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How we made our business boom!
Charlotte and Brian Murray run the highly-rated B&B, The Old Parsonage in Farrington Gurney, Somerset, which has 5 stars on Trip Advisor. They moved to the area 11 years ago, for family reasons, but now circumstances have changed they are looking to pass the fruits of their hard work onto the right people… To help find the next owners, we asked Charlotte what she thought the 5 tips to building a successful guest house business are and why their property is such a find…
The Old Parsonage, Farrington Gurney
Do it for the right reasons.
“We started running B&Bs in 1987 when property was going bananas" begins Charlotte, "and I wondered how we could buy a much nicer family home than we could afford. By running a B&B I realised we could put lots of the costs against the business.” You can also choose when you want to work and also put your other skills to good use, like marketing or catering, as she explains: “I had cooked professionally and offered suppers when I began.” We assume she was also a dab hand at cooking breakfasts too!
The breakfast table
Choose or create the right flow– for you
“It’s very important to create the right layout for your own convenience,” says Charlotte, “so that you can separate your family life from guests.” One of the big advantages of The Old Parsonage is that it has two staircases, so that one never has to overlap with the other. “If I want to go to the kitchen in the middle of the night, for example, I can just slip down the back stairs” says Charlotte.
There are two staircases in The Old Parsonage
Bathrooms are essential
“Nowadays everyone is looking for the facilities of a hotel – so shared bathrooms are a no-no. “ says Charlotte. The couple were lucky with The Old Parsonage as this listed building, which had once been owned by The Duchy of Cornwall, had an unusually large number of bathrooms – three ensuite with the five bedrooms upstairs and a separate but sole-use bathroom for a studio guest room downstairs. There are also bathrooms with the four annexe rooms in the grounds.
Three of the five bedrooms in the main house are ensuite
Location is paramount
Being slap-bang in a busy area for visitors and your own family life is important emphasises Charlotte: “When we first moved here Brian was still working abroad quite a lot, so he needed to be near an airport and this is only 25 minutes away.” The Old Parsonage is set-back from the A37 which has proved invaluable for bookings. “It’s is a winner” she explains, “because you also have passing trade for those travelling down to Devon and Cornwall from the Midlands. It’s also located at the centre of a perfect triangle between Bath, Bristol and Wells (all about 15-20 minutes away), so there is so much on the doorstep for guests to do.”
Keep your online presence up-to-date
“We keep the website and Facebook page fresh with all the festivals and food and drink events in the area,” says Charlotte – and in Somerset there are many, which further adds to the attraction of staying here. It’s also important to be listed on booking sites like Booking.com (the biggest and best according to Charlotte) as they will always rank higher than your own website on Google – so they find you there and then go to your own social media for further info.
The Old Parsonage has annexes in outbuildings for further guest accommodation
3 WAYS TO TOP TRIP ADVISOR
- Make sure everything works every day, the whole time - Reviewers will mark you down if the facilities are not up to scratch.
- Make sure you excel in all the review criteria - On sites like Booking.com, guests receive lists with tick boxes as reviews, on Trip Advisor they receive a blank box. To ensure you get great reviews, make sure you are 10/10 for all of the choices they receive.
- Ensure your hosting is beyond brilliant - Charlotte and Brian regularly receive rave reviews about their hosting. They give their visitors a warm welcome with a cup of tea and plenty of details about the varied history of the house, which was once visited by Edward VIII. The Murrays are also always a mine of information the local area, which always impresses guests. To read the reviews click here
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Read all about us!
When you live and work in London, it's easy to imagine that the whole of media-land only focusses on what happens in and around the capital. So we're always tickled-pink when we're featured in the press, who are mostly based there. Just recently we've been blessed with two national mentions and pleased to see another for Bruton, all of which has led to some celebratory latte-drinking in the office (yep, as our local friends know, you can get a decent one outside the M25) - but being featured is hardly surprising when you look at how many breathtaking houses for sale in Somerset we have. It's also understandable why the press would want to feature areas of Somerset like Frome and Bruton too, when those towns are filled with creatives and entrepreneurs in the process of inventing a new kind of rural life away from the city (complete with barista coffee, promise)
1. The Telegraph
Saturday 10th November started off a treat when we opened The Telegraph on our kitchen tables to find a double page spread featuring one of our founders, Cathy Morris-Adams, in the Money and Property section. Cathy was interviewed extensively for the piece which discussed why creatives are moving to Somerset. It also included an interview with land artist Mark Merer and his wife, sculptor Lucy Glendinning, the designers behind the new CubisBruton development in Bruton, currently being built by Acorn Property Group and which we are marketing. And it featured two of our other houses too, The Old Vicarage near Wells and a house for sale in Frome that was once part of a school run by the poet Christina Rossetti.
