Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Our Spell in Gaol!

Not only is Canterbury a great City to visit because of all it's history and of course the local wild life parks, the shopping and the world famous Cathedral to name but a few. There are also some great little museums and quirky cafés where you can stop for a warming hot chocolate, a creamy latte and some delicious cakes!

It was at a place just like this that I thought, people should be coming to Canterbury just for this one experience! I have to blog about it!

I was invited to join a colleague for coffee one afternoon at the The Old City Gaol & Café which opened back on the 28th July 2011 after an extensive and painstaking restoration of the Old City Gaol.

We picked a table and enjoyed a delicious coffee each and a white chocolate and raspberry muffin (they were ENORMOUS)! Sitting in this café, looking out over the river that runs by,  under a roof of glass covering what used to be the old felons  exercise yard, doing some people watching and just soaking up the atmosphere that Canterbury has this time of year was just what the doctor ordered. Being a busy period at the hotel for office Christmas parties, weddings, accommodation and various other events it was lovely to spend some time watching other people rush around!

The café looks amazing, with a Vivienne Westwood Union Jack on the wall and various other historic images from when the towers were a Gaol way back when. They show the officers that used to work there and keep the felons in check, along with maps of Canterbury and photos of how it used to be. One wall in fact is completely covered in what looks to be a modern wall paper, but upon closer inspection you find it is actually out takes from the wardens diary from back in the 1800's and makes such interesting reading! I could have stood for hours trying to get through it all!

We then ventured up to the museum, access to which is under the Towers (which in case you weren’t aware is the largest remaining medieval gateway in the UK), and up the stone spiral staircase. We arrive in the main part of the museum, which houses armours from the Civil War, and much more. Lots to read and look at and the staff really know their stuff!

We then ventured through to the cells, meeting James, a felon who was only 15 or 16 when he was confined in the Gaol in 1793. According to the local newspaper the Kentish Gazette, he made ingenious efforts to escape from his cell. With his extraordinary strength he had repeatedly broken the iron manacles on his hands and legs. New and stronger shackles were put on his arms and legs and secured to the wall of the cell, but he remained defiant and would not give up his efforts to escape.

Seeing this cell that James would have had to share with up to 8 others and then moving through to the Victorian cells it was amazing to see the difference, and to appreciate how lucky later felons were as the cells for them seemed much more civilised!!!  They had a bed and a toilet each! (I have to say though, the bed didn't look comfortable!)

Finally up another flight of spiral stairs and we were on the roof, able to look around and take in the breathtaking views of Canterbury were you can see the New Marlowe Theatre clearly and the Cathedral. Some say it looks like the Marlowe is doffing its cap to the Cathedral, but you can make up your own mind!

The stairs from the roof brought our tour to an end and back in to the café! Such an interesting visit and just another of the many reasons why people need to come to this magical city and spend some time discovering hidden gems like this.

We are located within easy walking distance to all of Canterbury's major attractions in the town, so why not book yourself a short break in January or February to cheer yourself up and  enjoy what Canterbury has to offer.  We would love to see you!!!!

A Debtor's Despair.

A place there is, of ancient date
Entering the city, called Westgate.
Here felons lodge, and each poor debtor
Who cannot pay for lodging better.
To be in debt is sure a curse
The fear it causes, ten times worse.
How many honest men now rot
In jails, for debts of trifling note?
Denied the power to maintain
Their helpless wives and infant train.
No pity's show, but there must lie
Perchance until the wretches die.
Thus vexed and fretted at my luck
Some words I had with Master Ruck.
And he too falling in a rage
Secured me safely in the cage.
From whence, at nine, my tower mounted
Some hundred steps I believe I counted.
They ushered me into a room
Whose countenance bore a dismal gloom.
When struck with wonder at the sight
And siezed with terror and affright!
I threw myself into a chair.
The only on sure ever there.
In all the horrors of despair!

(Dated at Mr Ruck's West-Gate, Canterbury, Saturday July 10th 1773)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Battle of the Stars

What images come to mind when someone tells you, that you are booked to stay in a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 star rated hotel?

Do you imagine the 1 & 2 star hotels are dark, unclean, not refurbished and offers poor service and food?  Do you imagine the 5 star can provide you bright, big, spacious rooms that are well furnished, with perfect service, gourmet food and a chocolate on your pillow?  Do you feel that hotels without a star rating are not even worth considering?  Do you even understand the star rating system?

Perhaps another question to ask is, what is important to you when booking a hotel?  Is it the location, the room size, how well furnished it is, or is it actually just a room to sleep in? People use the word quality, they want quality, so what does that mean?

The general idea behind a star rating is this.  The more stars, the higher the overall level of quality you can expect to find.  However all properties have to meet an extensive list of minimum standards before they are even considered for a rating.

Some hotels choose not to participate in the rating system, it can be quite costly, yet actually the absence of a rating does not indicate poor quality of amenities or service.

When it comes to trying to work your way through the hotel star rating system, it can be quite complicated.  Star ratings vary from global region to global region, country to country and occasionally within countries.  Within Europe, hotel stars are assigned if properties have leisure facilities and lifts, not always on when the last refurbishment was done and its current state.

The UK star rating system dates back to 1912, when Automobile Association's Secretary, Stenson Cooke hit on the idea, and the 3 star classification system was born.  Today in Great Britain, the AA works on a 5 star system and after years of confusing tourists and Britons, a standardised system was launched in 2007.

Cost comes into where you can afford to stay.  If you are on a tight budget and need somewhere for less than £70 a night, you might consider the likes of a 2 star or lesser rated properties, perhaps if you can afford a little more you will find yourself looking at 3 & 4 star hotels.  If you are the lucky ones who can afford the 5 star and deluxe hotels, you are in for a treat, but don't bank all your expectations on those shiny gold stars next to the hotel name, sometimes they disappoint and you are left wondering how they got it.

Bathroom size, a night porter, 24 hour hot room service, bed size and more all come into it. Sometimes you might surprise yourself and stay in a 3 star hotel that can offer you 5 star furnishings, and service, but because the bathrooms can't be increased in size they can't benefit from the higher rating.  If you think a nice fluffy towel and slippers will guarantee a perfect stay, it might, but don't always bank on it.

Many hotels nowadays are starting to move away from the star ratings, especially branded hotels such as Holiday Inns.  They feel that the brand projects and guarantees what the customer can expect better than the star rating system.  You may well find in the future, less and less hotels opt for a star rating for this exact reason.

Baring all the above in mind, try not to disregard a hotel purely because it lacks a pool, or because it is only rated 2 or 3 stars, or even if it doesn’t have a brand above the door. Brands certainly offer consistency so that a room in one branded UK hotel looks identical to a room in one of their Tokyo hotels, however some might argue that this also results in a lack of character compared to unbranded hotels that are unique in their own right.  If you’re adamant that you want to stick to a brand though, my suggestion would be to choose one like Best Western, who don’t own any of their hotels. All Best Western hotels are independently owned, so you can feel safe in the knowledge that you will experience consistency in the standards you would expect from the brand, whilst still having the unique experience that comes from a country house retreat or even a castle!  Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too ;o)