Boxing Day: the sales, a run, or a rest maybe?

For families throughout this patch, today is probably something of a let-up from the pressure to be nice over Christmas Day itself. Back to normality then?! Shopping, anyone? Some of us will be resting after the excesses of the day before, while others will be diligently burning the calories off in the 6.2km trail run kicking off at 10 this morning from Allendale Primary School, organised under the auspices of the Hexhamshire Hobble. All are welcome.

But visitors, family members who have returned to the fold for part of the festive season, and others who enjoy these beautiful North Pennines on a sojourn from their urban lives, will probably still be in residence at the holiday cottages and B&Bs, AirBnBs throughout this patch. So this diary entry today is about these accommodation providers, collectively.

Early on in the diary’s life, I decided that an individual visit to each holiday cottage, or accommodation provider, in this patch would be just too much redundant material. But coming to the end of the year, I realise that I haven’t covered the topic as well as I could. Which is a shocking happenstance, really, since we were part of the holiday cottage diversification from about fifteen years ago anyway. So we have a pretty good idea of the drill, the weekend changeover, the welcoming of guests arriving for a temporary rural idyll of their own.

It was a financial necessity for us: the revenue from the holiday cottage (at its peak we had something like 32 weeks of occupancy) paid the mortgage throughout the year. And we always said, we’re not quite sure about having a permanent next-door neighbour, unless we know them already quite well, but temporary guests, well, they’re only here for a week or so. And so we got ourselves listed with an agency, and then pursued our own internet promotions in the early days of the medium. But man, those Saturday changeovers! They just wore us down, to be honest.

When we started up Allendale Bakery, we ran out of steam to run the holiday cottage too, so we were delighted to be able to accommodate our dear friends the Weltons on their return from Brussels. After that, it was a convenient matter to organise our respective equities and live comfortably thereafter. So that was our sojourn into holiday cottage enterprise, done and dusted, got the tee shirt, and the emotional scars.

Folks around these parts (and there are some 41 different self-catering enterprises scattered throughout these valleys, some with multiple lets available, and others who aren’t listed in the Pocket Directory) have our considered respect for the effort. Really, it’s not easy. You have to be a gracious welcoming host, you have to deal with the inevitable problems (heating, water and sewerage, in our experience, are the main issues that might arise). You have a window of opportunity from about 11am on the Saturday until about 2pm to change all the beds, clean the place top to bottom, make up all the beds again, fluff the pillows, put out the flowers and the welcoming basket, and check the whole place once more thoroughly to be sure it’s ready for the guests who are most likely to arrive complaining about how the track has jolted them around and will their car’s exhaust system still be intact! Smile and be nice. Even if it’s through gritted teeth (yes, we’ve lived with that track for 20 years, we know every cm of it, thanks, and your observations are not in the slightest illuminating! Oh, and sorry about your silencer languishing there just beyond the ford).

Of course, some folks love it, and why not? It’s a great way to meet people, and if you’re not already on the back foot over access or the decorative state of your holiday cottage offering, you can relax and be charming. Great respect is due to the gracious hosts who manage things so well.

But we always held those intrepid souls who offer a Bed & Breakfast service (What, make them breakfast too? You must be kidding!) in the very highest regard. That’s real work, we thought. There are some 29 establishments in these valleys, listed on the inside page of the Pocket Directory, which is still the most up-to-date listing service for this area, who offer accommodation by the day or night. Not all of these places offer breakfast, but many if not most, do. Many of these establishments can be found in the online AirBnB directory. AirBnb has become the booking site de rigeur for many folks. The platform offers the advantage of world-wide promotions, without the B&B itself needing an individual website, and a convenient booking system offering indirect contact with the accommodation provider. The system works very well for many diversified enterprises in the Allen Valleys.

We always found that the Christmas period was slightly challenging, but everyone wanted to book for the week around New Year’s Eve and Day. I’d suspect that for over the New Year’s festive period, it’s probably impossible to find a place to stay by about early autumn at the latest. Prices are at a premium, but thereafter, the season is pretty much dead until closer to Easter.

Bring on winter, I used to pine, so we can have some peace and quiet of our own up here on the Sparty Lea fellside!

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