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8 min read

8 min read, inspiration, opinion

Alastair asks what makes a B&B special

15th April 2015
Alastair asks what makes a B&B special

We support and celebrate small businesses that are different. We believe in authenticity (as opposed to tourist tat), transparency, fairness and integrity. Our use of the word ‘special’ embraces all those things. Ask a dozen people what they mean by ‘special’, and you will get a dozen answers. Nevertheless, I wanted to try and explain what it is we mean by ‘special’ at Sawday’s.  We have a personal, subjective approach, but it has won us devoted readers. Our likes and dislikes, and our style, have served us well.



Somewhere particularly special I discovered not long ago in Wales. I arrived exhausted from a long cycle ride, clad unattractively in Lycra and a sweaty tee-shirt. I was asked what I most wanted, and the answer was “a cup of tea and a piece of cake by the fire in your kitchen.” The result was just that – in the most chaotic kitchen imaginable, with no space to put the cup down. The cake had come recently from the oven, and was delicious. I was as happy as a knackered cyclist could be. No matter about the chaos; it was actually rather intimate and satisfying, and I was no beauty anyway. Note, too, that this kitchen is usually not seen by guests. It just produces great food.


I had been a last-minute booking at The Old Store House, and had been told that I would be squeezed in somewhere, somehow, as long as I was ‘flexible’. The squeezing was to be in the old canal-boat at the bottom of the garden – in the canal. “Damn, I didn’t get round to hoovering, but the sheets are good.” Indeed, the place was littered with leaves, but the bunk was clean and the sheets of the highest quality cotton. I borrowed Peter’s own bathroom for a long soak, a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other. The bathroom was shambolic, but I was lucky to be there given that there was technically ‘no room’. We lit a fire in the wee boat-stove and settled to another drink a few inches above water-level.

Supper was with Peter: baked beans and scrambled eggs, just as he had kindly offered when we told him we were too tired to pedal out for supper. We slept like angels, in nature’s nocturnal silence. Boats chugging past awoke us to a sunny day and a sun-drenched breakfast in the conservatory with the other guests, all of whom had slept soundly in beautiful, book-filled, rooms. Chickens strutted under the breakfast table as dish after dish emerged, each one exquisite, all served with the informality and ease that mark the whole house. The plates and cups were antique or plain old, a welcome change from Ikea’s best. Peter wandered in and out, chatting amiably and interestingly.

I was so grateful for the generosity of the welcome that I sent Peter a case of my favourite bio-dynamic wine. He consumed it all within days, largely with the help of his guests, to whom he offered it freely and with the accompaniment, I heard, of laughter and good conversation. Now that is what I call ‘hospitality’.






The following words spring to mind: beauty, character, colour, craftsmanship, kindness, spontaneity, eccentricity, individuality, surprise, history, books, generosity, silence, views, nature, environmental sensitivity, organic, great food, a sense of fun, a home from home…. Few places can tick all those boxes, but most of ours tick most of them, and our sheer eclecticism is exhilarating.

There is no model bedroom or bathroom. For bedrooms, I love original artwork, good books, a few antique pieces of furniture and good light to read by. I prefer ‘interesting’ to ‘luxurious’ in bathrooms, such as the Irish bathroom I stayed in with a giant bath in the middle of the room, or the one in Devon with a blazing fire next to the bath. Many bathrooms are now much the same, so it is good to come across some character and a touch of fun.


The most important thing for me is the people who run a B&B – finding people who genuinely like having visitors. They enjoy a chat but know when to leave you in peace. They make you feel part of the home.  They do things their own way, with their own taste. They are fun, enjoy flights of imagination, bizarre and sometimes dotty ideas. They ‘do’ random acts of kindness, uncalled-for generosity – those moments of inspiration that set us all alight.


Another key part of special is the food – simple and honest, ideally organic – or perhaps even orgiastic. It is always memorable and right for the moment. Give me, when I am tired, a bowl of soup and some good cheeses rather than a 5-course dinner; an omelette in the kitchen rather than a hushed affair in the dining room. Home-baked bread, and home-made everything, matter to us. No tiny tables set too close together, no long life milk or instant coffee, no catering sausages or tinned tomatoes, no musak, no junk food and packaging, no pretentiousness or pomposity and no standing on ceremony. If we like a place, you can be sure that it is somewhere special and that is why people come to Sawday’s.


Do you have a story of a truly special B&B that you’ve discovered? We have teamed up with Dorset Cereals to recognize the best B&Bs across the country – have your say on what makes a special B&B by nominating on their website.

For a truly special stay, plan your next trip with Sawday’s.

