Choosing a Hotel
Having used these travel tips for packing our cases, I felt confident that we would be well prepared for our Northcoast500 adventure. I hadn’t realised, though, how challenging choosing a hotel, a guest house or a B and B could be. If only we had rDuring our Northcoast500 adventure we’ve experienced the ‘same same, but different’ features of the guesthouses we’ve stayed in. From luxurious window seat views in Myrtle Bank at Fort William; to characterful local warmth and hospitality offered at The old Manse in Lochcarron; to the efficiency of the tartan carpeted Corriness House at PoolEwe, by Loch Ewe; to the spaciousness and comfort in The Old Surgery in Ullapool; to the magnificence of the scrumptious breakfast and stunning scenery at Aiden House in Durness; all the places we’ve stayed in have been good. Some have been excellent, going the extra mile to ensure we’ve had a very enjoyable stay. Drawing on our experiences of this holiday here is my checklist of what a good guesthouse should have. It is important to me that we find great places for all the family. Whatever the age of kids, it still feels important to be a great mum to them. Talking of which, check out this post here from the Human in Training Blog.
Tips for Choosing a Guesthouse
Great Guesthouse Checklist
- A Breathtaking View. Of course this isn’t possible all of the time, but for me it is important. The views should definitely be as advertised on booking websites, or tripadvisor and equivalent sites. What I felt was very fair when we stayed at MyrtleBank Bank guesthouse in Fortwilliam was how when allocating two rooms to a family they ensured that at least one room had a superb outlook. It meant we could all enjoy the superior room as we chilled out and played the obligatory card games, and then Mick and I could continue to enjoy the view late into the evening (it never seems to get dark in Scotland) once the girls had headed off to their own space to watch the view on the horizon of ‘Love Island’ at 9.00 pm. (A note to self to not make any snide or judgemental comments about the 5 minute celebs’ willingness to be exploited or objectified.)
- Sumptuous towels. From an environmental perspective this is slightly problematic when staying somewhere only one night. When choosing a guesthouse we obviously want clean and fresh towels so the hotel option of not refreshing towels every day doesn’t really apply. It was pleasing to see at Aiden House the clean towels drying in the wind (like a picture postcard), rather than the tumble dryer being used. I think for one night visits guesthouses shouldn’t feel that they have to put multiple towels in guest’s rooms. Two bath towels and one hand towel is quite adequate and keeps the washing down (I’m thinking environment). If they feel this might offend, a note explaining that more available on request would suffice.
- Multiple Electric Sockets. ‘These days’ wall sockets can also contain USB charger ports. I think this would be a great addition to modern hotel provision.
- Great, Generous Breakfasts. All the guesthouses we stayed in offered excellent full Scottish breakfasts. The one I had at Aiden House was exceptionally good, and the lighter alternative of smoked mackerel was delicious at The Old Surgery in Ullapool. The guesthouses that made the effort to offer actual ‘vegetarian alternatives’ e.g. homemade haggis substitutes or vegetarian sausages, won us over. Thank you Aiden House and The Old Manse! To avoid waste I’d actually ask guests if they want serving a large, medium or small breakfast.
Eco-Friendly Approach. At The Old Manse we loved the provision of every breakfast jam under the sun in their original sized jars from which we could help ourselves. This was waste free and far preferable to peeling open small packets of butter, jam and marmalade, for the waste to end up in landfills. In the same vein the refillable shampoo and conditioner receptacles were welcomed at Aiden House and are less likely to be taken as a ‘souvenir’ too I imagine!
- Powerful and Eco friendly showers. Showers that were easy to use, spotlessly clean and of a good temperature are essential in all guesthouses. A handy sized shelf inside the shower cubicle for reaching the shampoo and conditioner is also welcomed, rather than having to bend down to the floor -especially when you’re getting on a bit!
- Perfect Pillows. My family is a bit peculiar in that we are very fussy about pillows, but no one likes old or hard pillows on holiday. Saint Mick of Thana can be missing in action for hours in Debenhams in pursuit of a really good pillow, that ideally (though we’ve yet to really find), is not duck-down based. The pillows at Myrtle Bank had that ‘hotel plush feel’ and made us feel like we were staying in a luxury residence. This was a real bonus of the B and B.
