Staying in B&Bs in the UK: An introduction
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The experience of staying in a British B&B is quite distinct, familiar to many of us through the less formal places to stay around the world, but distinctly British. What does it involve?
Staying in a home
The wonder of a B&B is that you are in the proprietor's home and their approach will be evident from the start: the greeting, the questions about your preferences. Your host will want to establish the basics first: what time would you like breakfast? If they have other guests already checked in, they might say they're serving breakfast at 8am and would that be OK for you too? Would you like to know about places for dinner? Most B&Bs do not offer an evening meal but they are uniformly well informed about which local pubs and restaurants are on the up. Those B&Bs that offer dinner might have set times to serve it, and it is often worth taking: likely to be unfancy, yet skillfully prepared and hearty, as if you were staying in the proficient kitchen of a friend or relation.
When is a B&B a B&B?
What is the relation among the terms B&B (bed and breakfast), guesthouse, inn, pub with rooms, and small hotel?
A B&B is simply a person's house in which they offer guests a room and then, in the morning, give them breakfast. I suppose it is a tiny commercialisation of the most basic form of hospitality, to have a traveller to stay and to send them off with a bit of food.
A guesthouse tends to mean a larger B&B, with more rooms or offering some facilities that according to the local tourist board puts it in a higher category. The concept is the same, that this will be someone's house that they tend also to live in, with rooms available, and with breakfast.
The idea of an inn is not widely used within the UK itself and rather has currency for international travellers when talking about the UK. An inn can mean something from a guesthouse to a pub with rooms, not quite a hotel. Some pub names involve Inn, as in the famous Wasdale Head Inn in the Western Lake District. An inn tour would mean moving among small pubs and guesthouses, or in fact B&Bs, the key being the less formal and hopefully more cosy end of the spectrum.
Many British pubs have evolved to offer rooms above, or indeed always have done, and this can be one of the easiest and most pleasant ways to get about. The beauty here is that there is readily available food and drink downstairs! It cannot be otherwise and, if you wish, you do not have to leave the premises. Then in the morning, again, your breakfast is included and this tends to be in the pub, at that time of day open only to residents and with no alcohol involved.
A small hotel then is likely to be an establishment in which the owners do not live, with a reception area and perhaps more things to do, with smarter but less personal rooms (generalising of course). Larger hotels are more of the same or might be part of chains, and this can be good in lots of ways.
More and more of the time, now, rooms in B&Bs and upwards have what is termed ensuite facilities, which means a bathroom attached to your bedroom and for your sole use. That is, like a hotel. This might have a shower or a bath, a toilet and a sink. Bidets are very rare in Britain. Sometimes rooms have bathrooms down the hall but for your sole use (private but not ensuite) and other times there is a bathroom shared by more than one room.
What about breakfast, that essential component? Travelling for Alpine Exploratory as we do, one credo is to suspend final judgement about a place until we have had breakfast. Checking in, the afternoon before, there is limited time to chat to your host, and their service can be manifest only in the room; being served breakfast lets them show you much more of themselves.
The components of the classic British breakfast are cereals, fruit in some form, the cooked element, and then toast and marmalade. In England it's a Full English Breakfast, in Scotland a Full Scottish (and there might be haggis or other puddings), in Wales a Full Welsh, and so on. Regions of England often show some regional pride by calling their breakfast a Full Yorkshire Breakfast, for example, and this might mean that the sausages are local. We mean a full plate of sausages, eggs (and you'll be asked how you like them), tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, fried bread (also known as a fried slice) or hash browns, and bacon rashers. People tend to be asked whether or not they'd like black pudding.)
Of course, establishments are happy to serve you any variation of these elements, and they might also offer alternatives such as smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. You don't need to have a cooked plate at all, and then your breakfast becomes what the trade calls Continental, i.e cereals and fruit. This is still at least as much as the normal Brit has for breakfast in their normal house. There might be fresh fruit and there will be a choice of cereals, toast, jams and marmalade, and perhaps porridge. When it comes to tea or coffee it's a straight choice and there is no norm. If you're lucky you'll be given a whole press pot of coffee for your table.
Some B&Bs have refined the art to a high level and it is evident that their service follows a slick pattern. They might be used to hosting half a dozen rooms per night, in the season. One of our goals at Alpine Exploratory when inspecting places is to distinguish, among this select group of highly perfected B&Bs, those who are motivated more by perfection in the abstract even at the expense of warmth, and those who are warmth-first but who manage to be extremely comfy too. We place a lot of weight on friendly welcomes - the places that you know really want you to be there.
In practice a trail in the UK will involve a mix of some or all of these styles of accommodation. If you'd like to emphasise a particular type, on your hike, or if you have questions in general then please ask us. Thank you.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to chat about the our various trails and their places to stay.
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