Newton Hall Scotland B&B – Bruce and Pam McFarlane Interview
In October 2016 Bruce and Pam McFarlane decided to put their successful B&B Folly Farm up for sale and go back to their roots in Scotland. In April they discovered beautiful Newton Hall, a seven bedroom Guesthouse just five minutes walk from Inveraray town centre and half an hour drive from Lochgilphead. Bruce tells us all about why he settled in this part of the country and the problem he faces in finding a suitable buyer for Folly Farm Cottage.
Firstly can you tell us a bit about yourselves – what made you decide to become B&B hosts initially?
We made the decision to uproot from our stressful professional careers in Edinburgh and “escape to the country”. We found our ideal accommodation in a little village called Ilmington, seven miles south of Stratford upon Avon in the Cotswolds. Our children had left home and although it was a wrench to leave our friends we knew this opportunity wouldn’t happen again. Folly Farm Cottage has three B&B rooms and two self catering studio apartments that all look over the beautiful large cottage English Country garden.
How long were you at Folly Farm and what influenced your decision to relocate?
We moved to Folly Farm Cottage B&B in July 2007. After ten idyllic years in Ilmington we made the decision to return to our roots to be closer to family and friends.
Did it take very long to sell the business?
We decided to put the business on the market in October 2016 while looking for a new business up in Scotland. Having found our new haven, we were concerned that Folly Farm was still not sold so we closed the business and a relative has moved into the property to look after it for us. After a number of unsuccessful trips north of the border to look at businesses for sale we were beginning to get concerned that the right place did not exist. Meanwhile the sale of Folly Farm Cottage remained an issue and even now it has still not sold and is being looked after by a relative even though we have had to close down the business side of the property. This has been the one piece of the jigsaw involved in the searching for a new property and selling the existing one that has not quite worked out.
Once you had made the decision to move on did it take you very long to find your dream property?
We had started to despair that the dream property did not exist within the parameters set both by finance and location. We had set ourselves a distance from Edinburgh where our family and friends are based and of all the businesses we looked at none had ‘the feeling’ as Pam would say. After another fruitless day of viewing properties we had spent the night with our daughter and son-in-law only to be woken very early in the morning with a barrage of text messages from our son-in-law saying he had found a great place.
So, tell us about Newton Hall and what made you decide on this particular location?
Newton Hall was a church back in 1895. It has seven letting rooms comprising of three king size rooms, two double rooms, a twin room and a family suite. Three of the rooms overlook Loch Fyne and the rest look out onto the fields and the footpath at the back. The spacious dining room also has a lochside view. The location is stunning set amongst the hills and glens in Argyll and Bute and is only one hour’s drive from Glasgow airport.
I imagine you want to put your own personal stamp on things – what changes do you intend to make if any?
With having had our first B&B for ten years which was rated four star gold award by Visit England we have a good idea what is required to persuade guests to come and visit and while Newton Hall has been set up very well we are now starting to add the small touches which can make a difference to a stay. We always had feedback from guests saying how much they liked our attention to detail and this is something we will continuously monitor in the new business. The hospitality tray needed enhancing and the toiletries in the bathrooms were basic. We are also now providing personalised chocolates and pens for the guests. The breakfast routine requires alteration from that run by our predecessors. While they used to ask guests for their order the night before we will introduce a system of cooking to order in the mornings. The menu has also changed with a more extensive offering including The Fyne Challenge with ten assorted food items which set the guest up for the day.
What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge?
At the moment the biggest challenge we face is trying to persuade guests to stay for two or more nights rather than stay for a single night. While we appreciate that a lot of our guests are touring the highlands and islands and want to fit as much as possible into their allotted time we feel that there is more than enough to see within an hour’s drive to make Inveraray a good place to make a base for an extended break.
Lastly, what advice are you able to give other Bed & Breakfast owners who are looking to make the decision to sell up?
The decision to sell up and move to a new location is massive. We have made lots of very good friends in our previous village and leaving them was difficult. However once the new location was found the decision was not so hard. Memories will always stay with you but the challenge in new surroundings is also very appealing. To have found somewhere as stunning as Newton Hall in its idyllic setting makes it all worthwhile.