07 Aug

Scotch Broth – A letter to Ian

Scotch Broth – A letter to Ian

Dear Ian

So, onward to Scotland.

Once upon a time there was an intrepid traveller who lived beside the sea on the northwest frontier, and seeking further adventure he and a disparate group of other like-minded people ventured far to the north way out into the wild northern lands beyond the great wall.

There were more people than usual who boarded the coach at 7.10am in Cleveleys on the morning of Monday 20th July. A quick drive down the prom to Blackpool for the second pick-up and then it was out onto the motorway to Preston bus station before heading over to Blackburn for the final pick-up. And then it was time to go north, so after two hours we were on the M6 and stopped at the Lancaster services (Lancaster is less than 20 miles from here). The drive northwards was pleasant and uneventful and we successfully crossed (unchallenged) in to that wild land that lies beyond the wall .

On arrival at ‘The Hotel’ (actually grandly titled Adamton Country House Hotel but henceforth shall be known as Faulty Towers on Steroids) the duty manager, Janet, came onto the coach, introduced herself and proceeded to pass amongst us handing out our room keys from a wicker basket. That was rather novel, thought I, but I could see the virtue of not having to queue in line at reception waiting to get checked in. But more of that later.

And that’s when the fun started.. Spoiler alert – You need to be good with numbers to follow this next bit. Now before I go on, just imagine the scenario – 54 passengers on the coach, not all of whom were pensioners but shall we say some were less than A1 physically fit specimens and indeed there were a couple of wheelchair users too. As we stepped down from the coach the driver was unloading the baggage (and wheelchairs). Collecting our bags, Janet the manageress directed us down three steps (two loose bricks on the top step) to be met by Mike or Matt or something like that, could have been Mac as we were in Scotland after all. He checked our key cards to see what rooms we were in and directed us all appropriately to make (find) our ways to our rooms. For me that meant climbing two flights of stairs (others had to go one flight higher) to get onto the right floor. I’m really glad I’d decided to travel light this trip and hadn’t overfilled my small case. Mike/Matt/Mac said that I should turn left at the top of the second flight of stairs and carry on along the corridor to the end. Oh, Janet had explained on the coach while giving out the keys that the first number related to the annexe and the three remaining numbers were the room numbers, so mine was 6110 – remember that because by the time I did eventually find it the penny had dropped that this was indeed going to be something of an adventure training camp. So, anyway I’m up on the second floor which is actually the first floor because the ground floor is called ‘The Basement’.

Are you still with me? I hope so because I still haven’t found my room yet (for the sake of this story – I’m trying to create a mental image for you of the real sort of time line involved here). There I was on the second floor, or first floor in Annexe 1 or 2 (I don’t think I ever managed to work that one out) and I was really glad my little case has little wheels as it followed me for miles along identical corridors through a maze of identical annexes. Eventually I found Annexe 6 (btw – there were 7 annexes in total) but could I find my room 6110? I saw 6001 and all identical doors along the corridor to 6009 and then through a fire door into an open space where there was a lift door on my left and the entrance to Annexe 7 to the left of the lift. Just to the right of the Annexe 7 fire door was another door with a notice saying ‘Staff Only’ (it was actually the linen cupboard – a bedroom sized linen cupboard) I peered through into Annexe 7 to see if 6110 was hidden away through there but it wasn’t. So I retraced my steps back to where I started at the top of the 2nd flight of stairs.

And started the search all over again,

And again.

Three bloody times I trailed the length of those corridors, remaining surprisingly reasonably calm as the will to live was fading away. So, there I was, back in that space by the lift door, the door to Annexe 7 and the linen cupboard. Just to the right of the linen cupboard door was a window so I paused to look out and survey the building site. At least I was looking out at some daylight anyway. Now it may just have been me being a bit tired after the long day/drive or I might just have been a bit slow but as I was about to try a 4th time I noticed that there was another door in the open space by the lift. Yep, you’ve guessed it, Room 6110.

