Until recently, I’d never heard of Brigstock. This quaint East Northamptonshire village has a population of just under 1400 and is close to Corby and Kettering. It’s got all the essentials you’d want in a village – a doctors surgery, two pubs, two churches, a post office and a supermarket. Dozens of listed stone cottages line the streets and there’s a real community feel about this magical little place. In fact, every year, at Christmas time, the village becomes a ‘living Advent calendar’ where people decorate their windows and unveil them each day with neighbours gathered round the front of the house. How wonderful is that?
So the big question…can you really find the perfect British countryside escape in Northamptonshire?
I have a confession to make - for many years the phrase ‘Bed and Breakfast’ conjured up images of net curtains, floral carpets and worn out 80′s decor. I imagined paper thin walls, a huge television set and a sweet old lady who’d been running the establishment for 50 years (and hadn’t updated the decor since then either). It was rare that I’d book a stay in anything other than a hotel, but then Airbnb came along and that changed everything.
There’s definitely been a shift in what people want from accommodation – we’re swapping corporate carbon copies for home comforts, soulless chains for swanky apartments, one size fits all, for one size that fits ME.
Every year, TripAdvisor come up with their list of the Travellers Choice Top 10 B&Bs in the world, and The Swallows Rest in Brigstock have appeared in the Top 10 (at number 5 and number 8) for the last 2 years. The B&B is an intimate affair with 3 luxurious (and very generously sized) rooms that are run by husband and wife team Nick and Sam Read.
So how do you become one of the best B&Bs in the world? I decided to investigate and interviewed Sam the owner to find out…
Alicia: Hi Sam! Please can you tell me the story behind how you started The Swallows Rest?
Sam: Both Nick and I have a background working in hotels – prior to having children, I was Marketing Manager at Marriott Hotels (graduate management trainee with Whitbread Hotel Company) and Nick has held several Marketing Director positions in different hotel companies. So between us, we know what makes a good hotel! Nick and I met when we both worked at Whitbread – we were part of the same team working on a hotel opening.
We always wanted to set up our own B&B, as we felt very passionate about what makes a good B&B and knew that we could offer something unique and better than anything in the local marketplace. We also wanted to be in control of our own destiny!
Being one of TripAdvisor’s top 10 B&B’s is an incredible achievement! How did you find out you’d won and what was your reaction?
2017 award – a relative read about the announcement on the BBC website. We had a lot of publicity from the award (including ITV Anglian News feature) as there were 5 UK B&Bs in this world list.
We were delighted…..and surprised, given we are such a small B&B with only 3 rooms. We always knew guests enjoyed their stays with us but it’s been lovely to see that recognised with such a renowned award. The accolade is based on the fact that we only have 5 star ratings from all of our guests (we are up to 347 now). A couple of days ago, the 2018 Tripadvisor Travellers Choice awards were announced and we are delighted to see that we appear 8th in the UK list and 16th in the European list of the best B&Bs. We are very grateful to our previous guests for taking the time to complete these reviews….it always amazes us how much is written in such reviews – we really do appreciate the effort people make to comment on what they have enjoyed.
What do you think it is about The Swallows Rest that makes it one of the top 10 in the world?
Our unwavering attention to detail and commitment to consistently driving excellence…in product offering, cleanliness standards and above all, great service. Giving every guest a warm and friendly welcome and helping to make their stay as comfortable as possible. It’s a beautiful restful spot in quintessential English countryside.
Your rooms look so stylish and comfortable. How did you decide what decor to go for?
We knew when we designed the rooms that we wanted a restful, classic colour scheme that wouldn’t date. Having discovered some beautiful ‘Sandersons’ Swallows wallpaper, this set the tone for our colour tones which were all fairly neutral. We were quite clever with some of our purchases – buying classic french furniture on Ebay for a reasonable price. We also bought rolltop baths on Ebay that we had re-enamelled at a fraction of the cost of new ones. Everything that went into the room spec was carefully planned – plentiful natural light was an important feature when designing our bathrooms (they all have ceiling windows that let lots of light in) as well as having enough space for walk-in showers which guests love! We decided to lay wooden floors as not only do they look fantastic, but they are very practical to keep clean and looking good. Heated towel rails and underfloor heating lend a luxurious feel to our rooms. Large tvs, working desks with lamps, adjustable heating, full length mirrors are all geared around the guests’ needs.
How did you come up with the name? Was there a shortlist or did you immediately know?
When we decided to open the B&B, we knew we had to have ‘Swallows’ in the name as each year we have a nest of swallows housing in part of our house, which is a beautiful cycle of nature to witness. The “Rest” in the name was very important as it encapsulates the essence of what we’re about! Its very important that everything we do is geared towards making the guest experience as restful as possible – from the colour schemes in the bedrooms….to the high quality superking beds and soft mattress toppers ….to the egyptian cotton bedding……to the blackout curtains etc. Fundamentally guests want a great night’s sleep!
Have you had any advice/mentors to guide you along the way? Any words of wisdom or advice they gave you that stuck with you when you were launching the B&B?
Just each other as sounding blocks! We’re always looking at ways we can improve what we offer. Our philosophy “We don’t do ordinary” runs strongly through everything we do – we aspire to being the ‘best in class’ and have always gained great job satisfaction through making every single guest feel special and welcome when they walk through our door.
I noticed that you have organic toiletries and all your breakfast ingredients are sourced locally (this is amazing!). Please can you tell me why you decided to make these little touches and why it’s important to you?
It’s these little things that matter; making our own bread, jams and conserves, having eggs from next door, honey from Brigstock, fresh milk for tea & coffee, premium teas and ground coffee, homemade cookies, fresh flowers – guests love the quality because it shows we care.
