B&B ROMANCE IN THE HEARTLAND
Commitment, quality and a
little romance pay when it
comes to farmhouse B&B,
as Tessa Gates found out
when she visited award-
winning Upper Brompton
Farm in Shropshire
IT was an unusual way to spend a wedding anniversary, but arable farmer George Roberts and his wife Christine Yates-Roberts would not change a minute of it.
Their special day was spent collecting an award for running the best B&B in the Heart of England.
The award, which qualifies them to take part in the national final of the English Tourist Board Awards, is the culmination of six years steady improvement of the facilities offered to guests at Upper Brompton Farm, Cross Houses, near Shrewsbury , Shropshire.
It has been a labour of love, literally, for the couple, who have both been married before and met through a lonely-hearts advert in the Shropshire Star. "I found it difficult to meet people because I was busy working and looking after my young son," says Christine. "I was busy, too, running this farm and when you get a little older you do not really know where to start meeting people again," says George, who grows 122ha (300 acres) of cereals.
* Bowled over
Fate and forgetfulness stepped in when Christine replied to Georges advert, posted the letter without a stamp on and realising this, rang him to explain. "We talked for an hour and half – he bowled me over," she says. Marriage four years ago and the birth of their little daughter, Eleanor (2), proved the strength of their initial reactions and on a business footing, too, they are well matched.
Together they have taken Upper Brompton Farms English Tourist Board rating from Listed to the top Five Diamonds category. Parts of the lovely old farmhouse date back to 1650 and the rooms are spacious and light, traditionally furnished and decorated with style. From letting three bedrooms with en-suite facilities they now let five, the extra two recently refurbished. A huge old bathroom has been divided and re-fitted to make two en-suite bathrooms for the extra bedrooms. Everything has been done to the highest standards, for the couple cater for discerning guests willing to pay £68 to £75 a night a couple. The two dearest rooms have four-poster beds and great views from the windows. They have no shortage of customers.
"We turn away as much business as we are taking," says Christine. "The new bedrooms have already paid for themselves."
* Personal touch
The facilities offered certainly draw inquiries, but it is the personal touch and attention to detail that Christine and George believe keeps people happy, and rebooking. Would-be guests are sent an information pack which even contains Christines own good eating guide. "This is not just a list of local eateries – only the really nice places are included," she says.
"Our standard is very high and we give guests everything they need. They get a warm welcome and we greet them with tea, or a drink and a chat. If the weather is cold we light a nice fire, they get very good attention.
"One lady rang and said she had had a terrible day and was stressed and tired and needed a hot bath. I told her on the phone that I had some lovely bubble bath, a scented lavender candle she could light in the bathroom and there was a gin and tonic waiting for when she arrived. She was really pleased and I only found out later that she was an inspector from the tourist board."
"A lot of people like B&B for the personal touch, it is not just a question of cost. More discerning people are fed up with impersonal hotels," says George, who enjoys meeting the guests, who come from home and abroad.
Food for the guests is prepared in a gleaming stainless steel dedicated kitchen specially installed to meet all hygiene requirements. "With the clutter two small children make in the family kitchen, it made sense to have a separate kitchen now that we are catering for 10 or so people," says Christine. She will provided evening meals when required, three or four courses using the best of local produce. She likes to serve good English food and even at the height of the BSE crisis never had anyone refuse beef. "I tell them it is from our wonderful butcher in Much Wenlock, who knows exactly where his meat comes from," she says.
Dinner costs £23 a person. "If you charge a proper price you can give a proper service," says George. This includes creating the ambience of a private dinner party with a well thought out menu, candles and Wedgwood china. Plans for taking the dinners a step further include applying for a drinks licence and offering to provide house parties in the winter, when groups of friends can book all the accommodation and be served a wonderful dinner together in pleasant surroundings.
"In business you cant afford to be complacent, you must continually move forward," says George,
The farm is included in several guides, but the couple know that simply looking after their guests brings the best returns. As Christine says: "Word of mouth is the cheapest advertising you can get."