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All The Way for The Alloway Inn!
The Alloway Inn (Ayr)
Member Name: Nar2
The Alloway Inn (Ayr)
Advantages: Close to R Burns location, lovely surroundings, great food.
Disadvantages: Hee haw else to do but drink and stuff yourself; no facilities, Costley & Costley generic food.
** This is a long review **
The Alloway Inn however isn't a hotel - a fact that was pointed out to my mum when she requested if there was any room service on our day of arrival - but it's only a ten minute walk through a little village to get to the surrounds of Robbie Burns' environment and on the internet through various searches, it does come up as a hotel rather than a true "inn." Over the Brigadoon with its elevated prices, the Alloway was the next choice down the scale. It is however quite a drive from the main train station and the cost of the cab ride came to around £7-00 for two people and luggage.
When we initially arrived at the hotel we had already been impressed with the scenery of what Ayr offers; the beautiful hills, landscapes and stretches of golf courses seen from the taxi and by our arrival at mid-day the clear skies and the sun shone brightly putting this rather large stone cottage into perspective; if it had a golf course on offer, the Alloway Inn would make the perfect accompaniment as an Team house or Team hotel even as it just about teeters on the edge of Belleisle Golf Course. As we stood waiting for the receptionist to arrive I noted that opposite the reception was an L shaped restaurant with small tables and bench seats lining the wall which lead to a conservatory with a large wicker table and six individual chairs. A twin room booked for two nights in total costs £178-00 or £89-00 per night; this did not include lunch or dinner although it did cover breakfast for both nights. The added £10 seems to be a Summer charge as double rooms are usually £79-00 per night whilst single rooms are usually £69-00 per night. Car parking is free and is dotted around the perimeter of the cottage with one main drive way in and being able to park around the Inn employing a clockwise and anticlockwise fashion of swerving around corners to get back onto the small but tarred (complete with a speed hump¨) drive way. Even at the time of arrival there were five cars parked around the stone graveling and at a possible pinch I'd say about 20 cars could fit into this Inn's grounds.
The way to the bedrooms is only one way within the Alloway Inn and that's out of the main door as if you're about to leave onto one level of sandstone stairs. Turn a brisk left and you're led up a short amount of steep carpeted stairs which lead to the first floor and you're met with a rather dark and narrow hall way regardless of two windows further down which look over roof tops and don't give a particularly aspiring view. Shockingly however to get to furthest rooms in the Inn (there are only 6 bedrooms altogether), you have to step up two steps to get the rooms at the furthest bit of the hall; so for guests with wheelchairs, or push chairs the Alloway Inn on the first obstacle of offering no lift access means its not a possible venue. Our room was located right next door to an open cupboard that revealed the cleaner's cupboard and stocked the usual small milk capsules and a large stock of shower gels and various toiletries. Whilst I didn't mind this, I did mind the fact that our room entrance was cast in complete darkness which is never a good sign despite the fact that a security night light sat above the door entrance and never seemed to come on for the two days we stayed. This meant finding the key hole with our key took time and patience and even the receptionist had problems initially finding the lock!
Now my mother and I are no snobs but we were literally taken aback by the colour of the room; wall paper, carpet and fittings all dripping in lime green and brown wood which at best proved to be warm and inviting due to the quality of thick wood and comfy furniture on offer. Set off by a handful of paint by numbers pictures which adorned the walls and two quaint small cottage like windows; we were just so glad to be off the train and booked in! The beds however proved to be of mixed quality; both divans in style with extremely bouncy and shapeless mattresses and the slightest movement on the bed meant that the castors had an easy wheeling access rather than staying put. Tea and coffee making facilities were offered in the form of a small tray with even more garish green coloured china cups, saucers, a small dainty tea pot and matching pot to hold instant coffee, tea bags and those funny little capsules of long life milk courtesy of Lakeland, or if you recognise the name, default food product brand name from Costco...never let it be said I'm the kind of traveller who will turn up their nose at smaller enterprises and the Alloway Inn is certainly this in terms of the goods and consumables it supplies to its residents. Two large armchairs and a small coffee table provided some comfort whilst a large cupboard with those difficult to access permanent hangers attached was at best large and included a suitcase stand. On the wall adjacent to the main light switch sat a chromed switch with a red bezel; this turned out to be the central heating switch that also powered up the hot water but as we found during our stay the central heating was very powerful and had to be turned off for a couple of hours for early morning relief - and hanging our heads out of the windows was simply out of the question as the Alloway Inn is set in a beautiful cottage like design with old fashioned single pane "peep" style windows which are sadly not insulated when its windy let alone give enough space to fit a head through!
