thank you so much for all the wonderful comments over the past 18 months … I hope 2013 is good to you all.

Click here to check B&B availability, view special offers and promo codes and to book online.

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This has to be the most photographed squirrel in the country …

 

I must have taken a thousand this year alone!!

There’s a few more here and here if you want to see this cheeky guy some more.

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Copyright © 2012 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Check availability and book direct with the owner here

 

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Neither of us had been to Shropshire so that seemed as good a place as any for our summer holiday this year. We’ve met lots of lovely fellow accommodation providers on Twitter and Facebook and decided to go to The Hop Barn and received a wonderful welcome from owner, Birgit.

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The weather, sadly, was completely pants!! We did go to a few National Trust properties in the area and have to say that they were somewhat disappointing but the villages and towns were absolutely beautiful:

Ludlow town centre

It was lovely also to take a look at The Iron Bridge:

The Iron Bridge at Ironbridge

… and the Bewdley Museum which was completely free and had a great little cafe in it:

The highlight for us both however was The International Centre for Birds of Prey.

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It even stopped raining long enough to see the birds fly!!

We even managed to find time to meet up with another Twitter and Facebook friend Karen from Hopton House whose marmalade recipe I use and our guests just love it!

Beloved made friends with the dog at the Sun and Slipper which serves fantastic food:

The Hop Barn is lovely and well worth considering if you’re looking for a “cottage” in the country and we’ll definitely be going back.

Ludlow is absolutely fantastic and I could have spent a fortune here:

 

Sadly we don’t have a centre such as this but we regularly see buzzards circling the area and owls can be seen and heard at night and red kites can be viewed at Bellymack Hill Farm about and hour or so away in Dumfries and Galloway

Copyright © 2012 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

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