We spoke to Lesley from The Old School and Betty’s Cottage who is shortlisted for ‘Outstanding Host’ at The eviivo Awards about how she goes the extra mile for her guests (sometimes resulting is hilarious results.)
So you’re up for an outstanding host award, how does that feel?
Oh wonderful! We are so thrilled to have even been chosen. So to be shortlisted feels really good! It feels like all my hard work has been worthwhile.
What do you think it is about stay with you that makes it different?
Well, I’ve been in the industry for a lot of years – running hotels and pubs for 30 years. My standards are very high, so when people come to stay with me, their faces make me smile. When they walk into their room and they see all the extra touches that I’ve done, it’s brilliant. I have little dream cards with chocolates on the pillows, lavender spray and all sorts of treats for them. I make cakes and have a glass of peach snaps in their room for them. In the bathroom I’ve got all sorts of things, safety pins, toothbrushes, hairspray, underarm spray – literally everything you could need. I try to think of everything that I would need, and people say they really like it. They also say that my breakfasts are amazing! Everything is homemade and locally-sourced. So, I have exceptionally high standards hence the 178 five stars on TripAdvisor.
Tell us more about your property?
It’s an old school that go back to at least 1868 as a school but my parents bought it in 1973 when it had just closed down. 32 children attended and it’s very rural. We live on a country lane and everyone always comments about where did the children come from. My dad bought it when I was 13, and when my dad died we bought it off my mum, and we completely gutted it. We made a nice little granny flat for my mum to live in – hence the cottage which is called Betty’s Cottage after her. And the guests love it – it’s very old-fashioned and it’s as it was when she was here really and I don’t want to change it too much. We’ve had carpets and new furniture but it’s very much as it was when mum was there. It’s very homely and comfortable. And the views from the house are just stunning. We’ve got the views of Wosdale, which was voted the best view in the whole of Britain. And obviously now we’ve got world heritage! We’ve got a beautiful garden, and lots of birds so the guests can sit on the patio, if they want to eat their breakfast in the garden. So we feel very very lucky to live here.
After being awarded world heritage are you expecting an influx of new guests?
Well that’s the plan! It would be wonderful wouldn’t it? We are a very busy area anyway. We’re not as touristy in our location – so it’s the perfect setting for walking here. It’s home of the British rock climbing too. And as I said, we were voted the best view in Britain – we’ve got an awful lot of things to do. We’ve got the highest mountain, the smallest church – we are very lucky to have what we have in the area. And hopefully having world heritage will increase custom even more.
Can you name a time that you’ve gone above and beyond for a guest?
I do try and do a lot for all of them – I run them to the pub if they like or I take them to pick their car up if they want to have a drink. I pick people up from the railway station. But one particular one that stands out, is when a lovely couple came to stay in the cottage. They were coming up from London and I always ask them if they want me to book dinner for them. And they said that they were driving to Carlisle to have a lobster, which is another hour and a half journey. So I said ‘don’t do that, I’ll make sure that you get a lobster.’ Everywhere i tried, all the restaurants around here, the fish suppliers, said they couldn’t get lobsters this late. I’d got them to cancel this restaurant and she was desperate for this lobster – so i was panicking. So, I remembered that I had a friend who’s a fisherman who lives about 10 miles away. And I got him to go out and catch me a lobster. He phoned me up the next day and said he’d managed to get one for me. I took the lobster which was wriggling about in the back of the car, and I took it to the restaurant and I asked them if they could specially cook it for this couple – which they did. And the couple went there and they had a wonderful time.
How did you end up in the accommodation industry?
When I first met my partner, I was working for a recruitment consultancy and I’d always said that I’d love to have a pub. So we ended up mentioning this to a friend who had a pub. The next minute the brewery rang us up and said ‘I hear you’re interested in having a pub,’ and that’s how we got one. We got a tiny little village one near Penrith – I did the cooking and John did the bar. And then we started doing the bed and breakfast in there. We had that for 18 months and then we got a bigger one near Carlisle, and then we got one near this house, when he bought me back home and we run that for 17 years. We done rooms and functions and weddings. I’ve done everything – I’ve been cooking, cleaning, washing, bar and waitressing. When we sold the pub we decided to semi-retire, so we had some en-suite rooms put in, and decided to do a bit of bed and breakfast. Now John looks after the garden and I look after the B&B. So that’s how we got into the industry.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about a stay with you?
I have three books and they are all full of wonderful compliments. But the best compliment is the returning customers – time and time again. And recommendations. All the compliments are the best compliments really.
Do you have any funny guest stories?
The one that sticks in my mind is Dom who came from America, who had a didgeridoo. And he played it outside in the morning and all the cows came running down the field!
To read more customer stories click here.