It’s certainly a while since I have written in this blog. Blame Twitter. Why write proper articles if you can get away with 140 characters or less! I don’t actually believe that which is why this blog still limps along.
At the end of the 1980s the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, as they were then known, opened up a hotel in Devon specifically for guide dog owners. I remember at the time, in my twenties, being very scathing about it and wondering why blind people couldn’t just go to ordinary hotels like everyone else. Friends of mine started to go there and the reports that came back were amazing. So, in 1994, needing a break for work in February, I booked five nights there.
It was truly incredible and like no hotel I had ever stayed in before. On arrival, the resident dog care staff would come and take your dog to relieve itself while you had tea or coffee. You were then taken to your room, your luggage having gone before you and someone would be available to show you around the hotel should you require it. The waiters in the dining room were all silver service trained, There was a pianist who played while you ate and the food and wine were exceptional. There was a swimming pool exclusively for hotel guests to use which was open from 7 in the morning. There were towels and grooming facilities for your dog and the dog care staff would take the dog and bathe it should you need this.
All this for a very reasonable, verging on ridiculous price, if you were a guide dog owner. Sighted guests did stay there but only as guests of guide dog owners! The hotel for this reason was always absolutely packed. More often than not you had to book way in advance to be sure to get a room.
The first two or three visits I made to that hotel were the same but prices started to go up and the service was slightly less opulent. Realistically though it could never have continued as it started up. Charities became more accountable and less money was available. The hotel however continued to do well, so much so that they built a huge extension which pretty much doubled its original size.
Later on the running of the hotel was passed from Guide Dogs to Action for Blind People and further cuts were made. However, the hotel still retained its great facilities for guide dogs, and particularly for our group of friends, it was a fabulous place to get together in a large group with several dogs. Something that could have daunted a mainstream hotel!
In 2012 my husband and I were married there. It was a truly wonderful day, one that we will never forget. Their wedding service was second to none. No detail was overlooked and we had exactly the perfect day we had hoped for.
Four of us visited the hotel a couple of weeks ago and were truly saddened by what we experienced. It was clearly running on a skeleton staff and we learnt that most of them are on zero hours contracts. There were hardly any guests there, the prices in the bar were prohibitively expensive and there was no exclusive use of the swimming pool for hotel guests at any time. A friend asked us for prices for a room in April and we were told £95 a night, per person for half board.
This, certainly for me is too expensive. If I am paying that price I don’t expect to have to go looking for bar staff when I want a drink, or be given a warm bottle of wine to take to the dining room when I ask for wine with the meal! Sadly, I won’t be going back there unless there are cheap deals perhaps.
I’m not sure why this has happened as I believe there could still be a market for this type of hotel, although demographics are certainly different now. Many more blind people seem to be unemployed than in employment so they probably don’t have the income to be able to afford to stay in hotels. Also, I’ve noticed that blind people aren’t made to go out there and get on with being independent like we were in the 70s and 80s when I was at school. I believe they are less likely to go out there and look for independent holidays.
Also I believe that a hotel can’t really be run by a charity with very little funding. They don’t appear to employ innovative staff who want to take the hotel forward and attract in new guests.
All is not lost however! We think we may have found a mainstream hotel who would be happy to have a party of people with several dogs. I for one am looking forward to staying there.
A sad end to the hotel which has given me so many happy memories.