8 min read, britain, inspiration

Five festivals for your 2015 diary

1st April 2015

Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly weekend, thought-provoking performances, a magnificent and unique location, or all of the above, there are some fantastic festivals to try this summer. Here are some of our favourites:


Glyndebourne Festival, East Sussex


Makeshift tables and sprawling on rugs with a picnic (however scruffy) may seem a little bohemian for a world-class festival of opera, but the mandatory evening finery sets the tone at Glyndebourne. The Glyndebourne estate, a splendid Edwardian house with beautiful gardens and spectacular views across the South Downs, has a grand opera house where six works are shown between May and August each year. Highlights this year include a spectacular adaptation of Donizetti’s Poliuto, Fiona Shaw’s award-winning production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and David McVicar’s unveiling of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.


Photos: Leigh Simpson

Get your glad rags on from the comfort of these lovely spots:

The Ram Inn, Sussex


Retire to quirky, individual rooms with bold colours, exposed beams, super comfortable beds, fluffy bathrobes in tiled bathrooms, and dreamy village or South Downs views.

Old Whyly, Sussex


All of the luxuries that make a B&B very special – wonderful food, smart rooms and a garden replete with pool, orchard, tennis and lake.


Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye


Renowned for undulating landscapes and dark skies full of stars, the Brecon Beacons made another name for itself 27 years ago with the inaugural Hay Festival of Literature & the Arts. Now ‘international’ with 15 sites across the world, the annual 10-day celebration of stories and debates draws ever-larger audiences. Early-bird tickets have unveiled a notable line-up: Hay festival president, Stephen Fry hosts the first of a series of talks on equality, Germaine Greer is holding a discussion about the roles of Shakespeare’s women, and author Michael Morpurgo will collaborate with a string quartet to reflect on the part that music played in World War II. Fondly described as ‘The Woodstock of the mind’ by Bill Clinton, it is a place where one can almost hear the ideas tumbling down the hills of Hay.

Visit our Facebook page for a chance to win tickets to this year’s Hay Festival!


Photos: Finn Beales

Heading to Hay?
Why not stay…

Hideaways in Hay, Hay-on-Wye


Off a Georgian cobbled courtyard in bookish Hay-on-Wye, two side-by-side cottages full of comfort and charm, designed with romance in mind.

Pottery Cottage, Hay-on-Wye


Ancient village house near Hay with beautiful retreat attached, balm for urban souls.


Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle


The younger sister of Isle of Wight’s Bestival, Camp Bestival has four days of family festivities in the magnificent grounds of Lulworth Castle in Dorset. With fairground rides, circus-skills workshops, go-karts and oodles of activities, kids of all ages are spoilt for choice. Little ones will love the soft play area, learning how to craft wands in the woodland and live shows such as the Marvellous Imaginary Mengaerie and CBeebies’ Mr Tumble. Older kids can hide away at The Den with film screenings, activities and ‘open mic’ nights. With The Guardian Literary Institute giving a series of talks, numerous foodie stalls and chart-toppers including Clean Bandit, Professor Green and the Kaiser Chiefs, there should be a little something for the whole family.


Don’t fancy trying to fit teenagers in a tent? Try this little bolthole for families with children aged 12 and above just a 5 minute drive away from the festival:

Lulworth House, Wareham


Breathtaking views, walks, wildflowers, pretty beaches, a creative treasure, inside and out. The garden has a tropical feel with banana trees, ferns, deep borders and abundant grapes over a pergola.


Festival No. 6, Portmeirion  


In the surreal Italianate Welsh village of Portmeirion, music swirls around the cobbled streets and past the pastel-coloured houses when Festival no. 6 comes to town. For the past three years, visitors have descended upon this whimsical town in their droves for street theatre spectacles, impromptu performances and an impressive selection of acts at unusual venues across the village, the surrounding Gwyllt Woods and the River Dwywrd estuary. This year, spoken-word artist Kate Tempest, 80s new-wave singer Grace Jones, and folk band Stornoway are not to be missed.


Get away from it all and sleep soundly just 15 minutes away from the festival…

Tyn Llech, Criccieth


Serene and stylish with a wood-burning stove, beautiful colours and distant sea views.



Orkney Folk Festival, Orkney


In an archipelago of astounding beauty, Orkney stands proudly with clear waters worthy of Mediterranean climes, and wild craggy coastlines. Devised as a creative way to boost visitor numbers to the island in the early eighties, the Orkney Folk Festival has become a hub for local and international folk talent in May each year. Listen to renowned artists (this year’s listings includes BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner, Seth Lakeman, and country music stars Ward Thomas), take a workshop or two, witness home-grown Orcadian folk at its finest and dance until you drop at one of many ceilidhs.

For bookings information, locally recommended places to stay and all of the information you’ll need during your stay, visit the Orkney Folk Festival website.

Photos: Sean Purser