The Telegraph piece photographed on a kitchen table!
2. CondeNast Traveller
The second piece of good news was reading Conde Nast's Traveller's piece about Bruton, which recommends this small town as one of the hippest places to visit in Somerset, thanks to the Hauser and Wirth gallery with its Roth Bar and Grill, At the Chapel and Matt's Kitchen restaurants and pubs like The Bull Inn and The Three Horseshoes. Of course locals also know about its great schools like Sexeys, Kings Bruton and Bruton School for Girls and its thriving artistic community.
3. Town & Country
The third mention was for our impressive home Vineyards Farm just outside Bath, that featured as Property of the Day on Town and Country's website. Vineyards Farm, originally part of the Claverton Estate and built on the site of a 17th-century vineyard, comprises a main four-bedroom house, the Dairy (two refurbished two-bed cottages) and a magnificent barn spanning more than 370 square metres. It has landscaped gardens featuring an idyllic pond and waterfall. There is also a Victorian style greenhouse, a tennis court, a helipad, and ample garaging and covered parking. This property could make a delightful family home, thanks to its extensive guest accommodation.
So all in all it was a great result for us, helping our vendors to reach audiences up and down the country.
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The Power of Two
Seven newly-built houses in Leigh on Mendip, Somerset, look as stylish as you'd expect contemporary country homes near Frome and Mells to be. But what you might not have guessed is that they've been built with environmental principles at their core. We asked brothers Will and James Habershon, the family team behind the Hornbeam Lane project to explain.
Brothers Will (L) and James Habershon, the team behind Habershon Land's Somerset development
Tell us a bit about yourselves and why you do what you do.....
Family values are really important to us and we are lucky that as brothers, our skill sets complement each other really well and lend themselves to property development. We grew up at Coleford House in Coleford, which is 4 minutes away from the development site. Coleford House was very special to us as it belonged to our grandparents before our parents owned it and we spent many happy years there. We used to go for long cycle rides around the country lanes and this included cycling past Hornbeam Lane. We were fortunate enough go to the lovely All Hallows’ School so the area is very familiar to us and we thought it was crying out for some new high quality homes. Then 20 years ago we went to launch of Babington House and this only enhanced our motivation to build luxury homes in Leigh.
The Hornbeam Lane development
Describe your environmental ethos...
We both have a strong interest in the environment and trying to limit fossil fuels wherever possible and want to do all we can for the planet so it is a better place to live for our children and grandchildren. Will, the managing director, went to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester where he did a dissertation on “The Future of Green Buildings”. This further cemented (excuse the pun!) his desire to be as green as possible. For this reason, our houses have solar panels and air source heat pumps and are fossil fuel free – which means cheaper running costs for homeowners too!
Is eliminating fossil fuels your main mission?
No, we also feel strongly about protecting animals and birds. Every creature is important and this is why we installed Bird Brick houses into every house providing a permanent, maintenance free nest for the birds. It was a real joy to see the house martins raising their young in these little boxes. As Habershon Land we also strives to plant as many trees as possible and for this reason we are planting a mixed species native hedge around the boundaries. This is made up of a mixture of field maple, dog rose, hawthorn and hazel. We are also planting daffodils, blue-blues and tilia (lime trees) further enhancing cover and food for nature. The privet hedges on the front lawns will provide privacy and will be ever green.
Plot 4 at Hornbeam Lane
What about the building materials?