- Proper Kettles and decent sized mugs. I hate travel kettles with flexes that are too small and don’t reach the sockets, making teeny drinks for teeny teacups. After all the ‘full Scottish’ breakfasts I’m not a teeny person.
- No Eiderdowns. Please dump them. It would be unreasonable that they are washed after every use, but, for me, it is off putting to think that they have wrapped other chilly torsos.
- A Warm Welcome but not too Warm! I can imagine that Guesthouse owners and staff have to be perceptive and discerning to figure out the level of attention and conversation that guests require. We’re on the ‘leave us alone’ end of the spectrum, but do like a warm hello and a friendly smile during breakfast. It is a little bit awkward sitting in what is essentially someone’s front room so surliness should not be on the menu. A willingness to share local tips of good places to visit and eat is helpful. For example, we had a lovely evening walk along the river in Poolewe, following a recommendation at Corriness House. We don’t hold it against them at all that we ended up being chased by sheep!
- Well Maintained Gardens and Drives. Perhaps I need to adjust more to staying in to what essentially is an extension of someone’s house, but even so, I think it is important to keep gardens tidy, drives cleared of junk, and kitchens and laundry rooms reasonably tidy to the nosey eye!
- Powerful Wi-Fi. The Highlands are remote so often there is no wi-fi connection when travelling between places. I’d like to say that this is a problem for the kids, but it is me who has the most withdrawal symptoms. It has been important though that I can keep in touch with home (nothing to do with my social media addiction!), so good wi-fi connection in guesthouses is essential. Call me picky, but either easy passwords, or no password rquired at all to access wi-fi is far preferable to a chain of numbers and letters that are written on a sign in a tiny font that are too small for my old eyes to really see!
- Free Parking. When you are paying a fair whack for a room I think to then charge extra for parking is plain greedy. None of the places on our route did, but the final self-catering apartment we stayed at in Inverness did.
The Extra Mile Attitude. I’m a sucker for ‘ special touches’ and immodestly think I could do this part of being a guesthouse owner really well. (Obviously, I couldn’t be bothered with all the cleaning, washing, and being nice to strangers aspects!) Welcome chocolates and biscuits, (but not the cheapest money can buy), are always a good idea. Help yourself ‘swapsie’ bookshelves are excellent, but not full of grubby books that you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. These should also include picture books for kids (perhaps my own – #justsaying!) Crayons, (and sharpener) colouring books and board games are all great for rainy days, but again not as old as the Ark, they’d just be skanky. At The Old Manse guesthouse we were greeted with homemade cake and real milk in actual jugs, which was lovely. There is nothing worse than the feeling of being rationed to two teabags, two sachets of Nescafe, two tiny plastic milk cartons and four sachets of sugar all carefully lined up. Far better to provide a container with several of all the above in, or as mentioned, even better still to cut the plastic outer layers and just have ‘real sized’ containers of each.
Travelling the NorthCoast 500
Travelling the NorthCoast 500 has been fun and staying in guesthouses has not been a stuffy or staid option and has enabled us to travel round a lot, whilst having a little bit of luxury to compensate for bumping in around in a landrover for several hours a day. I’ve been quite envious of the bikers roaring off on their luxurious triumphs and Harley Davidsons, but let’s face it I couldn’t update my blog from the backseat of a bike and I haven’t seen any four seater motorbikes. We’ve seen some amazing places, along our Northcoast500 route and Lazarus the Landrover has served us well squeezing into places that campervans can’t access. Most notably the magnificent Bealach Na Bar pass between Lochcarron and Applecross – I wasn’t at all scared by the single pass traffic and the very steep drops!
The guesthouses we chose are considered quite good value for money and typically priced for the NorthCoast500 route. . Travelling with grown up kids needing their own space does bump up costs, but what can you do… we don’t want to leave them at home and gone are the days when we’d all bunk up together. Would I come back and do it all again? Definitely. Have I got a favourite guesthouse from the above. Yes, but it wouldn’t be fair to say which it is.