Friday, 2 October 2009

In which I get excessively cross about the ugliness

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Rushing south for various reasons, I decide that life is earnest and life is real and I just can't justify stopping off at some chic little inn in the Lake District but must bite the bullet and do what millions of ordinary decent Britons do, and break my journey at a motorway motel. The credit crunch is biting hard, and my days of being a hotel queen are over. (I sometimes have actual dreams about the days when I used to check into the Carlyle for a week, or the time I snuck into the Bel Air for three days and did not tell anyone where I was; I never felt so much like an International Woman of Mystery in my life.) But it is time to welcome myself to the real world, and it is good for me to stop behaving like a complete flake for once.

Thank heaven there is the wonderful Tebay, the only civilised service area on the M6, which has ducks and a farm shop and a nice hotel, only a little more expensive than a Travelodge, but has managed to decorate its rooms with actual style, as you can see below. (I am sorry the pictures are so small, I cannot seem to magnify them in any way. Stare closely at the screen for the full effect.)

The Westmoreland at Tebay has done a very clever thing. The sheets and towels are a little thin, as you would expect from a motorway stop, but someone has given more than ten minutes' thought to aesthetics. The rooms are painted in a nice Farrow and Ball taupish sagish colour, the curtains are a wonderful thick felt material, in dark claret, and the carpet is a very nice biscuit. When you get off the road after three hundred miles, your retinas are not assaulted by horror. Also, the bathrooms are very elegant indeed.

But, hideous shock, Tebay is FULL. I must plunge into the terrors of the Holiday Inn Express and the Travelodge. I call my mother. 'Can I really stay at the Days Inn in Charnock Richard?' I say. 'Yes,' she says, firmly. 'You astonish me,' I say. 'The dogs will like it,' she says, obscurely. Then she becomes rather excited. I must, apparently, take all my lovely travel rugs and my own pillows and scented candles and some room spray ('have you got lavender for the bed?' she says) and I can make the room heaven and feel smug that I have only paid £29. By the end of the conversation, we decide that it is a tremendous idea.

Then I look at the website:

Oh, I know it's not the worst bedroom in the world. But bear in mind if this is the picture they put up on the web, this is the best they have to offer. We all know that the actual room might not live up even to this. And there is something so demoralising about it. So I cast around. I find a Holiday Inn:

Again, it's not the ugliest thing in the world. But there is nothing in there that you would want to take home with you. You would not decorate your own bedroom like that. What is wrong with some nice claret curtains and a bit of biscuit?

Then there is the Premier Inn, which actually looks quite smart:

But I stopped at a Premier Inn on the Birmingham toll road once and it was all orange, so much it hurt my eyes, and the room smelt slighlty of mushrooms.

So then there was the Ibis at Preston:

I know. It looks like someone is having a little joke and doing a pastiche of the seventies.

I kept looking at this picture, and feeling sadder and sadder:

And then I thought: damn it, I can't do it. I don't care how many scented candles I bring. It's not just the aesthetic nastiness of these places. If you go to Tripadvisor and type in any chain motel, the theme that that comes up over and over again in the reviews is a sense of neglect. The shower curtain is torn, the grouting in the bathroom is black, the bed was uncomfortable, the lady at the bar would not serve drinks even though it was only one minute past midnight, the wake up call never arrived, the room had not been cleaned, there was mould around the bath, there was a worrying smell, the bedlinen was stained.
And maybe none of this would be so bad if it was only £19, like their websites like to shout. But it is only that if you book three months in advance and arrive on a Tuesday in February. On a Saturday in October it is £55. I must pay £55 to be made sad.

So I used my initiative and many internet hours and finally found a lovely new place in the delightful market town of Kirkby Lonsdale, exactly half way between me and London, ten minutes from the M6. The man could not have been nicer. Of course the dogs were welcome. Nothing was too much trouble. And the price? A knock down £70. For FIFTEEN POUNDS more than the cost of the demoralising rooms above, I get this:

See how much time and care has gone into that room. They have even put a charming leather suitcase under the brass bed, to give you the impression that you might be staying in someone's actual house. There is nothing chi chi or chainish or corporate about it. There is no hint of the Coloroll school of decorating that marrs so many British inns. It is clean and calm. But here is what I really don't understand. How is it that the nice man at Plato's in Kirkby Lonsdale can achieve a room like that, in the middle of a credit crunch (they have only been open for two months), for fifteen pounds more than the soulless nastiness of the Travelodges and the Premier Inns and the Holiday Inns, with all their economies of scale? And why does the great British public not rise up and say we are mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more?