That was something of a relief, and what do you know, the key actually fitted the lock on the door. It was a good sized airy bedroom and the bathroom was a good size too, and apart from lumps of plaster fallen from one of the walls, and exposed carpet gripper rods where two sections of carpets were not quite joined up properly, it was quite clean and tidy. The bed felt comfortable too and it was only for three nights anyway so hey ho, not to worry. It’ll all be OK.

I put the kettle on and got a brew going while I unpacked and had a quick swill and changed out of my travelling clothes.

At this point it may be helpful for you my dear reader to hark back to an earlier paragraph, the one that begins with “On arrival at….”.

OK, are you back with me now?

Right, here we go.

I set off walking the corridors again, it’s a good job I like walking isn’t it, this time in search of Reception. There were nice clear signs supposedly strategically situated with helpful arrows pointing the way to Reception. I followed them diligently all the way back to where I started at the top of the second flight of stairs that I’d started from. No sign of reception, but there was another sign (and another) pointing out that Reception was in the opposite direction. After a couple of attempts I met some other lost souls wandering aimlessly along the corridor somewhere in Annexe 3 – or it might have been 4 – and they had been looking for reception too (I didn’t have the heart to ask them how long they’d been searching – could have been since a year ago last Monday for all I knew) Anyway we decided that the signs were there pointing a way to Reception that didn’t really exist yet – we reckon it was hidden away behind some wooden boarding along one bit of the corridor. On the other hand it may have been other lost souls from a previous generation that had been walled in, there was an occasional odd knocking sound coming from the other side, and that light moaning sound could just have been the wind whistling through the Trossachs.

It turned out later that part of the building work going on was indeed the erection of a direct internal link between the annexes and the actual Reception. So, that little riddle was semi resolved. The episode also explained why Janet had come on board the coach to hand out the keys – because there was no Reception in the Annexes building!

By now there was about an hour to go until our allotted meal time so the next priority was a) to find the dining room and b) to find the bar.

Back along to Annexe 6 and my room door (6110 in case you’ve forgotten or nodded off along the way) and the paper sign stuck beside the lift door instructs that for the Coach Party’s Dining Room we should press the -1 button (i.e. not the G or Ground Floor but the -1 for Basement as the automated lift voice would have it) but for the sake of clarity the -1 floor is not the basement at all but 5 steps above the ground floor outside. And the Dining Room for Coach Parties was down another 3 brick steps– with no handrails and along the outside path to the entrance .At least now I knew where the Dining Room was so I wouldn’t starve.

But I was also still searching for the Reception – if only to see if there really was one!

Opposite the entrance to the Dining Room was a steep flight of stairs leading upwards to two big doors, so I thought I’d go and do a bit of exploring. I opened one of the doors and found myself in (another) dining room (the posh hotel people’s dining room) where a waitress was busy setting tables. “Hello”, said I, “Is there a Reception anywhere and / or a bar at all in this hotel?” “Yes” said she, “It’s just through there”, pointing off into the deep dark recess. Well hey, there was a Reception after all. So, I asked the receptionist if they had a bar in the building and she directed me through another doorway and sure enough there was The Bar. I got some strange looks from the few people seated around the small bar area , Later on I realised that they weren’t used to seeing …….someone from The Annexes who had actually broken out and stumbled on their hideaway. But the girl behind the bar was friendly enough so I spent a pleasant half hour chatting with her.

But then I had to find my way back to the Annexe People’s Dining Room. I got to the posh people’s dining room where the waitress was still busy setting up tables and I had to ask her how could I get back down to The Annexes and the Coach Parties’ Dining Room. “You’ve nearly made it” she smiled, “It’s just through those doors and down the steep flight of stairs”. And so it was.

Even I’m finding this all a bit longwinded now, and I am conscious that I haven’t started cooking anything for tea yet so I’d better crack on and tell you a few things about “The Dining Room”.

