Insider View - Tourist Board Approval - Does It Matter?

Hilton Park - Clones County Monaghan IrelandLucy Madden recalls a busman's holiday to Edinburgh, winding up in the B&B from hell, and begins to understand just why we should be grateful for the exceptionally high levels of inspection by the Irish Tourist Board (Fáilte Ireland).

“My you are popular," my daughter once said, looking at our kitchen calendar for the coming month. There was a single entry for the 30 days and it read "renew TV licence". "We're far too busy for a social life," I said defensively, stuffing the redundant calendar out of sight. The truth is, we have slipped irretrievably through the social net, and thank heavens for it.

If you work in hospitality, you want to spend your free time as far from it as possible. This may involve some solitary occupation such as long-distance running or, in our case, feet up and eating baked beans in front of Coronation Street. Dinner parties are what other people go to.

There are exceptions, however; some time ago an invitation to Edinburgh came our way for reasons of a marriage, and although this meant three days of intense socialising, it also meant a chance to check out the opposition. You might assume that this is a preoccupation of people in various walks of life, but I've noticed it's not always so. Hotelier friends go on self-catering holidays.

I know people who work in the film industry who never go to the cinema, and writers who don't read their contemporaries' books. My theory to explain this is that we may find it somehow safer to work in isolation, less perturbing. The fear of finding oneself inadequate by comparison with one's peers is a potent reason to keep the head down.

This ignorance of the prevailing standards may be an explanation for the existence of a certain bed and breakfast business in the centre of Edinburgh. The weekend we wanted to visit the city, a rugby match was scheduled. The hotels were all booked, the guest houses were gone too.

Frantically we scanned the internet until we found a website that revealed bed and breakfast premises that still had vacancies, and so booked into one. It was walking distance from Princes Street, and the photographs of the premises revealed nothing to cause dismay.

Dismay, though, was the prevailing emotion as the taxi left us and we heaved suitcases heavy with wedding clothes down area steps, past the debris of a garden makeover and into the dark basement that would be our home for the next four nights. So small was the double bedroom that the bed was pushed up against one wall, denying access for one sleeper.

It was covered with a purplish nylon cover that looked as if your fingers would stick to it if touched. There was one chair, no table, on the mantelpiece a few dead branches stood in a vase of brown, stagnant water. In our daughter's single room, a stale pubescent whiff hung in the air, and a look in the cupboards revealed why.

The shelves were piled with the debris of an absent teenager; among the shoes and discarded detritus there was no room for a visitor's clothes. The bed was rumpled and a hair decorated the soap. Fond thoughts of home overcame us. "I'll have to have several large whiskies and wear a blind-fold before I get into that bed," the daughter said, echoing our thoughts.

Now this is an establishment that charges in the region of £135 a night for a room. During our visit, the owner was absent, practising yoga in India we were told, and she had installed a well-meaning but bewildered friend to run her business. She agreed to clear away some of the smellier shoes from the cupboard and after two days hoovered up the trail of dust exposed when we moved our bed from the wall, but nothing could allay our sense of grievance.

This was student accommodation at hotel prices. "No-one else has ever complained," we were told, but why the hell not? Further up the road, and for the same price, there was a hotel with fresh flowers, a bright receptionist and a clean lobby but, inevitably, they were booked up for months ahead.

Remembering the inspections we have had down the years from our own tourist board, they suddenly began to make even more sense. We weren't surprised to find that our basement abode had not been passed by the Scottish tourist board. No scrutiny of those beds could have passed inspection. All we could do was to register dissatisfaction with the website that advertised the premises and remember in future only to stay in registered places.

Elsewhere in the Scottish capital things were more cheery. What a great city to visit: so much to see. You can eat well, too. Down in the dockland area of Leith, we ate two 'light' courses of the finest seafood imaginable served with a glass of wine for £10. The place was packed. If only we had a string of such places around our own coastland. There are more simple, cost-conscious places coming on stream in these straitened times, certainly, especially in cities - but prices tend to go up alarmingly in areas where there is less competition.

We are told that the bed and breakfast sector in Ireland is struggling to survive. The old adage that you are only as strong as your weakest link may be part of the explanation. I never thought I'd say it, but greater scrutiny may be part of the answer.                                                 

[NB: Only ITB Approved Accommodation is considered for recommendation by Georgina Campbell Guides.]

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Kindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them Hospitality Ireland Magazine.

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