Low Mill Guest House is a stone-built, Grade II listed, late 18th Century corn mill situated in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales village of Bainbridge, close to the ancient market town of Hawes. Backing onto the River Bain, England’s shortest river, Low Mill is an amazing place. Most of the original millworks situated throughout the house remain in working order, including the waterwheel. It has recently undergone a full, sympathetic restoration to become a Guesthouse, providing luxury bed and breakfast accommodation. Owners Jane and Neil McNair work hard behind the scenes to create a relaxed atmosphere and a delicious range of home-cooked food. Neil tells us all about the restoration and the key qualities he believes are necessary to run a great B&B.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the B&B industry.
Our backgrounds are far removed from hospitality. Before we brought the mill in 2010 we lived in London with Jane running a veterinary practice and myself as a Carpenter owning my own building company. It was only when we decided to buy an enormous house in the Yorkshire Dales without jobs that we came up with the idea of turning our derelict watermill into a luxury B&B, so really you could say we stumbled into the hospitality business!
We have been oohing and ahhing here in the office over the stunning interior – congratulations on an amazing sympathetic restoration. How long did it take to restore and did you undertake the work yourselves?
It was really important to us that the renovation retained and highlighted the heritage of the Mill. The original stone walls and timber beams give the mill such a lovely atmosphere and we were really lucky that so many original features were still evident. Most of the mill equipment still works now over 230 years after being installed. It took us a year to renovate the top 3 floors of the mill, with the basement and the Waterwheel being restored after we had opened as a B&B.
We carried out the bulk of the work ourselves but to speed up the process we hired an electrician, plumber and plasterer to help us. Jane became a dab hand at cutting and shoving insulation between beams and anywhere else that looked like it needed it! It was a labour of love with every detail being thought through .We spent many a Saturday morning at Tennants auction house in Leyburn buying weird and wonderful things! When the refurb was done we had a fun time working out where all our purchases were going to live and mixing the strange with the functioning.
In your view what do you think is the most challenging aspect of running a B&B?
We do everything ourselves here from breakfasts, cleaning / changing rooms ,evening meals and all the admin so for us there are never enough hours in the day. We are frequently working 14hour days, 7 days a week – that in itself is quite challenging. Do you use social media to market your guest house and do you think it is important to do so?
We do use social media a fair bit. I am in charge of Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and Jane looks after Facebook. We find it a great way to get noticed and to communicate with other businesses locally and further afield. We are able to promote our offers on these platforms and have had many bookings directly from them, we find them especially helpful if we have last minute cancellations as we able to instantly promote the availability.
When we were fundraising recently for a local cause one of our tweets was noticed by the BBC – they got in touch and both the charity and our business got valuable coverage on national and local radio stations.
How do you decide on your breakfast menu?
Our breakfast menu is constantly being adapted and improved. We have the usual dishes like full English, smoked salmon and scrambled/boiled eggs etc but we also serve seasonal or home-made specials such as hot cross buns or English muffins. We also serve 3 or 4 fruit salad dishes which we try to keep seasonal. Our main desire is that everything must be local or made in-house by us – that is our main criteria.
What is the most bizarre/unusual request you have had from a guest?
Last year we had a couple from NZ staying with us for 4 nights and we were asked if it would be possible to have a bed made up on their bathroom floor for the duration of their stay which we thought a bit odd. It turned out the reason was that her husband snored so badly that she couldn’t sleep in the same room as him, We obliged with the bed and everyone slept well…. just as well it was en suite !!
In your opinion what are the key qualities that a successful host requires to run a great B&B?
A good host needs to be friendly, welcoming, helpful and relaxed so that guests immediately feel at home in their new surroundings, It’s also important to be able to give informed and useful advice on the local area and to be able to be intuitive towards guests needs so give them what they need before they ask for it – this can be risky!!
Lastly, what advice would you give to any B&B’s out there who are struggling with occupancy rates?
To take a look at the other establishments in your local area and to try to offer something different from them. Try and stand out from the crowd, there is a market for everyone it’s just finding that market and then building on it.