Our first season of holiday letting is over, the last guests have gone and it’s been a revelation, a lesson in human psychology and a steep learning curve for us, but an enjoyable venture nonetheless. (See earlier blog Stable to Nest for more background).

I felt a bit scared at first to be honest, a feeling echoed by one of our grandsons who said, in a slightly horrified voice: “You’re going to let strangers come and stay there?” But back in April this year we were novices on the whole art of self-catering accommodation, and pestered everyone we knew in that field for advice, now we are pleased with how well it’s turned out.

We chose Sykes Cottages as our agents and through them to offer whole weeks only, no short breaks, to minimise the amount of changeover washing and cleaning, although a few guests booked to stay less than the seven days. Of the twenty-one bookings we have had over the spring and summer, most were couples, two were singles, and seven couples brought their dog. The dogs varied as much as their owners, mostly designer breeds, a puggle, two cockapoos and another poodle-cross mutt that looked like a teddy bear. A conventional standard Poodle, with an unconventional haircut, a greyhound and a black labrador. The guests hailed from a wide variety of locations, as far as Cumbria and as near as Dorset, several from the home counties, the midlands, Yorkshire and Durham. Most stayed for a whole week, a few just for a weekend or a short week.

It was interesting to see if new guests wanted to interact with us or not. As hosts to strangers you tread a fine line between being over friendly or not friendly enough. Dave was much keener than me to strike up a conversation with them. I tended to hang back after the initial welcome until I had grasped how they expected to be treated. Very few ignored us completely, most were glad to have local advice available, and some enjoyed longer chats. You soon learn to get a sense of how they will be.

About half of the guests were walkers and sightseers, a few hoping to spot a tank on the ranges, the rest purely sightseeing members of National Trust and English Heritage. One pair were house-hunting, another pair were cottage-hopping and two pairs were celebrating anniversaries. Stonehenge was a favourite destination, also Stourhead, Avebury, Caen Hill Locks, Westbury White Horse and Shearwater. We provided copies of Dave’s local annotated walking maps, ranging from a couple of miles to 16 miles in length, and one energetic walker tried to fit all ten walks into her seven days! She almost succeeded with only one not attempted. Given the mention in our Sykes blurb of Dave’s interest in cycling, only one guest brought a bicycle, a very sturdy brand new electric bike.

Inevitably we had disasters, a run of three, as my mother would have predicted! First, our drains were blocked after only two sets of guests. Luckily, a lovely man from Beales came out like a shot and cleared it in time for the next guests. But, it was obvious that we needed to remind city visitors more forcibly about our sensitive septic systems out here in the country, a mention in the welcome pack to flush only the three ‘P’s, would not suffice. We remedied this by printing out a polite notice, framing it, and placing it strategically in the en suite. It worked like a charm, no more problems, but we do check the drains every week.

A week or so later we collided with a guest’s car on the driveway! Again, we were very lucky in that their car was undamaged, ours sustained a crease in the rear paintwork. It happened when we failed to see them reversing out at the same time as us. That was very embarrassing, but gave us a valuable reminder that we were now sharing the driveway.

Thirdly, one Friday morning the postman delivered two parcels, addressed to an unknown woman at our address. We didn’t recognise the name, I checked it was not the name of the booked guests arriving later that day, so postie took the parcels away to return to sender. You can guess what happened! As soon as we were introduced to the new guest’s partner later that afternoon, I knew that the parcels had been hers. Lesson number three learned.

On the whole the successes have far out-weighed the disasters. Two couples were so impressed with the mattress in the Nest that they ordered one for themselves. We were asked for a few things that we had failed to provide, a masher, a toast rack, larger wine glasses and two extra pillows. As Dave said: “Who uses a toast rack? You take it out of the toaster and put it on the plate!” But the positive verbal comments were heartwarming and encouraging:

“The bread is superb, we’ve eaten it already and had to go and buy some more.”

“Can I move in?”

“I feel I want to pack it all up and take it home.”

“If you ever want to sell it, let me know.”

So we must have got something right, and now look forward to next season with a greater understanding of the art of self-catering.

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