By Betsy Everett
A holiday cottage in a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales has been named one of the country’s top three self-catering properties.
The Byre in Newbiggin, Bishopdale, run by Diane and Andrew Howarth, sleeps just two people (and a baby if necessary) and has captured the heart of the VisitEngland judges. It will now go through to the national finals with the other shortlisted properties in York and Oxfordshire competing to be the best in England.
In November the Howarths won the Yorkshire Self-Catering Accommodation of the Year 2016 award for their business, Cottage in the Dales, which includes The Byre, adjoining their own home, and Inglenook Cottage at West Burton, in Wensleydale.
Both properties are open 365 days of the year and occupancy has never fallen below 90 per cent: but maintaining the high standard which has won them the accolades has brought an unexpected twist. When the national winner is announced in April at a ceremony in London, Diane and Andrew will be 6,000 miles away at their own favourite holiday destination, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
“We usually manage one holiday a year, and last year we didn’t get one at all. But this year is our thirtieth wedding anniversary so we were determined to celebrate and booked a year ago,” said Diane. It’s a still-unresolved dilemma as neither wants to miss the ceremony.
“It will be a once in a lifetime experience and we’ve worked so hard to get the business to where it is. We won’t know in advance if we’ve won – it’s announced on the day,” she added.
But for now she says she is just pleased to know that whatever the final outcome, “the very worst-case scenario is that we’re third best in the whole country. That can’t be bad, can it?”
The couple moved to Newbiggin in 2010 after 30 years in the south. Diane, however, is a true northerner, born in Hartlepool and a member of the original Dales Metcalfes: she is vice-president and a long-time member of the Metcalfe Society.
There is really no secret to their success: it’s all about hard work, attention to detail, and going the extra mile – sometimes literally. When Storm Desmond hit in December 2015, Inglenook Cottage had returning guests from Guernsey.
“The rain was horrendous. They had a power cut, water was coming in all over the oven, and through the back bedroom window. We paid for them to have breakfast nearby while we cleared up. It was Mark’s 50th birthday and they were going out for dinner, so we had an idea: we said we would take them and bring them back. They appreciated it enormously and ever since then we have offered this as a service to guests, even on Christmas Day. It’s not just about the physical accommodation. If it was we’d all be five-star gold standard,” says Diane.
When the couple from Guernsey heard about their success in the VisitEngland awards they posted a Facebook message: “Well deserved. If you do as much for all your customers as you did for us during the heavy rain then you so deserve the recognition.”
Meanwhile, staying in The Byre this week were Ian and Jill Sadler from Whitwell near Worksop in Derbyshire, celebrating their 38th wedding anniversary.
“We have had lots of cottage holidays over the years but this is the absolute best. Everything about it is perfect, and the attention to detail is amazing. We can’t praise it highly enough,” said Jill.
The Byre from Cottage in the Dales, www.cottageinthedales.co.uk, is one of three finalists in the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence: Self-Catering Property of the Year 2017. Others are Lendal Tower, York, www.lendaltower.com and The Chestnuts, Burford, Oxfordshire, www.ecochiccottages.com The final of the awards is at the Hilton Waldorf Hotel on Monday, 24 April.