In the meantime, call me old-fashioned, but I am very, very happy that I get to stay here:

Instead of here:


  1. But it's not just the rooms. To draw a peculiar comparison; if the food served was on a par with the quality of the room of a travelodge - serviceable and non-offensive if not chock-full of time and thought and care - then the travelling situation in this country would be much less depressing. The rooms are one thing, but with travelodges and the like usually attached to an on-site pub a la Wetherspoons, the food is enough to drive you to the nearest motorway roadkill and that's the best you can expect... And don't get me started on this peculiar British thing of valuing 'value for money' over 'quality'...

    Heston did his Popham/Little Chef thing - he now feels it won't be rolled out across the country as these places are all about the profit and not about return customers and most places just won't get the customers willing to pay/recognise what they're paying for. Capitalise today, for they sure as hell won't be back tomorrow. God it's unbelievably depressing. There's such a huge market for someone to roll out a travel stop-cum-place to eat of a decent standard - I can't believe it wouldn't be massively profitable...

    Don't forget colouring books for the girls: god knows how dogs pass the time in cars...

  2. Jo - I suddenly realise after reading your comment that I have become so ground down by the awfulness of food on motorways that I don't even bother to rail against it any more. The extent of the horror has beaten me into the ground. I am like an old lady, and make a little picnic basket of ham sandwiches, radishes, soup in a thermos (courgette and watercress for this trip), cold chicken and baby tomatoes and take it with me. If I am feeling particularly thrifty, I even make my own coffee, so I don't have to pay three pounds for filthy slop. Although to be fair, the coffee situation has improved in the last few years.

    Here is what I don't understand: whether rooms or food, there are many places which have proved that cheap does not mean nasty. So I don't understand why nasty goes on winning.

    As for dogs in car: they are marvellous passengers - a combination of sleeping and pensive gazing out of the window.

  3. Oh yes growing up can be hard to do. xoxo

  4. Picnics are clearly the way to go, though car picnics do draw me irresistibly to that Victoria Wood sketch where little old people (!) drive around, barely peeking above the steering wheel, then unpack on a layby, eating their damp sandwiches out of multifarious tupperware until - at some unknown signal - they pack the boot of the car back up like something out of the Krypton factor.

    Your dogs are most well-behaved. Ours used to spend it panting in our ears as if trying to inflate our heads to balloons that they could magically drift away on. I always think of Linda Radlett and what do dogs do for 20 hours of the day...Oh dear, that'll teach me to have wine and cider at lunch.

  5. Yes traveling around sure gives you different perspectives on what to aspect. I like the ones with the pubs in side as well.

  6. Slightly off point, I know, but I have to put in a word for the breakfast at the Tebay Services. My brother, who often does the drive from London to the Angus Glens swears by it and sure enough, it's the best Motorway breakfast I've ever had. My children will withstand the long drive to Scotland just to stop there for bacon, eggs, black pudding, fried tomatoes, sausage, mushrooms, fried potatoes, toast and marmalade. And there's a fantastic farm shop next door.

    Miss W x

  7. Miss W - so agree. I bore everyone to death with the wonders of Tebay. And I love that they use local produce, on top of all their other virtues. AND everyone is smiley and nice.

  8. You are so, so right. I have done the same rather than stay at the Soulless Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle town centre, next to the station and collection of pizza & kebab shops that work wanted to book me into for just shy of £100 bed & breakfast I paid an extra £15 and stayed at the lovely Hotel Du Vin with the most comfortable bed, mezzanine bathroom with slipper bath & a fabulous on site restaurant and choice of wine by the glass. Much more civilised, and I felt safe.

    I dislike Travel lodge, Premier inn and the like. As Jo said above the food is appalling but on top of this is the lack of feeling safe when traveling alone. I am no fraidy cat but rarely sleep well or feel completely at ease in the motorway chains.

  9. Well said, if we don't support the independent traders we will end up with nothing but identical chains right across the country. Working as a PA I never put my boss into motel type accommodation, always searched out a decent hotel and found I some beauties over the years. Sadly nowadays business people automatically book themselves into the nearest Travel Lodge, a depressing sign of the times.


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