Blue Bell Hotel

Fields Blue Bell

View from the back of the hotel

It is a while since I wrote a review about the Blue Bell Hotel in Burton Agnes but I still have visitors whose search terms feature Alex Polizzi – or occasionally her legs – and I am reminded that it is probably time for an update. My first review was not wholly complimentary although there was hope for movement in the right direction. If nothing else, the hotel was the real deal when it came to customer service, it was just that they were able to demonstrate their absolute willingness to oblige more often when putting something right than when getting it right in the first place.

We have stayed there since and it is fair to say it has had its ups and downs with changes in management and ownership, chefs jumping ship, and new chefs taking over at almost no notice with an unfamiliar menu to deliver. It is also fair to say our visits have been for purposes not conducive to having a jolly good time – the deaths of our parents in 2011 and 2012 – and so the functioning of a hotel, while largely of secondary interest, is nevertheless likely to impinge acutely if things are not right.

Our last visit, pretty much en masse as several branches of the family converged for my mother’s funeral, was in July 2012 and the hotel could not have been more accommodating. Certainly there was the odd imperfection but that is rather like criticising handmade paper for having bits in it and an uneven surface – if you want handmade and personal, you may not get city centre finesse. And if you prefer the latter, you certainly won’t get the views, the free parking, the on-the-hoof menu personalisations, or in fact, the horse and sheep peering over the fence from next door.

You do not have a wonderful time in the circumstances that prevailed when we stayed there, but we could not have been looked after any better. Handmade paper is unique and so is the Blue Bell. Maybe give it a try if you’re up Yorkshire way, and say hello to the old hoss for us if he’s still nodding and swaying over the fence. Even better, say hello to Lynn – the Lady in Black and beating heart of the establishment – and tell her we sent you.

Blue Bell

Blue Bell Hotel: I’m not Alex Polizzi but …

Blue Bell conservatoryLet me say right off that the staff of the Blue Bell Hotel in Burton Agnes are as warm, friendly and accommodating as anyone could wish, and the rooms are very well appointed. For family reasons, I’ve had cause to stay there on several occasions over the last couple of years and so comparative standards have been easy to generate. The last time, earlier this month, we hit a drop in the usual quality of service, and all of it due to lack of attention to detail. The big things were right, as always, but the little things – not so much. I’m going to list them here; not in a belated hissy fit of unreported affront, but because when I gave this feedback personally to the manager, his acceptance could not have been more gracious or his promise that I would see a difference next time, more sincere. And given that I had just told him he looked like the handy-man rather than the front-of-house chap in charge, this was quite an accomplishment. Here we go then, but please take a look at the *positives too.

  1. No hot water in the room. I discovered this late at night and waited until the morning to report it. The staff said that, had I mentioned it at the time, they would have moved me immediately to another room, and I know they would have done that. I had unpacked and was less concerned about being clean than collapsing under the duvet!
  2. One of the light bulbs at the bedside was out.
  3. The soup course had arrived without a spoon, as did the boiled eggs the next morning.
  4. Breakfast had been moved from the large, airy conservatory to the brasserie. This is more cosy but also out of the way of staff traffic and so I had to go looking for someone to get coffee, marmalade and the like.
  5. A small point I didn’t mention was that the tables for one were set with the guest’s back to the door, which is not most people’s choice. We generally like to see who’s coming into our space. I rearranged mine.
  6. I was offered shower facilities in the room adapted for people with disabilities. This is a decent sized room with plenty of floor space and the heating had been put on earlier for me. But one of the glass shelves in the large wet room was tilted at such an angle as to be unsafe. Any glass item placed on it was at risk of sliding off and maybe smashing on the tiled floor.
  7. The emergency cord in the disability room had been tied up and would have been out of reach of a disabled guest who had fallen or was sitting on the toilet and needing urgent assistance.
  8. Standard and Superior rooms. Now here’s a thing – five of us stayed there on the occasion of my father’s funeral. I had booked four Standard rooms and my cousin had booked a Superior room because that was all that remained at the time. On inspection, we could not see the difference but it turns out that, in always asking to avoid the two rooms at the front of the hotel where double glazing is not permitted and both traffic noise and headlights cause disturbance late into the night and from very early in the morning (this is farming country), we had also been allocated Superior rooms. This means that a Standard room is one in which you might not be able to sleep, while a Superior one is likely to be quiet and lacking frequent, intermittent light pollution. I discovered this when I questioned the bill and argued that, as the primary purpose of a hotel bedroom is sleep, the ones where this is possible should not be regarded as Superior but Standard.  What remains is how to describe the others (rooms 13 & 14, since you ask). I have suggested blackout curtains so that the intrusive light from full beam headlights would be excluded. Anyone who can sleep on a clothes line or has the kind of hearing impairment that renders traffic noise irrelevant, should have no trouble sleeping with the implementation of this low cost, simple adjustment.
  9. Finally, the anonymity of the manager. I’ve seen him at all times of day and he appears to be very hands-on. As he pointed out, he is the one who fixes the boiler, and so he probably spends quite a bit of time in the hinterland of the hotel. However, front of house is also an important job because it models dress standards to the staff (who all have a uniform), and leaves guests and visitors in no doubt as to who has the authority.

