“ Address: Preston New Road / Preston / Lancashire / PR5 0UL UK / Telephone: 01772 877351 „
WHY DID WE BOOK THE SWALLOW PRESTON?
The weather turning nasty and the nights drawing in signal the time of year for RICHADA to play Santa Claus with the customers, going out and about, shaking hands and delivering calendars and company literature. The majority of our business is actually done some way north of Watford Gap, which involves us staying away from home, usually for a period of three nights at a time.
Needing a base in the Preston / Blackburn / Burnley area, we usually finish up going to where most of the hotels are located, Blackpool, Lythan St Annes, or even on one, not to be repeated, occasion Southport. Without giving away any state secrets, the Preston Swallow Hotel is ideally located just around the corner from one of our most important customers and is a site literally surrounded with the premises of their sub-contractors, all of whom it was our intention to visit during our three day stay in the area.
In all honesty, having passed the Swallow several dozen times over the years - every time that I had visited this particular customer - I had always thought that it looked rather run down and was aware, partly due to its' location and lack of local competition, that it was not a cheap option.
When my wife telephoned me at work to ask what I thought about staying at the Preston Swallow for £35 a night, B&B I just said "it sounds like a bargain - go ahead and book it". She had stumbled across the Swallow site having put Preston Hotels into a couple of search engines.
Figuring that it must be even more run down than previously, I had assumed that they were now giving away double rooms in order to tempt guests across the threshold. I kept my misgivings from Mrs R - after all, when on business we only really need a hotel to sleep the night in, the rest of the time is spent out on the road meeting and greeting.......almost.......
......on this trip we did have some company entertaining to do, two friends and partners were invited (on separate nights) to join us for dinner at the Swallow. Risky that, booking a table in a restaurant that you have not tried yourself, but then the hotel website did say that it was 'an award winning restaurant'. Worryingly, it did not say how long ago or indeed for what the award was won!
HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY
In line with the big build up for the restaurant, the website does not make this look like the kind of dive you would pay a mere £35 per night (for a double room, not each!) to stay in.
The photographs published, and indeed the impressive list of facilities, were in fact quite at odds with my own perception, as a passer-by, of this hotel.
The intro, stating that the hotel is "set in the heart of the picturesque Lancashire countryside" is, in my opinion, pushing it a bit - the Swallow is actually located on the A59 at Samlesbury, midway between Preston and Blackburn in the middle of one of the few remaining industrial regions still in existence in Britain today.
Generally speaking the website shows a warm and welcoming hotel offering a broad range of facilities for business guests, tourists and even wedding parties. Personally I had only ever thought of it as a purely commercial hotel; it would not have been a place that I would have given a second thought to actually staying in from choice.
BOOKING PROCESS 8 / 10
A couple of points dropped here only because I find the booking options a little confusing. The cheapest rate is to be found on Swallow's own site, by clicking the 'Book Online NOW' button. However, having done so, you have to be careful as you can book the same room at several different prices.
In November 2007 double room were offered (per night) at:
£73.00 including dinner for two,
£75.00 B&B or
£66.00 B&B - this on a two night "special" - all of which I find unnecessarily complicated and liable to trick the unwary.
Two weeks previously, my wife had managed to do much better than the above prices......
...... our double room cost £35.00 per night for three nights and could have upgraded to dinner / B&B, for both of us, for a further £20.00 per night. We were to regret not doing that as we would have made a considerable saving on the restaurant bill!
At £55.00 per night, that is less than you would pay for bed and breakfast in a Travel Lodge, the Preston Swallow Hotel was looking increasingly attractive, even to my rather sceptical eyes!
Now in April 2008 a much simpler, but more expensive tariff of £75 per room - single or double - including breakfast - applies.
Maybe the place has been refurbished during the winter months!
LOCATION 8 / 10
OK, so there is no sea view. The Swallow is hemmed in on two sides by busy main roads, to be honest it is not a very pretty spot; there is nothing to look at apart from the Esso fuel station on the other side of the A59.
That said, ten minutes drive to the west and you are in the centre of Preston, ten minutes to the east is Blackburn city centre. Probably not actually not your idea of top holiday destinations, but they are surrounded by some stunning scenery, both coastal and Pennine.
