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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 thought that I’d share a photo of a wonderful sunset..the sunlit fields with a storm brewing just over the hill.


Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge (c) 2017

All rights reserved

If you want to see more of the view, why not book yourself a short break?

 

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The first in this summer’s “suggested day trips”

Belfast, Northern Ireland (part 1)

Ferry tickets vary in prices throughout the year and in general, it’s cheaper to book in advance. TIP: I booked on St Patrick’s Day and got my ticket for £5 pp. Look out for special deals in newspapers too. They will email you reservation details and a booking number. There is no need to print this off as long as you can quote the number when you check in but beware that phone signals at both ferry ports seemed intermittent and emails are generally stored in the cloud! You may also be asked for ID so take a passport or your photo driving licence.

Stena Line operate six sailings per day to Belfast on the Superfast VII and the Superfast VIII. The sailings that I use are either the 7.30am or the 10.30am sailing. As a foot passenger you need to be at the terminal a minimum of 30 minutes prior to sailing which means leaving Balkissock by either 6.30am or 9.30am respectively.

An 8am breakfast will give you plenty of time to make the later sailing but, not surprisingly, I’m not up to cook breakfast at 5am for the earlier sailing. If pre-arranged, I will provide a lighter breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast, tea or coffee at 6am or email me for a bespoke package.

The sailings are approx. 2hrs 15 mins and there’s lots to do on-board to keep you occupied including a small cinema which normally screens a children’s film, a shop, games machines, several eating outlets, outdoor area (for smokers) and loads of sofas and comfy chairs to sit and chill and relax.

Jump on a bus at Belfast port and for £2.00pp you’ll be in the city centre in approx. 15 mins. TIP: don’t forget to ask the driver where to catch the bus to return to the port later in the day! You can also get a return ticket at a slightly reduced price.

What can I do in Belfast?

Tip: if it’s your first visit I’d suggest visiting the Visit Northern Ireland Tourist Office opposite the City Hall just around the corner from the bus drop-off point. It’s a treasure trove of leaflets and souvenirs.

A guided tour of Belfast on the open top bus:

There are two different tour operators and my daughter, her partner and myself used the “City Sightseeing Hop On – Hop Off” bus. The cost was £12.50 (adult), £10.50 (concession), £6.00 (child) £31.00 (family: 2 adults & up to 3 children).

The lady doing the commentary was very witty and it was an enjoyable 90 minute bus ride. You can jump off at any of the stops to look around or visit the attractions and then catch a later bus to continue the tour.

Belfast

Stops on the tour included the Titanic Exhibition and the Parliament buildings (TIP: be careful of timings if getting off at the Parliament buildings as busses are not allowed into the grounds after 3.30pm). 

Titanic Exhibition Belfast

The tour included information about the troubled recent history of Northern Ireland, of division and renewal and the bus drove past the Peace Wall and through the areas of the city that saw the worst of the Troubles.

Belfast mural

 

Belfast City Hall:

Free entry.

View the beautiful stained glass windows depicting events in Belfast’s history and it’s links around the world.

Stained glass window

Guided tours are available although we couldn’t get booked on to one the day we visited.

Belfast City Hall

TIP: If you’re going to do a blog … get a much better photo of the outside of the building!!

Belfast City Hall

The return journey:

I generally get either the 3.30pm or the 7.30pm ferry to return to Cairnryan. The latter arrives at 9.45pm and taking into account disembarking and driving, I’m back home about 10.30pm.

Please note that there is a very long walk from check-in, along the gangways and onto the ferry. I would imagine that Stenaline have someone to assist you if you’re infirm or use a wheelchair but I didn’t think to check.

Cars can be left in the Stena Line car park at a cost of £5.00 per day. TIP: pay for your parking on-board on the return journey to save you waiting in queues at the terminal.

I’m planning on visiting Belfast again later in August with my grandson and we’ll take the other bus tour which will take us to Belfast Zoo and we’re planning on visiting the Titanic Exhibition too.

My husband is heading there with friends in September and I suspect that Game of Thrones will be on the agenda!

So … watch out for Belfast the sequel!!

All prices were correct April 2017.

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge B&B (c)

All rights reserved.

The Irish Sea ferry ports are only a 25 minute drive from Balkissock Lodge B&B

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I’ve been a committee member of the Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association for some time now and I was delighted to hear that our AGM this year was to be at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ayr.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Our Chair Person has stepped down from the role and I was thrilled and delighted to be nominated and accepted as the new Chair Person for the group.

Ayrshire B&B Association

We are a group of 50 B&Bs located across Ayrshire and Arran that work collaboratively to promote the area. If you’re visiting, why not take a look at our website here and if you own a B&B in the area and would like to join please contact me for details. We enjoy our meetings at a variety of attractions throughout the region and we have always been highly appreciative of the hospitality shown to us. We recently had a wonderful afternoon tea at Glenapp Castle and are looking forward to what 2017 can bring!

 

Ayrshire B&B at Glenapp Castle

Guest speakers at our AGM included Craig Stewart owner of Freetobook, the online booking system that I, and many in the B&B industry use. His input regarding finance was generally agreed to be invaluable.

AB&BA also produce a Restaurant brochure that lists a variety of places to dine throughout the region. Addition to the brochure is limited and all eateries are personally recommended by AB&BA members and their guests.

Why not make your next holiday destination the beautiful rural South West of Scotland?

Cordelia

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My elderly mother is staying with us for a while and today I took her to visit Logan Botanic Gardens.

At 80 years of age, she’s a little unsteady on her feet and uses a walking stick so I was surprised at how well she was able to get around the gardens. This was accomplished by the hard work of the staff who have really made an effort at levelling paths and making gradients and steps as easy to navigate as possible.

Fern at Logan Garden

It’s rather too early in the year for the huge flower displays that garden attractions are famed for but there was still loads to see from succulents in the hot house to bud bursting huge azaleas and rhododenderons in the walled garden.

Succulents at Logan

The one hundred year old magnolia tree in full bloom was worth the £6.95 entrance fee alone!

Magnolia tree

 

Logan Botanic Garden

The weather was kind, the scones in the cafe were absolutely delicious and I spent way too much on seeds in the shop again too!!

Logan is part of the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens and contains many southern hemisphere exotics that grow well in it’s microclimate in the South Rhinns of Galloway, near Ardwell, a 50 minute drive away from Balkissock Lodge B&B.

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge 2016 (c)

Take in a visit to these and other gardens when you stay in SWScotland

 

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The weather has been great this week for the end of September and it’s been ideal to get out and about.

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One place to visit is the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, on the south side of Ayr which has been in the top 10 of places to visit for our guests.

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In addition to the museum that provides the story of Robert’s life, it houses a lovely café and a gift shop with all sorts of Scottish fayre to take home as souvenirs.

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Across the large car park is a beautiful walkway with sculptures taking you to the old house which takes about 10-15 minues to saunter to.  Don’t forget to have your photo taken next to the “wee” mouse!!

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There is also parking at the house if you prefer not to walk.

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A short walk in the opposite direction from the museum will take you to the park which houses the Burns monument and the another photo opportunity is to stand on the Brig o’ Doon itself.

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Whilst there, why not treat yourself to a beautiful meal at the Brig ‘O Doon hotel?

The Burns Museum is owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland. If you’re not a member it costs £9 per person entry but I have some vouchers which will get you a discounted entry of £6 per person.

The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is just under an hour away by car at Alloway on the south side of Ayr.

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge 2015 (c)

 

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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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