Every one of these problems is about attention to detail; checking rooms thoroughly before guests arrive, making sure the right cutlery is available, making it easy for guests to access available items, and adhering to a dress code commensurate with the role. They promise to put this right, so if you visit before I do, check and let them know if they haven’t come up to scratch.

*Now read the good things:

  1. This is a country hotel way out of reach anything that might be called a conurbation and so it is in farming country. There is a large lawn area to the back of the hotel and a friendly horse in an adjoining paddock.
  2. There is outdoor seating in a simple patio area.
  3. Parking is bliss.
  4. Staff will help with anything at all – including changing the menu if what’s on offer doesn’t suit.
  5. The chef will come out and discuss the ingredients of a dish, add something or leave it out if you wish.
  6. There is free wi-fi, now the first thing I look for in a hotel.
  7. Staff have a smart casual uniform so you know who’s who and who to ask for things.
  8. The rooms are spotless and well appointed with flat screen TV, double or two single beds, good wardrobe space, writing desk, storage, hair dryer and bath/loo/shower room with shampoo, soap, and shower gel. Take your own talc though.
  9. There is a bar, which is the local pub for people who live nearby. The bar man knows about the ‘legs’ in a glass of wine.

These are the reasons I will go back. If problems persist or recur – well, I’m there often enough now to be almost family so on the verge of feeling free to nip into the kitchen and rustle up some eggs for myself, if necessary! I won’t be hesitant about mentioning a glitch, don’t you be either. This is a place that wants to get it right and they will listen.

And Alex Polizzi? Watching The Hotel Inspector was like taking a course in how to point out flaws in the nicest possible but appropriately assertive way. Brits are not good at this; we creep away and whinge to our mates, or deliver an anonymous rant to a website. Or we go for a tirade modelled on a 1950’s headmaster, or a wrongly red-carded premiership footballer. These are not at all helpful. What people in the business say is ‘if you like what we do and how we do it, tell everyone; if you don’t – tell us’.

Blue Bell update

Blue Bell conservatoryBlue Bell hotel, Burton Agnes: turns out they not only have a number of ground floor rooms but at least one is disability equipped and the others are pet-friendly so how’s that for getting it right?

Cross-over blog: exciting but not as exciting as CSI…

I’ve been away this week on a part business, part family trip such that the experiences, some of them quite unspeakable, straddle my two online identities in terms of blogworthiness. If you live in north America or Australia you won’t be impressed but for us Brits, a trip of 300 miles or more demands military grade attention to detail and personal fitness. This is because we don’t expect to spend more than an hour in our vehicles or encounter anything approaching inclement weather and so we are constantly outraged when that happens. Our outrage is justified because the builders of our roads don’t expect this either and so they provide us with inadequate signage, invisible markings, and nowhere to stop even after the signs that say ‘Tiredness kills: take a break’.

