Barely nine months after Karen and Graham Smith took over Tigh Na Leigh Guest house and with no background in hospitality, they have just won the AA Scottish Accommodation of the Year award. Bill Lumley takes a look at their outstanding business
Karen and Graham took over the property on 16 Jul 2018, Karen having given up her job as a specialist obesity nurse and her husband Graham having run a financial service company.
Karen tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “We had always thought about getting into the hospitality business. We had travelled a lot and stayed in a great many luxury boutique hotels and guest houses, and we were convinced we could do it ourselves. We just decided we would do it before we got too old.”
Both of them believed they had the right kind of personality for a B&B as well as other attributes that would enable them to give guests what they wanted out of a stay, Karen says. “We really identified as people persons. We really enjoy meeting people.” Graham has a strong interest in whiskies, a highly useful attribute when it comes to visitors keen on Scotch whisky. Furthermore, Tigh Na Leigh is situated very close to a great many types of outdoor pursuit and he has a passion for that, she says.
“This means he is very good at suggesting to people what they might want to do on a day out, and he is always able to give them advice in the morning as to where guests might like to go for the day.”
Karen meanwhile loves cooking. “We cook dinner here too, and I enjoy looking after the guests and cooking for them,” she says.
There are quite a few B&Bs across the UK that have the facility to provide evening meals that Luxury Bed & Breakfast has featured in past issues. However, one of the fundamental differences between a guest house and a B&B, Karen says, is that in a guest house guests are more likely to be offered an evening meal, whereas generally in a B&B it is normally purely a bed & breakfast proposition.
She says: “Quite a few of our guests here like the fact that we are licensed and can offer an evening meal rather than them having to go out and look for something themselves. Although we are not exactly rural, this is a small town, so there are not a lot of high quality dining establishments based here.”
Tigh Na Leigh will probably never be open for 365 days a year, she says. Under ownership of the previous owners the guesthouse was closed form the end of November to the middle of February, and Karen and Graham have followed that pattern through their first year, with the exception of two or three occasions when they opened the guesthouse for people who wanted to rent the whole guesthouse and have the owners cater for therm. But she says: “In this particular part of Scotland and in fact Scotland in general, unless you are based in the heart of a very busy city, tourists do not come to stay when the weather is bad.”
Visitor numbers are therefore very much driven by the seasons in Scotland, a part of the United Kingdom that can have some pretty stark winters.
That said, the weather in Scotland can also be lovely in Autumn and early winter, Karen says. “It can be crisp and cold but glorious, with clear blue skies – but the you can come here in the summer and it can be pouring with rain, and it can be quite chilly too. it’s just one of those things. The weather in Scotland is really quitter unpredictable. You can experience all the seasons in one day.”
The couple were lucky enough to take over a functional B&B, and Karen says that the main changes they have made to the business so far have been relatively cosmetic. “I have changed the menu slightly for the dinners,” she says. However, she and Graham have carried out a significant amount of work outside in the garden, which had hitherto been a neglected but valuable feature of the guesthouse.
“We have a very big garden, and it needed quite a lot of work. A lot of it was overgrown, including the paths.
“We have also been updating the guest house with soft furnishings, and we have put up a lot of art work. It is a lovely building and it had just got a little but tired, and we are just trying to upgrade it slightly,” she says quite modestly.
When it comes to serving food she say they always try to use local produce wherever possible. “We have allotments in the garden, so a fair amount of the food we serve such as vegetables and strawberries is home-grown.”
The meat they serve tends to be produce from a local craft butcher. “This seems to have gone down quite well,” says Karen. “We also use local Sottish produce wherever possible. I try not to use anything that has not come from around about here.”
Everything is cooked to order, so there is never any need for guests to pre-order breakfast the night before. “We make everything from scratch,” she stresses.
I catch up with her as she is making bread for the evening. “I would describe the menu as modern Scottish. It’s not too complicated and there aren’t loads and loads of choices. As it is just me that does the cooking, it entails just doing as few dishes but hopefully doing them well, as opposed to doing lots of dishes and not doing any of them very well,” she says.
“We don’t have a licence to do weddings, although we might consider doing so in the future,” she says.
“The bulk of the guests we get here are aged 45 to 70. They are looking for good value for money, but they are also looking for quality and for that little bit extra. We try to make guests feel at home, we try to make them feel comfortable, and nothing is too much bother for us.
“We go out of our way to make sure all our guests have a really nice experience. It’s nice and peaceful, and guests love the garden. If I was staying here I would think it was comfortable and welcoming. It’s not the sort of place you could come if you were looking for an exciting night life – it’s not that type of place. It suits people who want to get away from it all and just relax,”
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