We love to support local businesses where possible. We used the Lovell Stone Group in Dorset for the Purbeck Stone and Yandles in the nearby Martock for the wooden cladding to name but a few. We also use good quality natural materials rather than synthetic materials so we used natural stone and wood on the exterior along with Doulting stone for the window sills and window heads and natural internal finishes like oak and slate flooring and state of the art white quartz for the kitchen worktops and ceramics for the bathrooms. We decided to use hardwood for the windows and doors rather than softwood as we wanted to build using materials that would last the test of time.
How has your interest in the environment further influenced the design?
Because people spend so much time in their homes, we believe it’s important to bring as much natural light as possible into the house as possible. We worked with Orme Architects to create buildings that utilise the natural light by having south or south west facing gardens and bi-fold and French doors on the south facing sides of the properties.
What have been your favourite moments when creating the Hornbeam site?
We have loved working on the Hornbeam Lane houses. The local community are really friendly and it was a bonus being able to pop to the popular Talbot Inn in Mells for business lunches when we had a quiet moment. We loved hearing the owls making their early morning or early evening twit too noises. It was satisfying being able to brag about having some of the only green lawns in Somerset during the heat wave this summer (thanks to Sherborne Turf) and mowing the lawns whilst catching a few rays in the south facing gardens was a definite highlight. We also really enjoyed working with The Shaker Kitchen company and Neptune Kitchens to create kitchens that we would personally use (and are going to use!) for our own homes. It was really fun sourcing materials from local businesses, e.g. doulting stone and getting advise from the renowned interior designer Clarissa Clifford.
Six houses have been sold as of April 2019 with only Plot 6 remaining
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Lights, camera, action!
Why a camera crew rolled into our Bruton office
We've had quite a 12 months: Winning gold at a national estate agency awards, The Estas, opening a new office in Wells and recently being nominated for a New Business Award at the Somerset Business Awards!
Now in their 14th year and organised by the Somerset Chamber of Commerce, we're really thrilled to have made the shortlist in this category - especially as one of our founders, Sue Macey, spoke to a film crew from Bridgwater and Taunton College who were tasked with making a short film about each nominee for the awards do on October 19th in Taunton. The students were the consulate professionals and we're looking forward to watching the results.
Sue Macey being filmed for the Lodestone Somerset Business Awards film profile
UPDATE OCTOBER 2018 - We were the runners up to Taunton's excellent The Sangha House - but still very happy to be one of only three in our category. For the details of the finalists click here
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Greystones, Castle Cary
Castle Cary is an attractive market town in the heart of Somerset, bursting with independent businesses and amenities - and South Street is one of the most popular places to own a home. We asked the owners of one of the houses in that road, Greystones, the inside scoop on living in a period cottage there and how they felt after leaving London.
Greystones as seen from South Street
Thanks for letting us look around your beautiful home. How long have you lived here and what can you tell us about the location?
We've been here for five years and have loved every one and will miss it dreadfully - I remember how happy we felt when we first arrived to have left London. South Street has been the most in demand road in Castle Cary, all the way back to his heyday in the 18th Century. We have made some friends for life along here.
What are some of your favourite memories about living here?
Christmas always starts down the wine cellar (one of our favourite rooms) and always ends up with charades round the fire in the sitting room, where you can feel the history amongst the blue lias and rustic oak floor. We also love the dining room (so much light and again the wood and stone) and the elm beamed rooms in the loft (what a pleasure discovering those was).
The wine cellar at Greystones
A wonderful room to spend Christmas in
The dining room at Greystones is full of light
What do you love about the garden and why?
We love having BBQs there, cutting the lawn is easy and harvesting the apples, pears and grapes is a joy! It also has beautiful perennial plants, that flower throughout the seasons.The sunsets overlooking Glastonbury Tor are gorgeous but one of my favourite memories is listening to the tawny owls that are resident just round the corner. They are part of the furniture here!
Greystones' garden is ideal for barbeques
Tell us about the area
The Gallery Bar has good food and excellent live music. Our favourite restaurant is the delightful Pilgrim’s Restaurant in Lovington, where there is also a cracking baker and pattisier. Bath and Wells are close for city shopping and cultural days out. We’re very happy with Castle Cary Primary school and the additional after school clubs they provide. We've also loved having walks on our doorstep, the town’s clubs and associations and being able to play in such a beautiful, big old house. We're going to miss the characterful Greystones and all the people we've met here.
Greystones has been wonderful for family life