For a few months now, I’ve been conversing by phone and email with Dr Sanjeet Pakrasi who is a consultant psychiatrist in Newcastle. Sanjeet has put together a care service for people with dementia that I would like to see researched for adults with learning disabilities as it seems to have potential not just for improving care delivery but also reducing costs. At its root is a touchscreen and broadband connection between client, family (optional), and a care hub which gives people live and spontaneous access to recognisable others who are able to provide help and support. Increasingly, it is also offering entertainment in the form of digital painting, jigsaws made from a person’s own pictures, and life story books. The beginnings of a client-driven social network is also emerging. I drove to Newcastle on Monday in conditions that had me wondering if I should be in charge of a vehicle at all. The speed of other drivers implied that they could see when I could not and, at a point where my three lanes were joined by another three lanes and all I could see was spray, I seriously questioned my sanity. Another 100 miles of headlights, poor visibility, and lousy road markings got me to my approximate destination some three hours later than expected and, with an empty tank and a full bladder, I was not best pleased to find that my satnav had misconstrued its position relative to its target. We were out by a parallel road, as it happened but when incontinence threatens, you’re not up for taking prisoners!

I phoned my host who came to get me and, with the kind of luck I would almost have traded for a bit less nonsense on the roads, it transpired that I had come to a halt right outside the house of a friend of his and so I was propelled through the door of this very kind stranger to park myself with immense relief on his loo.

Despite that quite horrific journey, during which I seriously feared for my life more than once, this was well worth the trip. Sanjeet had brought together people from the Technology Strategy Board (Assisted Living Innovation Platform), Microsoft, Northumbria University, the Department of Health, and the Connect for Care user council to generate discussion about development and research.  My part in this would be evaluation of an extension of this service model to a different client group where the potential for better use of outreach time seems likely to improve considerably the service we can offer to vulnerable adults. In addition, people whose needs currently preclude independent living for safety reasons might, with this technology in place, find they are able to cope well with their additional needs. More discussions on my return, this time at Brighton university, and hopefully out of that, an application for research funding. Crossing fingers as of now!

On a more personal note, I was astonished to find that the hotel, The Falcon’s Nest (one of the Innkeeper’s Lodge chain), had no lift, despite being quite a new development. There is also no attendant so that anyone needing assistance, as I did with a hefty case that would have toppled me back down the stairs had I tried them alone, has to go back outside and over to the pub to find the staff. There is no warning about this when booking and the next day, as we made the return journey to retrieve my case from the first floor (which they called the second floor, oddly enough), I asked what would have happened had I arrived in a wheelchair. There are several disability access parking bays just outside and so the response that ‘We would have shuffled things around’ (to get me a ground floor room), seemed a little unprepared. Be warned!

The next hotel on my trip, the Blue Bell, necessitated by a detour to Yorkshire for family reasons, was quite different. Although this too seemed not to have a lift, there was a very obvious and constantly staffed reception with helpful people who did not need to be asked regarding luggage. I am not sure what would have happened had I appeared in a set of wheels though, as there did not seem to be any ground floor rooms. However, this is an old pub that has been thoroughly upgraded and the comfort of it rather distracted me from my minor crusade! Family visits seem likely to be more on the cards than previously and so I will be back, and I will be back to this hotel too because of its aesthetics, its comfort and its personal warmth. Anyone who can combine elegance with sociable homeliness gets my vote and for that reason I’m putting a link here in case you are planning on visiting east Yorkshire and would appreciate a recommendation.

Breakfast room, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes large conservatory-style room for meals


Conservatory for meals, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes friendly, clean, good prompt service

There is also a small brasserie for evening meals and a rather splendid bar which I was too tired to sample! TV and wifi in the rooms, bedside sockets for those with charging needs and separation anxiety should their iPhone get more than a couple of feet away from their grasp!

Burton Agnes is rural but much of the York and east coast area is accessible from there.

When I returned, I found a blog item titled ‘Seventh Weekness’ detailing the ephemera of what had been the seventh week of the new year. Well, this was mine and if I ever, and I mean EVER, say I will drive to Newcastle again, please come after me with a large butterfly net and a plate of profiteroles to distract my attention while you remove the starter motor. I will gladly visit Sanjeet again but I will take the train or a wing-ed beast such as our internal airlines can offer. Or I will nip over to my science blog and quickly invent the teleport device.