Those with long memories may realise this is an adaptation of something I posted way back in October of last year. Mind you, even if you do have long memories, I only had about 3 followers back then, so most of you will never have seen this in your lives.
We’re told that the UK abounds in small, friendly hotels with great service, good food, and excellent facilities and rooms. Here’s a couple that failed to make the shortlist.
The Black Prince, Llantrisant, near Cardiff.
Welsh placenames always mean something such as ‘The place where Ifor Evans got arrested for sheep worrying.’ Llantrisant translates roughly as ‘Thieves’ kitchen’.
Llantrisant is the original one horse town. I know this because I nearly hit the horse as I drove into what is laughingly referred to as ‘town’. Actually it was a cow, but you get the idea.
You may have heard horror stories about old people dying and nobody notices for three months. The whole town is like that. It perches picturesquely on top of a hill, from where the copious rain can run down the hillsides and flood the main road that bypasses the place. The streets are steep, narrow, and winding, and full of the potentially lethal drivers you find in Wales, the guys better suited to being behind the wheel of a muckspreader. There are no restaurants, and at five in the evening only one pub was open (that’s Nonconformists for you), though in a surreal turn of events the hairdresser was doing a roaring trade in blue rinses. What an awful place. Plug in your razor and the town suffers a brownout of impressive proportions. A good night out is when the entire population turns out to watch the traffic lights change colour. No wonder there’s a bypass.
I stayed in the only place that appeared to have a semblance of life, the Black Prince Hotel. Folks from Utah would feel very much at home here, since the décor can best be described as ersatz frontiersman. Downstairs there’s much gloom, heavy beams, rough plastered walls, and lots of horsecollars, far too many for the one horse, which would have collapsed under the weight. Upstairs my room gave me a pretty good view of the industrial estate opposite, and of the exceptionally dull Royal Mint building, which looks as if it has escaped from a 1950s Soviet building project.
The best way out of Llantrisant is a few beers, which can be had in the bar, a maelstrom of bad lighting and a 20 foot Sky TV screen. Beer being beer, at some point I had to find the lavatories. En route to them from the bar, there was a pool room, with four tables, a plethora of video machines, an inoperative jukebox filled with Eagles albums, and no people. Why there are so many CCTV cameras was beyond me. I was also nonplussed by the fact that the pipework from the cistern to the urinals in the lavatories had been disconnected. Not torn off the wall, something I would have felt an urge to do myself for a bit of entertainment, but neatly sawn off. Most odd.
The bar itself was full of flooring contractors from Nottingham. And a rather bemused family of Swedes. No wonder they were bemused, since for dinner they ended up eating an Indian food buffet in surroundings suggesting the Last Chance Saloon. To be fair the food was excellent, and remarkably cheap. As were the bar prices, though of course they had to do something to compensate for the misery of the town. But why Swedes would want to visit Llantrisant is something only they could tell.
I may be being unfair about the hotel, because in truth it was very much my kind of place. A bit shabby, a bit seedy, a bit chaotic, and all in all the sort of place I like. However my view of the place took a nosedive when my jacket was stolen from my room, with all my credit cards, my wallet with all my money, and my car keys. I’ve travelled the world over, and not had anything like this happen to me. Even in New York, in the bad old days of the late 70s when simply using the subway was tantamount to signing a consent form for early and bloody euthanasia, the worst that had ever happened to me was to get hustled into a doorway on 6th Avenue by a big bloke demanding a needle and thread. I happened to have a hotel sewing kit in my pocket, and the guy left well pleased and without violence.
I too left Llantrisant without violence, though the temptation was so strong that I nearly went over to the Dark Side. And I wasn’t well pleased. Travelling in a breakdown truck because your carkeys have been stolen can make even the most even-minded of people a bit truculent, especially if they’ve had to borrow 100 notes from the hotel manager to get home by train, get a spare car key, and travel back by train the next day in order to drive home again in the heaving rain. Then I had to explain to a car hire company that I hadn’t been anywhere near Heathrow when their car was rented out using my credit card and not returned.
The Kensington, Selly Oak, Birmingham
Undoubtedly the smallest room I have ever encountered offered seriously as suitable accommodation for an entire week. Built into the eves of the old garage, the room had sloping ceilings that prevented me from standing upright in most of the floor area, and where I could stand upright the amount of space prevented me from turning round. As an additional hazard an open wardrobe door neatly divided the room into two parts, which necessitated climbing over the bed to get out. As I was on a training course I could have done with at least some flat surface to use as a desk. There was a dressing table but the pressure on space meant that this was entirely taken up with a TV set that proved remarkably sensitive to the radio messages from the frequent minicabs arriving at and departing from what appeared to be a small brothel across the street.
Curiously the bathroom was almost as big as the main room, but the facilities failed to include even a shaving mirror. The local 24 hour minimart was able to supply me with a rather splendid one, with a plastic frame in a rather fetching shade of fluorescent pink, but you get my point. Plus the washbasin had been fitted to the wall sloping backwards, so the water never drained away and the soap went soggy, and the shower cubicle leaked and enabled me to wash the carpets while performing my ablutions.
There was a bottle bank just up the road. I can tell you from bitter experience that recycling crews in Birmingham leap from bed with a joyous cry to greet the day at an unusually early hour.
Premier Lodge, Birmingham South
Birmingham again I’m afraid. The Premier Lodge is not strictly a small hotel but it has many of the same attitudes. Check out the website if you must.
Firstly the location. The Lodge occupies a prime site on a trading estate, surrounded by Carpetworld and BedsDirect sorts of businesses. Sadly the prime site does not invest much in clear signposting, so I sailed past the place a couple of times.
Secondly the room. I’m used to a bit of a shambles in hotels, but melted lightshades on the bedside lights I wasn’t prepared for. Clean enough, though, if somewhat niggardly with the tea and coffee sachets for the much vaunted facilities. And to be fair, the shower was a gem.
Thirdly the Lodge has no restaurant or bar. Weary travellers are forced to go to the Outside Inn (yep, really) next door. The pub is OK, if full of students from the University of Birmingham waiting for films to be on at the local Cineworld complex. I arrived on a Sunday eve, dropped in for a quick de-stressing beer, and against my better judgement was drawn into a conversation with a local who informed me his mate had wet the bed the night before. Since correspondent, mate, and both their partners/spouses were in attendance I suppose that wetting the bed is some sort of courtship ritual in the West Midlands, but as they say that was a bit more detail than I needed.
The Outside Inn restaurant warrants a special mention. It’s black. I mean really black; painted black. With fairy lights in the ceiling. Including a train of them that fires every so often intended to create the impression of a shooting star. Except it doesn’t. Fibreglass trees and a pretend stream with a sort of elfin wooden footbridge add to the non or surreality of the place. To be fair the food is generous and cheap, and the waiters seem to get the fact that the whole place is a bit of a no-no. Like a mid 80s Beefeater but without the charm.
And one that desreves honourable mention
Can’t remember the name of it, but if you drive into Coldstream, just over the border into Scotland, there’s a pub on the right that does B&B. I was ready for a bit of R&R, since I’d driven all the way from Essex in pissing rain, which only stopped when I got to Coldstream, where the skies cleared and a vicious frost set in.
The place I stayed had only rather small rooms, but very comfortable. The place was warm, friendly, had good food, and a welcoming bar. I had dinner, a couple of drinks, B&B, all for just about 30 quid. Bargain