We were pleased to find a small 14" television combo unit with video player had also been put in the room. Unluckily we didn't bring any books or videos for our very short stay, hoping that the Inn that's not a hotel would supply something to do.
The ensuite bathroom was a mixed bag. Although it had a great power shower, two large bathroom towels, one bathroom mat and two hand towels, all of which were very clean and the usual shower gel bottles with accompanying shampoos were supplied, there was a copious amount of room to move about in the shower cubicle with a slightly old fashioned three part shower glass door which wobbled due to overuse, the extractor fan in the ceiling literally boomed whenever anyone was using the shower but changed its sound the moment the doors were open; this reminded me much of the recording studios at EMI! Being set at one corner in the room with heavy eves of the roof closing in on the sink and toilet meant that I had problems shaving unless I stood to an opposite angle of the toilet and had to swerve back each time to wash my shaver under the sink; not inconvenient but not what I was expecting from an ensuite in a twin room. Nor was I expecting the fact that ceiling fan seemed to direct warm air towards the floor which meant the slippery tiled surface was warm to the touch of my feet and gave off the first reaction that the Inn had underfloor heating in the bathroom, which of course it proved it didn't. However the floor was uneven and set at an angle made worse by the fact that if sat on the toilet looking opposite to the shower, it was very apparent that whole bathroom was not level; just what you need when you've been attending a ceremony evening meal and you're full of the drink! For the asking price of £90 a night, the bathroom is passable on two to three day stay but Alloway Inn should re-design this bathroom to make it more accessible for two people using the twin beds and please remove the awful dolphin like painted mammal emblazed on the roof attic window!
In the afternoon on the day of check in, my mum decided to check out what Alloway Inn had to offer and I knew that she would be outside on the drive way smoking since of course by law, every residential hotel or B&B has a no smoking policy. Whilst she was away checking out the scenery, I decided to have a nap but it was only an hour or so that passed when I was awoken by an awful sound of something like an upright piano with squeaky castors being rolled across a wooden floor. At first I thought I was imagining it but when the sound happened again I realised that I was definitely out of my ancient slumber! Since there is only a first floor from the ground level, I couldn't imagine anyone being above us and why would this noise be happening around 2pm in the afternoon? It would be something to ask the receptionist the next time I saw her! My mother returned to report that there was in actual fact "hee haw" to do in the Alloway Inn and whilst the grounds were surrounded by a small gardening plot next door and acres of golf course land next to the garden plot, there wasn't much of a view from ground level outside thanks to the security of 12 foot hedges lining the whole perimeter of the cottage. We were therefore grateful that from our main Victorian style door type windows and the main window that slid upwards on corded wheels we had a great view of Alloway plus the golf course in the distance; thank heavens that all of the bedrooms have views like this since they are all allocated on the first floor.