A big advantage for us is that the Preston Swallow is less than five minutes drive from junction 31 on the M6; Kendal and the Lake District are less than an hours drive to the north of here, the Forest of Bowland a mere half hour to the north east. For those so inclined, the fabulous, especially at Christmas time, Trafford (shopping) Centre is only a thirty minute motorway drive too as we proved by going there on Tuesday evening.
We were not in Lancashire to see the sights, for us the Swallow was simply ideally situated as a base from which to visit customers in the area.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS 6 / 10
If I say here "Crossroads Motel", I wonder for how many of you the rest of this review will be largely irrelevant. For those of you who are too young to remember that most famous of (Midlands) TV institutions, I will attempt to keep references to Meg Richardson, Hughie McFee, creaking sets and floral eiderdowns to the minimum.
I am probably being unfair here, but both the setting (almost on a crossroads!) and the distinctively bland 1960's architecture took me straight back to 1970's teatime soap opera viewing, every episode ending with a cliff hanger......
......and every time I entered the lobby or bar THAT music just kept coming into my head!
But, as usual, I am jumping the gun. The front of the building looks in need of a touch of TLC, but ever since I can remember first setting eyes on the place - twelve years ago at least, it always has.
Unlike in so many hotels in which we have stayed in this area, here there is no problem finding a space to park the car, the car park is well lit too. On a busy day it can be a fair walk with bag and baggage from the furthest corner of it to the hotel entrance though.
A little touch of luxury is that if it is raining, cars or taxis can draw up under a canopy outside the front door, saving passengers from a drenching.
CHECKING IN 9 / 10
My impressions of Lancashire hotel receptionists have always been favourable, and the team here at the Swallow were warm, friendly, welcoming and efficient. We may have been taking advantage of a bargain room deal, but we certainly were not treated as second class citizens because of it.
At 4.30pm on the Monday afternoon that we arrived, the check-in was swift - all the booking details were correct and they only requested to swipe the credit card to issue us with a room card to charge any hotel services to our bill. The receptionist confirmed that we did indeed have a table for four booked in the restaurant that evening, handed us the key to room 119 and explained how to find it.
ON THE WAY TO THE ROOM i.e. how easy is it to find your way around? How accessible is it for less able persons? What condition are the public rooms and passageways in? 9 / 10
Whilst the general impression once inside the Swallow is one of warmth and cosiness, thanks to a comfortable temperature and plush carpets throughout, in terms of décor, fixtures and fittings, the Crossroads Motel theme continues through the corridors and public spaces.
We found this a delightfully easy hotel in which to find our way around - the room block being situated to the rear of the main building on two floors, the rooms on each floor being off of a central corridor. There is a lift up to the first floor. The leisure facilities are clearly signposted and located to the rear of the reception and through double doors to the right.
Décor apart, the public rooms we found actually rather impressive. There are two separate lounge areas, one in front of the bar, with the restaurant situated behind it, the other behind the reception area, both equipped with comfortable arm chairs, sofas and coffee tables.
The air conditioned restaurant is very smart, of grand proportions and certainly large enough to hold a dinner dance. Indeed in the centre of it is a dance floor. A grand piano appears a little lost in the corner as you enter the room. Certainly one would not expect such an impressive looking space inside this hotel when viewing the building from the outside.
THE ROOM 7 / 10
This is a difficult one to score here, I have to pinch myself again and mention that we were paying a mere £35.00 per night for this room. Had we paid the full rack rate of £75.00 I would be inclined to be far more critical of the marked and slightly tatty wallpaper, the total lack of any view from the window (there was a hedgerow growing right up against it!) and the lamentable lack of hanging space in the tiny wardrobe.
One last moan concerns the lighting level in the room; we have, in more modern establishments, come to expect much better and more versatile lighting. Here only one wall light, plus one over-bed reading lamp - on the opposite side to the single bedside table - are provided. This did not go down too well with Mrs R. who commented that there was insufficient light by which to apply make-up.
Having said all of that, this compact room was well appointed with all of the mod cons that we expect and a couple of welcome ones that we have not seen before. We carry a travel iron with us - here we need not have brought it, most unusually in the wardrobe we found both an iron and ironing board. Obviously we had arrived at a hotel where creases are simply not acceptable, for those unwilling to iron here, the obligatory trouser press is also provided!