Where have your guests travelled from? Any international visitors? Any stand-out guests?
We have guests staying from literally all over the world – our visitor book is testament to the huge variety of guests that come to enjoy the Swallows Rest for all sorts of reasons. Business guests often try us because they are tired of the soul-less-ness of large hotels and looking for something more personal and individual. Once they find us, they usually return again and again! Our leisure guests love the boutique style and comfortable environment at the Swallows Rest – whether they’re on a leisure getaway, visiting friends/family, a bride & groom or attending a local event. We also have lots of guests using the Swallows Rest as a stopover – with such easy access to the A14, lots of guests travelling east to west or north to south want to break up their journey. People are always pleasantly surprised with what a beautiful village Brigstock is and yet how close we are to easy access routes.
Why should people come to stay at The Swallows Rest? / What sort of stay can they expect?
Because once you visit, you’ll want to come back! Like most of our guests – who return again and again. You can expect a warm welcome, a great night’s sleep and a yummy breakfast….our Tripadvisor reviews say it all!
After interviewing Sam, I really had to check The Swallows Rest out for myself…here’s what I thought:
Check-in: Sam met us in the driveway with a beaming smile and offered to carry our bags. She was incredibly warm and friendly – the sort of person you feel instantly at ease with. I imagine most guests leave seeing her as a new friend, in fact, this was evident when another guest left her a postcard and box of shortbread on her departure. The B&B is attached to the house but has a private entrance to ensure guest privacy. There’s a beautiful bright dining area in the middle of the three rooms where guests meet for breakfast. In this area, there’s an honesty mini-bar, maps, takeaway menus and local guides. Something that really impressed me was that prior to checking in, Sam emailed me to ask if I wanted any taxis or restaurants booking in advance (and she gave me a list of tips on the local area). Check-in itself was quick and easy and our room was ready straight away, even though we were early.
Style/Design: Neutral tones, modern, minimalist and bright. Willow wallpaper, wooden floors, light bedding.
Welcome drinks/surprises: We were over the moon to discover freshly baked (and still warm) chocolate cookies waiting for us – heaven! They really did taste as good as they look and to our ultimate surprise, they were replenished the next day with white chocolate and cranberry cookies – mmm.
The room in a nutshell: The Willow Room – large, modern super king room with a huge flat-screen TV, roll top bath, a walk-in shower, plenty of natural light and blackout curtains (the perfect combination).
First impressions of the room: Immaculately clean, incredibly relaxing and with lots of useful little touches (eg USB plugs, organic toiletries and homemade cookies).
What I loved: The bed was amazing. So SO comfortable. I really loved the light colour scheme of mixed beiges, creams and earthy tones – it instantly made me feel relaxed. Also I’m a huge fan of baths – so this was definitely a highlight for me.
I also loved the colourful artwork and features around the room – everything fit perfectly.
Minibar/In-room drinks facilities: As well as the kettle, tea and coffee, there was filtered water and of course the homemade cookies. Even though there was no minibar in the room, this wasn’t a problem as a couple of metres away, outside the room was the honesty bar. There were a selection of walkers crisps, kettle chips, chocolates, fizzy drinks and filtered water.
The Bed: You can tell it’s an expensive mattress from the blissful sleep I had. The superking combined with its crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets and plump duvet really was one of the best beds I’ve stayed in (and that’s a long list). There was an extra large padded headboard, floral scatter cushions and a tartan blanket too. No expense spared here.
The Bathroom: One word: impressive. I absolutely loved the roll top bath – super spacious and I even saw a red kite flying in the distance from the window in the bathroom ceiling. The bathroom features were really unique with the beamed ceiling and I also loved the rainfall walk-in shower. There was a hairdryer in the bedroom cupboard and it was impressive to see a range of organic toiletries. This bathroom gets 9.5/10….the only thing that would have made it reach the 10 would be to have conditioner instead of 2 in 1 shampoo but that’s a personal preference.
WiFi: Free WiFi that was strong and worked well streaming videos too.
Breakfast: At weekends, there is a full English of pork sausages, dry cured back bacon, organic chestnut mushrooms, grilled vine tomatoes, baked beans and “next door’s eggs cooked however you like them”. There was also freshly baked bread, local honey, homemade jam, fruit, yoghurts and marmalade made by Grandma. During the week there is a continental breakfast. The food was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection…
Other Notable B&B Amenities/Local Attractions: There are extensive guides available to the local areas and maps on the wall. Sam and Nick were on hand for advice too about where to visit. Brigstock and the surrounding area was full of surprises – not only did we have a delicious Burn’s night meal at the local ‘Green Dragon’ pub, but we also had an amazing 4-hour countryside walk. We found an incomplete Elizabethan mansion called Lyvedon and loved trekking through the fields and eventually ending up at Oundle.
The B&B backs on to a vineyard and in the summer, there’s a beautiful seating area outside.
To sum it up: Nick and Sam were the perfect hosts – welcoming, kind and very courteous when it comes to guests’ privacy. They both strive to be the best in the business – and their hard work has evidently paid off. Outstanding attention-to-detail sets them apart from their competitors with the freshly baked cookies, local breakfast ingredients, the honesty bar, organic toiletries, filtered water in refillable glass bottles and incredible customer service. You get the impression that every guest is important and standards never slip. On their website, they describe the B&B as ‘a unique Bed & Breakfast at a reasonable price.’ It’s certainly that, and much, much more.
If you’re looking for an escape in the countryside, a romantic retreat, a digital detox or even a chance to catch up on sleep – this is definitely the place for you. I wish Sam and Nick continued success and look forward to visiting them again in the future! xx
Thank you to Sam and Nick for hosting me. As always, all views are my own.
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