This is a tale of the English bed and breakfast – and a bean-to-cup coffee machine. Do read on!
It’s a weird sensation to stay in a B&B just around the corner from where you grew up, but that was the scenario. It came about because my mother’s house is in transition prior to sale: the old hot water system is disconnected and the new central heating not yet on stream, pending gas connections.
Two days without hot water was not her idea of fun, so a hotel it had to be, but my view on these things is clear: with hotel chains you get what you get – a superficial smile and a standardised bean-counted branded service; with B&Bs you get personal service and a genuine love for the job.
For the most part, B&Bs are cheaper, often local to where you want to be (as in this case) and just a tad quirky. Quirky is good, in my opinion – it eschews the bland and makes each a unique experience rather than mass manufactured homogeneity. Yes, some will be a touch too quirky, but the average B&B is a refreshing experience with hosts keen to please. After all, it is their home you are staying in, and their livelihood. Caring about guests is worthwhile because you get (a) good word of mouth, and (b) return visits.
Croft Corner, where mum and I paid £80 a night for the twin Styal room (each room named after a local landmark: Fulshaw, Bollin, Alderley, Lindow), is run my Liz and Mike Brown, a couple with evident experience but more particularly a natural charm and pride in their work. Not a hint of the Basil Fawlty about either, they engaged us in warm conversation throughout our stay and could not have been more accommodating, literally and metaphorically.
The right attitude is worth a thousand freebies, since nothing can make up for good service, unobtrusive for the most part, there and friendly when required. One example: after we left, Mike called my mobile to tell us we had left a bag behind. How many would bother to do that?
Having parked on the paved drive (slightly tricky for reversing out on a main road, but help is available), you enter said guesthouse through a space age digital lock on the front door, the code number having been emailed in advance, in the event nobody is home. The house itself is detached and well maintained but unobtrusive, certainly not very different to others along Knutsford Road, a mile or so from the centre of town.
The welcome from Liz included a brief tour of house and room, no initial coffee but facilities were on hand. Noticeable were certificates of excellence from TripAdvisor going back some years, evidence that the customer base are not bloody minded but were appreciative of the Liz and Mike service.
Our room smelled clean, that is, the crisp smell of freshly laundered cotton, and not just from a spray can. It also looked fresh, sparkling and beautifully presented, from the modern light fittings, the fridge and honesty bar, efficient modern bathroom, wall-mounted TV and comfortable beds and sofa. The room was also warm and cost (always essential for mum.)
Granted there were the odd spots of damp above the shower, but otherwise demonstrated an obsessive attention to detail worthy of note. Another example is the eco-friendly and notably superior Body Shop toiletries in proper bottles, far better than the tiny plastic pots you normally get in international hotels.
That we didn’t sleep especially well is not the fault of Croft Corner. My insomniac mother, whose hearing is probably better than mine, told me there was some noise from the road beyond, but not excessively so; nor were the beds uncomfortable. The issue is that the older you get, the less well you generally sleep, and no B&B in the world can change that!
The real difference with B&B service is at breakfast. Typically, standard hotels will provide a buffet service, which means the items have been hanging around under infrared lights for some while. This might be easier to manage in quantity, but since B&Bs tend to deal in a relatively low volume of customers, breakfasts are cooked fresh to order.
Breakfast at Croft Corner was not just made to order but certainly more upmarket than your average, helped too by views over a large and well-kept garden. The presence of homemade items was especially welcome, which extended to muesli, granola, a bowl of fresh chopped fruit and natural yogurt.
No, our hosts did not squeeze the juices by hand, though that would truly have been a miracle. However, we were presented with some very artisanal toast and a choice from an extensive menu of cooked breakfasts. Between us over two days we had boiled egg (exactly to requirements), an excellent full English (see photo above) and scrambled eggs. If I had to be picky, the scrambles were not quite as good as mine, but then getting the right degree of creaminess is a craft in itself, one that very few places master. These were good but not quite great.
But above even the food, the big breakfast talking point was Mike’s DeLonghi bean-to-cup expresso coffee machine. The results were splendid for black coffees topped with the desirable crèma, and I’m told it also churns out excellent cappuccinos, helped by an automated programme for frothy steamed milk. I was instantly jealous – this is a machine I need to own! No, I didn’t nick Mike’s machine, but I did google the model as soon as I got home. Who knows, I might someday want to run my own B&B and dazzle guests with a top notch coffee machine!
In the absence of any part of our stay warranting serious criticism, I am very happy to recommend Croft Corner to anyone wishing to stay in my home town. In fact, the Millward family will undoubtedly stop over there again, maybe even after mum’s central heating is connected!