Recently we spoke to Tony at Harmony Lodge in Scarborough, we were keen to find out about this quirky octagonal guest house in North Yorkshire, but Tony also told us about how he ended up running a Guest House, and how it all started when he met a clairvoyant! Read on to find out more.
Can you tell us more about your property and what makes it so unique?
The guest house is octagonal and situated at the top of a small hill on high ground. From any window you can see between 5 and 20 miles including the sea and North York Moors National Park. The rooms are of a triangular shape which although limiting in floor space does give character. The house itself is very special to us and exudes peace and calm. We have the advantage of being in the quiet countryside, away from main roads and even the country road outside is about 100 metres away so we don’t have traffic noise. Having said that it is only 10 mins to Scarborough’s North Bay. Our property is set in 1.5 acres of land which I have landscaped. Most of our guests compliment me on our lovely garden which has become quite established now.
What did you do before entering the hospitality industry?
I worked for an architect for a couple of years after leaving college before joining British Railways as a Civil Engineer involved with surveying, design and installation of trackworks, formation, drainage for 12 years and then a further 12 years on maintenance and modernisation of level crossings where I finished up as head of the level crossing design team at York.
How did you end up running your own accommodation?
I thought I would see my working life out with British Railways but I then met Susan who turned out to be a superb medium and clairvoyant. She takes writing or dictation from spirit and around 22 years ago they said that they wanted us to be together and run a spiritual teaching place. This was so strong that I ended up walking away from a relatively happy marriage and nice house which I left to my ex wife. Susan and I had very little money for this ‘teaching place’ and asked our spirit communicator how we could afford it. He replied that they would see to the finances which I found hard to believe at the time. After constant encouragement and around a year we received an inheritance. In the meantime I was given two promotions at work and within a short time of the inheritance I was offered redundancy from British Railways with an enhanced payout and pension. We looked at 18 properties in the Yorkshire Dales before finding the current house just north of Scarborough and it instantly felt right. We paid cash and have no mortgage. The place was already a guest house and we carried on running it that way to establish ourselves and earn a living. Over the next few years we made a lot of improvements and even built an extension to give us a bedroom along with further guest accommodation. At this point the bank balance was empty again.
A year after moving in Susan saw an amazing man – Ray Brown – on TV who is very probably one of the best and most significant mediums in the world. She phoned the TV company and asked to be put in touch with Ray. He and his wife now also live in Scarborough and are our best friends. Together we run a church and healing organisation and we have had around 1000 members in the 12 years of existence. Ray suggested that I build a church where there was a deep litter chicken shed but I said we had no money for this as I expected it would cost in the region of £50,000. However we decided to start saving and when we could afford it, we would build it. After 1 year we had £2,000 and so a wait of 25 years was on the cards but my worry was that we may not get planning permission. I decided that this is what I must do and so with my past working experience I designed the church and drew it on my computer. I submitted the plans and after a bit of hassle with the Planning Department, the Rural Planning Committee of our elected Councillors passed it. On that very morning we received a cheque through the post that brought our funds to £48,000 and so we managed to build it straight away, again without having to borrow. So we are no ordinary guest house we also run a church in our grounds with a very healthy attendance. If our guests are not interested in that side it is not a problem but it is surprising how many people are interested in what we are trying to do here.
Can you describe a stay at Harmony Lodge?
I greet all our guests on arrival and introduce them to the basics and try to make them feel at ease. I show them to their room and if it is on the 1st floor, warn them about the size and shape of the room. Several guests have told me that on their 1st night they were thinking “hmm this is a small room” but on subsequent nights they were laid in bed thinking “this is nice and pleasant”. I take breakfast orders the night before which really helps me as we are now only 6 bedrooms and although there is no rush, I can be ready straight away with their cooked breakfast. If they have changed their mind in the meantime I can generally accommodate them easily. If anything, they over order and then ask for less which isn’t a problem. With the occasional and rare exception most guests remark and compliment the views, surroundings and calm feeling of the guest house.
What’s the hardest part about running a B&B?
Probably the fact that you are almost constantly tied to the business. You really do need some form of assistance to stand in for you if you want to go out anywhere or otherwise when you do go out you have to be aware of when guests might turn up who are booked in with you. To give us time to do things including gardening we ask guests not to turn up until 4pm but it is amazing how many turn up early, or thanks to the online travel agents like Expedia, are not even aware of this arrival time. I find the travel websites very frustrating as they rarely give the guest the accurate information but they have managed to dominate the Search pages and charge an exorbitant commission.
What’s the best part?
I like meeting people and sharing stories. Although it is hard work at times I do like being in charge of my own destiny and most days once breakfast is over I can choose to do what I want when I want. We shall never be rich but it does give us a reasonable working income and all our household and garden expenses can be offset against income.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of entering the hospitality industry?
Be sure you know what you are letting yourself in for. Anyone who is self-employed will tell you a similar story in that you don’t get much help from the government. The self employed are the mainstay of this country’s working population but we seem to have to jump through more hoops than anyone else. For example my local council has told me I need planning permission for a 6′ x 4′ garden shed which is at the bottom corner of my garden and hardly anyone can even see it. You have to satisfy fire regulations when there are more fires in the private home who don’t have to comply. There are extensive food and hygiene requirements which are more thorough if you provide evening meals. You must be able to get on with people and be thick skinned and tolerant. And you must think of your location and the type of guest you are likely to attract.
Do you have any memorable guest moments?
One of the best stories I have is the guy from Barnsley who came with his two teenage daughters for a week. He chose us because we were non smoking and this was before it was compulsory. He’d been having a full English breakfast for the first few days when I had to get more supplies and I bought some smokey bacon because it was on offer and I thought I’d treat my guests to a change. My wife took the breakfasts through and he said “I’m not eating that, and neither are my two daughters”. During this busy breakfast I thought to myself “well suit yourself, there’s nothing wrong with it”. I saw him out in the car park after breakfast as he was waiting for his girls and so I went to speak with him as I don’t like my guests having a problem. I asked him what was the matter and he replied “Well I’m surprised at you. You call yourselves a non smoking house and then you serve up smokey bacon”. I waited with a smile on my face for the joke but he was serious.
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