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Features February 2021

Wigtown’s Literary B&B

We spoke to the owner of Craigmount B&B to discover how to create a themed bed and breakfast that’s perfect for families.

EVERY business has to find their wow factor.

Some know what that is before they even get started. To others, it comes later.

Initially, Craigmount B&B was just a b&b in Wigtown, Scotland, until someone suggested they try something a bit different.

Owners Nicole Court and her husband Malcolm were approached by Adam Turpin, director of the Wigtown Book Festival, who suggested they become a literary themed accommodation provider.

“He invited us to this Spot-lit Programme where we got to meet different people and there were lots of ideas going around about how to highlight Dumfries and Galloway as the literary highlight of Scotland,” said Nicole.

Craigmount Bed and Breakfast owners Nicole and Malcolm Court

“We got chatting to people and thought, you know what, this idea could really work. And it came from just a random conversation in the breakfast room with the director of the Wigtown Book Festival.”

Nicole and Malcom entered their four bedroom b&b into the Spot-lit programme which offered mentoring and funding, thinking they wouldn’t be successful.

“We were chosen for funding which was absolutely brilliant!” said Nicole.

“And of course, the week we were chosen for the funding, we all went into lockdown! So we thought is this the ideal time to do it while we’ve got nobody in at all, or is it just the worst nightmare because nothing’s open and we can’t get anything from anywhere? But we decided to keep going.”

Room: Peter & Wendy

To kick start the process, Nicole’s first task was naming the four en-suite rooms and making sure they reflected the local area.

“The first one we chose,” said Nicole, “was ‘A Galloway Childhood’ because this is an amazing place for children to grow up. It’s like stepping back 30 years, seeing the kids playing out on their bikes, doing things our daughter did 30 years ago. There’s so much for them to explore here.

Room: A Galloway Childhood

“You don’t see many children doing that now in other places and we loved the galloway childhood farming.”

A local ten year old called Ollie has been providing Craigmount B&B with eggs for the past two years.

“Ollie lives on a farm and has his own hens. He drops the eggs off on his way to school in the mornings. We just thought, it’s perfect; It ties in a great story and the galloway childhood.”

Just down the road from Craigmount, you can find the bookshop ran by Shaun Bythell, the bestselling author of ‘Diary of a Bookseller’.

Room: Peter & Wendy

“We have a lot of people stay specifically to come to Wigtown to meet Shaun and see whether he really is as rude and obnoxious as he makes himself out to be. So the second room is called ‘Diary of a Bookseller’.”

Nicole named the third room ‘Ring of Bright Water’ after Gavin Maxwell’s book which is based on his life on the coast of Wigtownshire.

“It’s really bright and airy with high ceilings and fabulous light coming in from the garden. It’s all in kind of pale blues and greens and it’s just really pretty. It makes you think of the seashore and nice summery things.”

Room: Ring of Bright Water

The fourth room is a large family room and Nicole’s favourite, which was named ‘Peter and Wendy’.

“We just had to incorporate J.M Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’, but this is a 200 year old house, so we thought, how could we incorporate something that’s been over disney-fied? Disney wouldn’t suit this house at all.

“We went back to the original 1911 book that was based on the 1904 play, so it’s all been tastefully done. There’s not a Disney thing in the house and it’s still very much Peter and Wendy.

“There’s a beautiful old chest in there that’s like a pirate chest, hidden pixie dust, marbles, thimble kisses and things like that.”

As a literary hotspot of Scotland, there’s always a lot to do in Wigtown throughout the year.

Nicole said: “There’s the big book festival which is on for about 12 days in September and October. It’s a massive event. There’s food fairs and walking festivals, and a music festival is a town about eight miles away. There’s so much going on here, so we decided that along with the theming of our accommodation, we’re actually going to run events and experiences ourselves.”

Nicole and Malcolm are hoping that they will be able to go ahead with their first event which was planned for late February/early March 2021.