About two hours later my mum and I decided to check out what Alloway Inn has to offer, hoping that there would either be a stack of magazines, books or resource books to welcome us to the area or something to read or watch whilst we stayed there. Apart from one cook book priced at around £16 on display across from the receptionist's desk to indicate what the Chefs from Costley & Costley hoteliers provide there were no newspapers, no books and certainly no area other than the bar and separated restaurant that any resident could go to. I noted that the bar next to the restaurant was able to deliver beers such as Stella Artois, the odd Guinness on tap or Kronenburg 1664 but very little else remained in the country bar apart from soft drinks and a few alcoholic pop-type drinks. Coming from another west coast town that has similar bars and restaurants adored with metallic farming objects hanging on the wall did not make my nose wrinkle, but aside from a large wall mounted LCD Satellite television that showed BBC news, there was little to do other than to spend money at the bar, get drunk, retire to your room and then emerge later for dinner. It is an Inn after all, apparently. Costs of spirits were about £2-00 which can be a bit high but the quality and cleanliness of the bar and the glasses our drinks were served in were spotless - the bar also has a side door leading into the car park and is open to non-residents opening at 8am and closing at 11pm every day.
As we watched television in the late afternoon and noted that the weather had indeed changed, we decided to investigate the only other place that we could go to and that was the restaurant. In terms of the food offered, it is certainly an a la carte service with many different choices both from a Vegetarian, Specialist Dieter or Meat eater in mind with quite an expensive price added on top. I was not disappointed to find that prices at £6-95 to £9-95 per head of main courses were not justified by the sheer quality and quantity of the food on offer. For example, my starter consisted of a simple but effective Scottish delicacy of Mussels in Garlic and was pleased to find that every mussel cooked may well have been inspected the moment they came out of the cook's pot; either that or the Inn has a very selective policy of what they cook with. The starter of Mussels with white wine, Garlic and cream were very big and I didn't think I would have room for my main course which consisted of Cumberland sausages with mash and peppercorn sauce and vegetables including what I now know Costley & Costley may well receive in batch supplies; creamed mash or creamed potato slices. Regardless of this, I felt very full after two courses and couldn't hope to manage the deliciously creamy fruit cheesecake which came with two very ornate darkened brown caramelised rings of sugar. By contrast my mother opted for a rich and beautifully oven prepared steak with steamed vegetables cooked to perfection served with one of the largest salads I have ever seen in my life! Everything was very fresh from the scents of the foods not to mention the different flavours offered and oh how we felt very spoiled from the offset of the colours of the foods on offers not to mention the fine tastes of soft melt in the mouth meat and time taken to prepare the dishes. So for three courses for two people, the bill came to £43-00. This included three courses of soft drinks and three coffees for my mother. Aside from the a la carte menu there are three additional menus available such as the "Early Bird," menu, kids menu and the main menu of the Inn.
When we decided that we would both go for a walk after dinner, it didn't take me long to realise where the sound of that creaking piano with its castors came from. We realised that our room was above the main kitchen and their window just like our main window was the old fashioned type on corded rope and castors. So every time the kitchen was in use, the window would naturally be pushed up vigorously to allow cool air to circulate and I would hear that familiar ring of squeaky castors haunting me.
One thing I would like to point out about the Alloway Inn is the staff, or perhaps the lack of staff. Being such a small establishment it was obvious that to successfully run the place there are only a small number of staff on hand. From time to time I counted an excess of three staff members on the "shop" floor whilst one staff member was usually present in the morning at breakfast before changeovers were made obvious by extra staff standing around in the small bar area. However small the amount of staff are in numbers, they are all very friendly, extremely polite and helpful to advise and leave you during your dinner to enjoy the food on offer. We were largely impressed with the service on offer plus the complete silence of being left alone as well as appreciating the limited space that Alloway Inn has to cope with. The physicality of the restaurant is narrow; Costley & Costley have tried to inject some degree of style with brown mahogany styled wooden tables, comfortable chairs and a sense of country style thanks to beer barrels dotted about with iron lamps on top. So it's a pity that the greenery on offer in terms of plants are all plastic! The space between tables and chairs is extremely narrow. Then there are the pictures on the wall; beautiful darkened metal and wooden frames giving off views of various pictures only to be destroyed by more metallic hoof farming objects that cast an image of booby prizes won off the Generation Game's escalator than an actual country home; I mean, really, would you have a ton of metallic copper looking tankards and coal pots lining up one wall with a myriad of beautiful wall hangings on the other? Or how about putting a piss pot in the main bar next to a stoned fire place that detracts the beauty of the natural stone with a horrid picture of fruit dotted about? What kind of country Inn do Costley and Costley have in mind for one of the best loved parts of Ayrshire? It certainly isn't Scottish to my mind!
