Usually when travelling in the rural U.S., we start to look for a place to stay around three or four in the afternoon. I prefer travelling without reservations, and without hotel reservations. Without a pre-determined destination, it is easier to change your mind when something unexpected catches your attention.
But Alie gets upset when we don’t have a place to stay, especially in foreign countries. It has been problematic at times. So now I book rooms in advance when visiting large cities. She did indulge me in England, saying I did not need to make reservations in Cornwall and Wales. It was a mistake.
I did reserve rooms for us and sister-in-law Michelle at a small London hotel, the Princes Square. We enjoyed the 19th century architecture.
It was modestly priced as big city hotels go and convenient to the tube, restaurants and Kensington Gardnes. On the other hand, traveling in the rural U.K. without hotel reservations turned out not to be the best way to see the rest of the country.
It was early May when we stopped in Lyme Regis, a seaside town in West Dorset. Nonetheless, the streets were crowded with folks on holiday. Parking was difficult, but I found a city lot at the top of a hill and walked down looking for a place to stay. Unlike the U.S. where chain motels can be found almost everywhere, these were independent inns — and they were full. A receptionists tried to be helpful but had few suggestions and pointed out that if we did get a room, there might not be parking for our rental car. Just as many U.K. roads were designed for ox-carts and horses, most village inns and hotels were designed for people arriving in carriages or on trains.
Fortunately, our GPS (called a Sat-Nav in the U.K.) lists many hotels and motels along with their addresses and phone numbers, so we were able to call ahead. We did just that for the rest of the trip, either calling places or looking them up on the Internet.
That first night out of London, we ended up in a Travelodge on the M5 outside Exeter. Those readers in the U.S. will understand when I say it was comparable to a Motel 6. For readers from the rest of the world, I will just say its rooms and furnishings were very plain and simple, the opposite of “no expense spared.”
We continued just to book one night out at a time, however. We found a Jury’s Inn in Plymouth for the second night. A few years ago, we stayed in a Jury’s Inn in Belfast and liked it. We liked it in Plymouth as well, but parking was in a commercial lot next door, and we were cautioned not to park in the spots reserved for the Staples office supply store.
Michelle asked the proprietor of the Carnson House, a bed & breakfast in Penzance, if there was parking and was assured there was. The owners were a very nice couple, the place was clean and breakfast was good. However, when I asked where to park, the husband got in the car with me to find an open place on the street; he did help carry our bags back to the inn.
The Hotel Victoria in Newquay is a wonderful huge old Victorian place with very high ceilings, wide wood paneling and a magnificent stairwell. Unfortunately, they put us on the third floor, Alie has advanced rheumatoid arthritis, and the elevator wasn’t working. After some discussion, they found us a huge room on the first floor (the equivalent of the second floor in the U.S), so we only had about thirty steps to walk. After settling in, we found the toilet didn’t work. After another hour of negotiation, they moved us into an even larger room with a water view (across a forty-foot wide roof).
We had some difficulty finding a place in Bristol, but the folks at the Best Western recommended the Berwick Lodge which turned out to be the nicest place during our entire trip. Built as an 1897 dowry house/manor by General & Mrs Sampson-Way, after WWII it was used as home and hospital for children with lung infections. Sarah and Fevzi Arikan bought it in 2004. Fevzi is from Turkey. The couple took five years and spent millions of Euros to renovate the estate. Opened as hotel in 2009, they hired a fine chef and now are marketing the place for weddings, receptions and conferences. It was beautiful, and our dinner was probably the best we had in England. http://www.berwicklodge.co.uk/
Once more we found it surprisingly hard to find rooms on a weekend in Bangor, Wales. Some had rooms for one or two nights, but not the three we wanted. Others could not give us two rooms. So we again settled for the Travelodge, and it served the purpose: it put a roof over our heads and was a base for trips out into the countryside.
Heading back to the airport in London, we stopped looking for something special and made reservations at a Best Western in Stoke-on-Trent and the Gatwick Holiday Inn. They were as one would expect.
Would I do it again. You bet! But Alie will make me do more planning the next time.
Click on photos to enlarge.