“Some of the shops are going to put up little clues and we’re going to do a Peter Pan Treasure Trail using Hook’s treasure map”

– Nicole

“It’s an evening with the bookseller,” explained Nicole.

“Guests would have an evening with Shaun Bythell. The whole house is booked out that weekend with couples or families and they would all be here just to meet Shaun.

“He will do a talk here on the Saturday evening and on Sunday he will come and collect the guests, walk them to his shop and give them a private viewing of his bookshop.

“And then we’re going to run bat walks, mud walks, stargazing, nature trails and wildlife sessions for children with two locals, Liz and Martin.”

In addition to these, Craigmount B&B will also be working with another local bookshop owner to run a bookseller tour, introducing them to local booksellers and touring the shops.

“We’re also planning to run a Peter Pan weekend in June where we have an open air cinema in the village green and do a local tour for children. This would be for our guests as well as local kids.

“Some of the shops are going to put up little clues and we’re going to do a Peter Pan Treasure Trail using Hook’s treasure map,” said Nicole.

Unfortunately, due to COVID a lot of Craigmount’s events haven’t been finalised, but Nicole is still working on her plans to offer her guests a great experience.

Left: Olly McKie (aged nine)
Right: Olly’s brother Niall (aged three)

ADVICE FOR THEMED HOSPITALITY

Nicole and Malcolm have put great effort into making Craigmount B&B a highlight of Wigtown. But it can be hard to make your ideas a reality when it comes to the hospitality sector, especially with themes.

“Don’t over do it,” says Nicole.

“You’ll find that people won’t just come for that specific theme and if you over do it, you can put people off. For example, our Peter and Wendy room, if we just turned that into a Disney room, it would put off families of walkers or cyclists and everyone else who stays here.”

She added: “We have lots of walkers, sports enthusiasts, people looking up their family tree, people from the US, Canada and Australia. They would not want to stay in a room that’s been themed to the point of madness.

“Subtlety is great.”

Wigtown

Nicole also highlighted the importance of the simple act of smiling.

“Smile,” she said, “When we first came here, it took us six months to renovate and some of the rooms were very odd before we decorated them. But we got great reviews because we were very honest with people.

“We just said ‘Look, we’re renovating and doing this and that, but we can offer this and cook great breakfasts’ and we offered great customer service.”

She added: “That’s what people remembered, more than the decor and themes, to start with. Smile, get the customer service right and make people feel at home first.”

It’s also becoming increasingly important to think local when theming your business.

“Look at what everybody else is doing, you don’t want to do something everyone is doing,” explained Nicole.

“But you want to make it as relevant to the local area as you possibly can.”

Nicole then added: “Work out what your market is first, what you should be aiming for and what’s going to make you stand out.”

“We ask them to put it on their social media pages that they stayed here, how much they enjoyed it and the fact it’s literary themed.

“In each of the rooms we also offer that book for sale, which makes a big difference because people can take a memento with them. For example, we sell signed copies of ‘A Diary of a Bookseller’ for that room,” said Nicole.

In the Peter and Wendy room, Nicole has also left “four or five different versions” of the Peter Pan books for guests to read.

“When families arrive we will say ‘Now when we see you at breakfast tomorrow, we want you to find the pixie dust, or the marbles’ and the kids love it,” laughed Nicole.

Craigmount B&B is a great place for families, with plenty to do in the local area.

“We have lots of leaflets on child friendly activities in the area, we have walking sticks the children can use when they’re out and we know how to get to what we call ‘The Secret Island’ which you can only get to when the tide is out,” said Nicole.

Nicole and Malcolme love hosting families, but there’s still a few things to consider when providing for children.

“Fully washable walls are a must!” exclaimed Nicole.

Boilable, 100% cotton bed linens and bleachable carpets were also on her list for businesses hosting children.

Laughing, she added: “Do not put felt tip pens in the rooms!”

Shaun Bythell in the ‘Diary of a Bookseller’ Room at Craigmount.

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Craigmount B&B

This article was first published in Issue 46 of the Luxury BnB Magazine in February 2021:

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