Another holiday season? Give us a break!

After years of washing sheets and cooking bacon, these B&B owners are selling up. Would you take their place? Penny Jackson hears landladies' tales
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The Independent Online

'One family invited us back to San Francisco'

For many people, taking on a small hotel or bed and breakfast is as much about lifestyle as income.

In Devon, Barbara and Ross Greig saw the potential of The Old Orchard, in Dartmoor National Park, and decided to take in guests the whole year.

They had always worked in the service industry and knew that the standard of service would be the key to success. "There is no doubt that people are getting much fussier. They always want en-suite bathrooms and don't like it even if they are adjacent. We give them their own sitting room as well," says Barbara Greig.

Today's B&Bs are a long way from the semi on the seafront with a landlady who would throw guests out at 10am and bar them from returning until 4pm. The Greigs, for instance, welcome their guests with home-baked scones and cream; breakfast is made with local, organic goods.

Their house in Yelverton, between Plymouth and Tavistock, was built in 1970 and has four bedrooms, with scope for an extension. It is on the market with Mansbridge & Balment at a guide price of £500,000.

The Greigs have always enjoyed entertaining, and their guests have reaped the benefit. "We had Americans staying over New Year. They asked if there was something for their three teenagers. We couldn't find anything so we threw a fantastic party here. Another family insisted we stayed with them for five days when we made a stopover in San Francisco.

The rooms bring in a healthy income but meeting people is the best part," says Barbara Greig. Her experience running a care home has been useful. On one occasion, an elderly couple, who assured her they could cope, were in fact unable to manage without assistance. "They shouldn't have stayed, but I knew it would probably be their last holiday together."

The Greigs are selling their house for £500,000, Mansbridge and Balment.

'The bride celebrated a little too well - it got messy'

Getting out of the "rat race" is the familiar refrain of those asked why they're starting a bed and breakfast. Florence Isles is no exception. She wanted to get out of management consultancy so with her husband Michael, a consulting engineer, they settled in the village of Milford on Sea in Hampshire.

The large Edwardian house was gradually turned into a thriving business, and has given the couple some fun along the way.

"We took places that were important to us as themes for the rooms, so we have marquetry work in Sorrento, ships in Sussex and orchids in Singapore. A self-contained annexe is the garden room," says Florence.

Their menu is also out of the ordinary: smoothies and smoked salmon omelettes are served up for breakfast. Some 90 per cent of people book in advance, and 70 per cent on the internet, so the house carries value as a business. As they prepare to sell - Briantcroft is on the market at £895,000 with John D Wood - Florence reports fond memories of the public.

But the bad moments never entirely faded. Vanse Gethin recalls a guest missing his flight because the water in his shower was cut off before he could rinse, but most poignant was the bride who had celebrated too well at her wedding. "It got messy. She was sick all over the bed, and then she got up in the night and took everything to her mother to be washed while her husband slept. The poor girl was exhausted the next day."

'A couple took the single room, promising not to be too noisy'

It was not a good start to a fledgling enterprise: arguing with your first bed and breakfast guests over the size of the beds. With dinner-party guests due to arrive in an hour, Vanse Gethin found herself rushing around the bedrooms with a tape measure as the disgruntled couple searched for a size to their liking.

All that Vanse knew was that a man had phoned to book in his daughter and her boyfriend for the weekend at her B&B in Kent. What she didn't know was that they had been banished from the family home under a cloud.

"We had no double bed at that time and they were very unhappy to find that we had only twins. We couldn't put them together because they were different heights, so they hunted around all the rooms trying to find two beds the same size. The only way I could convince them it wouldn't work was by measuring everything. In the end they settled on a large single above our room, promising not to make too much noise," she recalls.

After that, it was uphill all the way and 15 years' worth of weekend B&B guests have since passed through the doors of Vale House, in the village of Loose, near Maidstone, in Kent. "It has been hard work, but you meet so many interesting people and many come back again and again."

She and her husband Tony, who both work from home, decided that it made no sense to rattle around in their large Georgian house after the children had moved away. The Grade II-listed property with seven bedrooms, four bathrooms and five reception rooms needed to be lived in and earn its keep.

Indeed, guests are given house keys and may come and go as they please. A combination of sensible security and trustworthy guests has ensured that this system worked smoothly. Some are even invited to use the garden and tennis court. Now that the Gethins have decided to move on themselves, the house is for sale through Cluttons, at a guide price of £1.25m.

Before the guests arrive

* Regional differences in ratings are being phased out and all tourist boards, plus the AA, will assess properties under the same criteria, with diamond ratings being replaced by stars. For people starting out in the B&B business, a new book, How to run a quality Bed & Breakfast, is available in bookshops or at www.enjoyenglanddirect.com, priced £9.99

* Cluttons: 01622 756 000; www.cluttons.com

* Mansbridge & Balment: 01822 855 055; www.mansbridgebalment.co.uk

* John D Wood & Co: 01590 677 233

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