Despite this, we got the impression from our early evening dinner that the Alloway Inn is a much respected establishment, made all the more evident that the restaurant and bar welcome non-residents and we watched a few enter the restaurant and sit at reserved seats including the rather posh conservatory that looked slightly out of place due to the beautiful wicker table and chairs. Thankfully all the tables in the restaurant are very well decked out even though there is a confusing mix of styles. It was at this point that my mum and I decided to go for a walk around the cottage before we headed down the road to check out more country like sights. And oh how we strolled - for about a minute - right around the cottage and realised that a lot more could be done with the space, including the facility of a built in outdoor garden that no one ever sat out on and overlooks the "wicker" conservatory. It appears a mystery that Costley & Costley don't do anything with the open green field their hedge covers over. On our day of arrival for example the field was awash with young children playing football for example whilst at the entrance to the Inn, there is a private allotment that adds to the appeal of country life. This kind of land is crying out for sports activities that the Alloway Inn could develop or at least something else to take away the boredom of the Inn itself thanks to the lack of facilities. Certainly from a driver's point of view, the Alloway Inn is perfect if you need to just get off the road, have a hearty meal and bed down for the night.
What I didn't expect however was that despite the dark green curtains which could well have been black out in design, they did little to hide the bright shining amber street lamp that stayed on for the whole of the night - and was sat outside our window!
The next morning after a full and tasty Scottish prepared full breakfast which I may add Alloway Inn caters for either the breakfast cereal variety, cooked porridge to your liking or a full continental breakfast of 2 rashers of bacon, 2 wonderful Ayrshire sausages, perfectly fried eggs, steamed black pudding, steamed mushrooms and a potato scone if you so desired, we made our way to get ready for the wedding. Thereafter when we visited the Brigadoon hotel, a few things became more obvious from the evening meals we were offered. Not only do this company appear to offer similar food, it also offers the ornate caramelised sugar rings that we were led to believe had been done in house at Alloway Inn! Oh how to ruin the image of a country like Inn with its personalised way of doing things!
Look more closely and you'll realise that whilst Costley & Costley may well run the place, it takes a moment to realise that they haven't got the details quite right with the Alloway Inn. With quite an extensive car park that runs around the boundary of the cottage it means that access is good even though there is only one narrow drive way out of the Inn itself. Couple this with the bedroom windows that aren't double glazed and therefore allow sound absorption to enter such as being woken up by delivery trucks and such like as the cars and general vehicles run down the sandstone pieces which adorn the whole drive way and you have a small cottage residential inn that offers a great eating experience backed up by friendly and excellent staff. If you aren't so pernickety then it deserves a full five star rating. But the lack of facilities, newspapers and books (frankly I don't care that it's an Inn and not a hotel) and smaller details means it gets 4 stars from me. At nearly £100 a night per room, it may be expensive - but the expense is only an appetiser for the actual dining and quality preparation of food on offer - and if there is nothing else to do, you may as well be a glutton and take advantage of what facility they do have to be drunk and merry! Therefore it goes without saying that unless teenagers have their own devices, the Alloway Inn is apt for adults with younger children or simply for adults on their own. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009
The Alloway Inn
Tel: 01292 442336
www.costley.biz/alloway-inn/dining.html (gives a brief timetable of menus available and opening times).
www.costley.biz/images/stories/menus/inns/inns_me nu_oct08_pdf (pdf transcript of current menu)
www.costley.biz/alloway-inn/index.php (main website link)
Summary: A nice idea and homely cottage in feel against larger hotels in the area.
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