A kettle, tea, coffee and biscuits were also provided - and replenished during our stay. The Swallow offers no "freebies" in the form of sewing kits, shoe cleaning kits or complimentary mineral water or chocolates, but then at this price we had not expected any, and in all honesty did not miss them.
For a room of this size, a full sized television was a surprise, terrestrial, plus Sky News and three sports channels are also provided.
Not all hotel rooms that we have occupied have been equipped with a telephone, this one was, and proved why people use mobile phones these days - we were charged £2.10 for a single three minute phone call. Completing the equipment provided in the room was a hairdryer located in the drawer of the small dressing table.
There are 75 rooms in all at the Preston Swallow, by chance we returned at lunchtime one day to freshen up prior to a meeting. The rooms were being cleaned and I was able to have a "nose" inside some of the unoccupied ones whose doors had been left propped open. Doubles or twins, they were all the same size and slightly odd shape as ours. The décor varied somewhat though and the en-suites in the rooms closer to the reception looked far more tired even than the one in our room.
THE EN-SUITE 7 / 10
The clichés start flowing here again I'm afraid! Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, nor indeed judge a book by its cover, the en-suite, whilst looking pretty grotty, was actually very clean and performed faultlessly.
First the downside. The décor in this small shower room was grim, truly grim. Had it been more brightly lit, as it appears to be in my flash enhanced pictures, some friends of mine (you know who you are!) would have refused to use it. The coffee and crème theme just looked so tired and dated, complimented perfectly by the fake cork linoleum on the floor.
There is a big HOWEVER here though! The tatty looking 1970's thermostatic mixer shower was the best that I have experienced anywhere - home or away. It offered perfect temperature modulation and could be controlled from a gentle trickle all the way up to a full jet-wash. This room would never have been big enough to accommodate a bath, but the shower cubicle was adequately large enough.
A plentiful supply of soft white towels - both bath and hand size - are also provided. There are no "extras" i.e. bath caps, shampoo etc provided, the soap on offer is Dove Liquid and contained in dispensers adjacent to the basin and shower controls.
DID WE GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP? 10 / 10
Yes indeed we did. The Swallow actually provided the best bed that I can remember sleeping on in a hotel.
Apart from the comfortable bed, there was no noise at all from adjacent rooms here, nor did we hear a sound from the corridor outside at night, or in the early morning. Because the room block is situated to the rear of the hotel there is no noise from guests coming and going in the car park. With the window open we could hear traffic noise from the A59. However, the room was not overheated and with the double glazed window closed, this was as quiet a hotel room as you could wish to find.
FACILITIES ON OFFER - No score here, different grades / prices of hotel understandably have different facilities.
The Preston Swallow actually offered far more facilities that I would ever wish to use. The facilities would not be out of place in a five star hotel, but in Lancashire it is not unusual to find well equipped leisure centres attached to fairly modest hotels.
The leisure club includes a large indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam room, Jacuzzi and a gymnasium.
Due to the superb restaurant, comfortable bar and completely self-contained separate wedding / conference facility, the Nelson Suite, I would not be inclined to describe this as a modest hotel.
Adding to the impression of a big luxury hotel was a large and attractively lit display case of unusual and reasonably priced quality gifts located adjacent to the reception desk.
In terms of facilities, the Preston Swallow can truly be all things to all men, there are very few hotels in which we have stayed, particularly in this country, offering such a broad scope of amenities for guests.
BREAKFAST / OTHER MEALS, FOOD & DRINKS 9 / 10
A point is lost here due to the bar prices and service. We are not great ones for sitting around in a bar drinking, but I was stung at having to pay £2.50 each for Appletizer, the draught lager was more reasonably priced, but we were not alone in criticising the prices of drinks here.
Nor were we the only ones complaining about the bar service, which was poor, bordering on the non-existent. There was a notice on the bar to request bar service from reception if the bar was unattended, which for most of the Monday evening it was. Having waited for at least five minutes for the barman to appear, I asked for three more dinner menus, having already "lifted" the only copy from the bar. After he failed to supply them in half an hour, I had to go to the restaurant and take them myself.