Each coach party is allocated tables and ours were designated with Green napkins (as opposed to Yellow, Red, Blue, or whatever) and the food was all self-service. I don’t have a problem with that at all, but I do expect clean plates to plonk my food onto and on three occasions had to ask for clean plates to be brought out to the servery. The dirty plates weren’t dirty as in stuck on leftover food, they were just plain dirty – like they’d been washed in a dirty puddle on the building site and stacked up while still wet. One meal included what I think was euphemistically called roast beef in red wine. I think the beef was nearer to inedible (and uncuttable) old shoe leather rather than any long-horned four-legged bovine. A final one here on the food front – another dinner – Beef Burbignone (sorry about the spelling) which included chopped up left over pork sausages from the previous breakfast time.

Meanwhile, back in The Annexes, a couple of anecdotes:

A couple of sisters from Blackburn running the hot water for a bath – but they could turn the hot water tap off and the water was flowing into the bath faster than it could drain out. But there were no phones in any of the rooms and the ladies had no idea where reception was. So they phoned National Holidays office (over near Hull) and explained the problem and asked to be put through to reception at the Hotel – which they duly did and after a few frantic hours the problem was resolved.

I guess the maintenance man was kept very busy what with leaking radiators, soaking carpets and broken showers etc.

One old guy just got lost. He’d gone in search of Reception and having decided to give up on the hunt he went back to his room – only he could remember which room, which floor or even which annexe he was in. That one was resolved when someone found his wife in an extremely distressed state wondering what had happened to her husband and with the aid of a couple of helpful people who managed to successfully reunite the couple.

I think I still remain as one of the few people who did actually find The Reception and The Bar.

For us plebs in the Coach Parties’ Dining Room they had a makeshift bar area set up beside the food server.

A nice thing happened on the way home. I’d been talking to Nigel the coach driver the day before and asked him if he was going to do the return drop-offs in reverse order (Blackburn, Preston, Blackpool and Cleveleys which is the usual way of things) or as he was driving north to south could he do it the other way for a change – it would save us at least 3 hours, possibly 4 hours, and as he was travelling on home to Manchester after his last drop, he would be heading in the right direction without having to double back over the same stretches of road. So, we got dropped off in Cleveleys first just 2 hours after leaving Gretna where we’d had a 45 minute break after leaving Prestwick.

Oh, amongst the contingent travelling form Cleveleys was one lady who I see most days walking her dog along School Road here, and a couple who live down Victoria Road in Cleveleys and go in the Bay occasionally. Neil and I went to watch / listen to the band who were very good, the best they’ve had on for over a year in our opinion. And the couple from Victoria Road were in too so we had a good chat – and a laugh reliving and sharing the memories. I’m definitely going to write to National Holidays to express my disappointment with the hotel – it really should not be open to the public until everything is sorted out and all building work is finished. Everything else about the trip was fine.

So, there you go. If you’ve stuck with it and managed to get to this line then you deserve a medal for endurance.

Now I really must sign off and turn my attention to cooking something up for tea – and serving it up on clean plates! At ground level a million miles from Annexe 6.

Take care Ian, I hope you’ve enjoyed the read.

Russ.

 

 

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Hi Ian,

 

A few additional thoughts which didn’t quite make it in to the previous email.

 

One of the points I will be making when I write to National Holidays about my Scottish trip is that they should state absolutely clearly to everyone looking at or thinking about booking a holiday at the same hotel (Adamton Country House Hotel) near Prestwick is the unsuitability for any guests who rely on wheelchairs, Zimmer frames or are generally bad on their feet / legs. There is only one lift which will only carry up to 4 people at a time and that is situated at one end of the Annexe complex. Even if guests are able to specially request a ground floor room there are still umpteen steps or stairs to negotiate, some of the steps outside between the Annexe (lift end) and the Coach Parties’ Dining Room don’t even have a handrail.

This should not be allowed, I don’t know how they are allowed to operate. There are steps and staircases everywhere and only the one lift, no sign of any easy fire escapes for the disabled or infirm.

