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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.