Moving into the restaurant things improved immeasurably. The service was faultless - old school courtesy and professionalism shone through, making almost everywhere else we have eaten look sloppy and "casual" by comparison. The food more than lived up to the ambiance and service too - we ate dinner twice in the restaurant sampling as broad a selection of cuisine as possible, it was all excellent - I could not recommend any dish as particularly outstanding, nor indeed any to be avoided.
We were also pleased to note that a jug of water was served to the table without being requested. Fresh rolls and butter too were provided as an appetiser.
At £18.95 per head for the standard three course menu - some dishes had £2.00 or £4.00 supplementary charges - this was not a cheap dinner, it was however an extraordinarily good one......
......potentially at £10.00 per head, on the dinner / B&B offer rate, an absolute steal!
Having paid £35.00 for the two of us for bed and breakfast, my expectations of the breakfast were not terribly high. I have read many hotel reviews praising the paid for dinner, only to slate the quality of the breakfast included in the cost of the room.
In other hotels and travel lodges in Lancashire you will pay around £8.00 each for a cooked breakfast, £6.00 for a continental one. The breakfast offered here, whilst largely a self-service buffet, is of a very good quality, offering a large choice of both cooked and continental style dishes.
We do not usually eat cooked breakfasts, but here were tempted into indulging in, and enjoying, "the full works"; fried eggs served on triangles of fried bread, grilled tomato, bacon, black pudding, baked beans, delicious mushrooms and delightful little breakfast sausages. All of this washed down by copious quantities of tea or very good coffee and a choice of fresh fruit juices.
The more health conscious among you will be pleased to hear that a limited range of fresh fruit salads as well as yoghurts were offered to compliment the cereals.
The same restaurant manager supervised breakfast as he had dinner, serving us personally with tea, coffee and fresh toast, whilst allowing us to take from the large hot and cold buffet as little or as much food as we required.
OVERALL VALUE FOR MONEY 9 / 10
I can only rate the Preston Swallow at the price we paid for it and comment here that this was the bargain of the century.
OK, the century is only seven years in, but I defy anyone here in the UK to beat £35.00 per night for two in a three star hotel of this overall quality!
Tempering this however is that YOU may not be able to get that same deal today, indeed the best prices I could obtain for next week are quoted above on the booking section.
HOW LIKELY AM I / ARE WE, TO USE THIS HOTEL AGAIN?
In order to fill the rooms here at full rack rate, Swallow are going to need to spend some money on refurbishing the rooms and especially the en-suites, which do look rather tired and dated. However, again, I would have to comment here that they perform a lot better than they on first site lead you to expect them to.
Having said that, the Preston Swallow Hotel exceeded my expectations by a country mile, my Crossroads Motel comparison probably was an unfair one. The staff here at the Swallow, with the notable exception in the bar, could not have been more helpful, welcoming or downright professional.
Thanks to the staff, the convenience of the location and the fact that my wife and I, although on business, really enjoyed our stay at the Preston Swallow, we will undoubtedly return to this hotel in future years.
RICHADA'S LESSON FOR TODAY
The Preston Swallow Hotel proved to me that one should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a hotel by its frontage. The place may be far from perfect, and the bargain price may have swayed my judgement a little, but a very warm welcome and a comfortable stay can be expected here.
The Preston Swallow may not top our pops below, but for us as a business base; it hit exactly the right spot.
RICHADA'S HOTEL RATING - 74 %
In order to put that score into some kind of perspective, here are my current hotel rankings - all reviewed and scored using identical criteria:
Ringhotel Friederikenhof - Lubeck - Germany - 92%
Innkeeper's Lodge, Chester Northeast - 83%
Innkeeper's Lodge, Stockport - 83 %
Innkeeper's Lodge, Hull - 81%
Preston Swallow Hotel - Samlesbury, Lancashire - 74%
Hotel Drei Schwanen - Hohenstein-Ernstthal - Germany - 72%
Hotel Viktoria, Cologne - 70%
Hotel Piast, Boleslawiec (Poland) - 64%
Chadwick Hotel, St Annes - 63 %
PRESTON SWALLOW HOTEL
Preston New Road,
Telephone: 01772 877351