Born to Rule

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3 minutes

By Adam Raphael, Editor

I am often asked what sort of people read the Guide. I like to reply that at the latest count we have one duke, one duchess, one viscount, one countess (Italian), five dames, nine lords, 31 Ladies, 46 knights and roughly 20,000 odds and sods.

The aristos and the newly enobled may be a tiny proportion of the Guide’s readership, but they add a certain piquancy. One elderly Irish M’Lud takes delight in causing me grief about the Guide’s failure to tell him the depth of his favourite hotel swimming pool. When I wearily reply that this ‘essential fact’ is being considered for inclusion in a future edition, the prevarication is dismissed with lordly contempt.

The other characteristic of the Guide is its links to writers. The Guide was begun nearly 40 years ago by Hilary Rubinstein, a literary agent, after staying at the Ta ‘Cenc, a small Maltese hotel on the island of Gozo. He enjoyed it so much that he determined to share it with as many people as possible. The result was that he twisted the arms of his friends to write about their favourite hotel. They included such distinguished writers as Nadime Gordimer, Frederic Raphael (no relation!), David Lodge, Jan Morris, and the actress Claire Bloom.

An article in The Observer followed ‘And now the Good Hotel Guide’ which prompted hundreds of letters and formed the core of the first slim edition in 1978. The Guide soon developed a loyal following from cabinet ministers to ordinary folk. One former foreign secretary used to write to us each year to report on his summer holidays in France. He stayed at remarkably modest places.

In the early years, the Guide was jokily eccentric, but it was consistent in its advocacy of the merits of small, owner-managed hotels and its belief that a good hotel is, in the words of the Guide’s founder, ‘where the guest comes first’. We try to continue that tradition because what unites the Guide’s readership—aristos, literary types, politicians, journalists, doctors, lawyers and other travellers– is their enjoyment of staying in good places.

The range covered by the Guide is eclectic, and covers most tastes and budgets, from amazing value B&Bs to grand country houses. Swinton Park, near Masham, North Yorkshire, an ancestral Yorkshire castle offers a ‘Downton Abbey’ country house party weekend. Presided over by its owners Lord and Lady Masham whose family have owned it since the 1860s, guests are promised a variety of country pursuits and activities including Scottish reels.

At the other end of the spectrum, Howtown Hotel in Ullswater, an unspoilt part of the Lake District, owned by the Baldry family for more than a century, is a walker’s paradise. It is unique among hotels in the Guide in having no email, no fax, and no TV, at least in the bedrooms. If you wish to book, you must telephone Jacqui Baldry, well in advance, because it is so popular with its regulars who come back year after year.

Only four hotels have had an entry in every edition since we began publishing. We call them the ‘golden oldies’. They are Rothay Manor, Lastingham Grange, Currarevagh and Ballymaloe, all still under the same family ownership. That level of consistency over so many years is an amazing achievement.

What next for the Guide? Well, I can report that we are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by a new and energetic chief executive, Richard Fraiman, who has a background in marketing. The future is bright.

One advance to celebrate. Tigh na Cheo, the small Highlands guest house, whose battle with TripAdvisor was highlighted in last month’s newsletter, has secured funding from an anonymous donor to take its case to the Supreme Court.

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