 

I’m still fairly agile and active so most of the step problems don’t affect me but having said that even I would have felt more comfortable if there had been a handrail on some of them.

 

The path alongside the Dining Room (between the Annexe door and the Dining Room entrance is outside with no cover – no problem if the weather is fine but you’d get soaked when it rains. Contrary to what everyone says about how it always rains UP in Scotland, I know for a fact that it does rain DOWN too.

 

The building work: Yes, there is fair bit of new building work going on but that is fairly quiet and let’s face it, we were out and about on excursions during the daytime hours so it didn’t affect us, and I think it would also be fair to say that when they have done the current work the result should look pretty good. But there is so much that needs doing to the existing buildings. In my opinion, National Holidays should pull this one and stop offering holidays there until all the work is complete and all rooms are fully functioning. If it takes a year to get it right then so be it. What price do they put on customer satisfaction. I consider myself fairly easy going, a trainee grumpy old man, and prepared to put up with a bit of ‘hassle’ – like it is only for a few nights, and I’ve slept in worse places (oh really? I begin to ask myself). And the National Holiday trips are generally reasonable value and enable a lot of people to go away for a few days here and there with similar minded people. But, cheap and cheerful is one thing at the end of the day it all costs money and let’s face it we are all (or certainly should be) demanding better value for our £’s.

 

A final thought on the building work – none of the builders were wearing hard hats or high viz jackets, and from what I saw their hoodies and shorts were complemented by nice comfy trainers – none of the obligatory steel toecap protective footwear there. Using a circular saw/grinder to cut through concrete – no sign of any goggles or face mask to protect against flying bits & pieces or the clouds of concrete dust created. Perhaps they do breed them tougher up there?

 

I think I might have just worked out why there were so many stacks of dirty dinner plates – they may have been using one of the builders’ cement mixers as a dish washer when the workers had clocked off for the day.

 

On our last night there I was talking to Janet, the duty Manager, and asked what she planned to do about us all and our room keys before we left in the morning – would she be coming on to the coach to collect the keys same as she’d handed them out? I made the point that only a few of us had actually managed to find Reception and I for one wasn’t going to traipse all that way, up and down all the stairs – with my suitcase just to hand in my key after breakfast. She asked what I thought was best and I asked what does she normally do – but that I’d leave my key in my room door, and she said that would be fine. So I spread the word to the other nine people with whom I shared a dining table and they in turn passed on the message to others so I reckon in the end everyone followed that advice.

 

As I’ve noted before, none of the travails really affected me directly but they were a cumulative source of disappointment and mild frustration. However, rather than follow the herd of malcontents complaining, shouting, stamping their feet, or finger wagging etc at the manager I tried to remain relatively calm and offer some constructive suggestions – which did actually seem to go down quite well.

 

I’m looking forward to my next National Holidays trip (in August) to Oxford and Stratford on Avon, but as the brochure says we’ll be staying in one of their ‘Select Hotels’ I won’t know which hotel – or even which town I’ll be staying in. After that, who knows, I have no further plans to book any more breaks with them. I might have a think about investing in a senior citizens railcard for next year and look at sorting out some trips of my own to do. A few days in York are very appealing at the moment but there are a few places I’d like to visit and explore for a few days at a time.

 

One final thought on the Adamton CH Hotel, in fact this applies equally to all hotels – why, in this day and age do they not all provide free Wi-Fi as standard? Some places can and do, why then can’t they all ?

 

That’s your lot for tonight. It is still grey, miserable, raining and blowy outside and it has gone COLD so I’d better put another layer on before I go and sit down to watch tonight’s episode of Odyssey – don’t know if you’ve been following that but I think it is pretty good.

 

I’m glad it has rained today, normally on inclement days I do a bit of extra curricula cleaning / housework but today the cleaning has been put on hold while I’ve spent a few happy hours with you and that has to be good.

 

Take care, and do wrap up warm. 26th July? Feels more like the end of October here right now.

 

Russ.