Posted: Tue, 05 Feb 2013 11:07
On a cold mid-week day in early December we were visited at Brassey's cottage by Jean from Visit England. We only had a few days' notice but were putting up our cottage Christmas decorations and so it made sense to have our Visit England inspection on the same day. What we weren't expecting was the very rigorous viewing that followed!
Jean, as a senior and very experienced Quality Control inspector and regulator of Visit England arrived promptly; bang on time. She was smiling, as we welcomed her into the cottage. Tea and coffee were refused as were our mince pies! Then followed a very quick succession of questions and all answers were meticulously recorded. As the questions began the tone changed. Jean became direct and brisk. Eye contact was avoided. The latex gloves were snapped on! The fridge door was swung open and the cold interior peered into. The oven and inside of it had a deliberate finger swipe test. The pans on the pan rack and the sink and bowl within, all underwent the same scrutiny. Glasses were held up to the light. The hotel inspector off the TV looks an amateur compared to Jean.
She was now intent; focussed; diligent. She walked upstairs and inspected the front bedroom. Questions about the bedding were fired out. The pillowcases removed and the innards examined. The duvet pulled back and sheets then mattress scrutinised. I felt that my explanation that "my sheets are finest American designer" fell on deaf ears. The bed was sat on and gently bounced against. I explained the beds were from 'Burgess' – handmade in Manchester. Emotionless was the response "I see" followed by a slow drawn out "goood".
All the bedrooms received the same treatment. The welcome hamper was noted. The gardens and our winter pansies were noted. Our Christmas tree and decorations were noted. Our bird book and bird feeders, along with replenishing bird food all noted. Our freshly waxed antique furniture was noted. But no emotion was shown!
Instead after a very intense 50 minutes, Jean announced in a quiet voice "I've seen enough. Take me to your other cottage, Carden Green please."
Blimey, we now had to undergo the same process with our other cottage. We'd be nervous wrecks! Jean had asked if we'd wanted her to view both on the same day. We were buoyant, insistent – we were amateurs! We had nothing to hide but Carden Green Cottage was a breeze. Maybe we were more expectant. The cottage is only Victorian and therefore more robust than 17th Century wattle and daub Brassey's with lime plaster and lime wash paint. The second viewing seemed to fly by in comparison. The same tests were carried out, questions asked, answers and findings scribbled down. At the end of a three hour visit and still no mince pies consumed, Jean concluded she'd "seen all she needed to." Her voice was soft but her eyes narrowed as I asked what our overall results would be. "You'll have to obviously wait for the written report on both cottages" was the cool reply. Once again "blimey" I thought. After all the fuss we have to wait for results! This is torture – surely she knows?!
Well… after a few weeks' wait, as promised, a completely full and very detailed report was posted out with I'm relieved and proud to reveal . . . . . five stars! Top marks for both properties. Next time won't be so tough. We'll know what to expect. I'm very impressed with the rigorous examination undertaken by Jean, Jean (from Visit England) the inspectorate machine!!
So in anticipation the process has already started for our two Cumbria cottages and they have had their initial application form sent in. Four five star cottages is the aim – nothing less will do!
Let the inspections commence.
As I write this our Cheshire five star signs have just arrived – I can't wait to put them up! We've definitely earned our stars.