We meet the owners of Northern Ireland's favourite Bed & Breakfasts
We take a sneaky peek inside four Northern Ireland B&Bs that guests including Daniel and Majella O’Donnell, just don’t want to leave.
Former property tycoon James King and his wife Sally, a bee-keeper, reside at Dunnanelly House, a substantial country house set in 80 acres of natural fields and woodland between Crossgar and Downpatrick. It has been operating as a B&B for four years. Ideally placed for golfers, being close to Royal County Down and Ardglass, the four-star bed and breakfast is totally secluded, with views of the Mountains of Mourne to the south, and Slieve Croob to the west. All rooms overlook the beautiful wildlife pond and fields with dry-stone walls.
"Our three sons have grown up and all gone to work away from home — and this house is made for entertaining. A very good friend with many years’ experience of B&B encouraged me to think about it. My husband thought it was a great idea.
The house was already extremely well furnished and equipped, including tea/coffee trays in our three guest bedrooms and we increased the hot water capacity and installed TVs, trouser presses and irons/ironing boards.
Then we started to get a lot of inquiries for wedding guests and found that we could have filled the three bedrooms many times over and it was a shame to turn away guests. So, we decided to pay some attention to the three boys’ bedrooms in the main part of the house and applied for a licence to use these rooms too. Despite being boys’ bedrooms, they were all decorated in a fairly grown-up style, so it didn’t take too much to bring them up to the same standard as the original guest bedrooms. Two of these bedrooms have a king-size bed and a single bed, which has been very useful.
We then took the big decision to install solar panels on our barn roof which is south-facing and also a wood chip boiler, which has been a great success and ensures constant hot water 24 hours a day.
We have hosted several grooms and their families and even a bride and her family, which was very special as her photographs were taken here before she left for the ceremony.
Our guests come from all over the world— Singapore, Scandinavia, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Dubai, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.
We have had some very interesting people stay here, but I would not ever mention their names as this is a place of refuge from the glare of publicity and I would like to keep it that way.
For breakfast, we serve a choice of speciality teas and coffees, a selection of about five different cereals, two choices of fresh fruit compotes, speciality yoghurts with nuts, seeds and dried fruits to sprinkle on top, and a choice of fruit juices and porridge for those who need a filling start to the day.
The most popular request for the cooked breakfast is the Ulster Fry — of course. I can customise that to suit people’s preferences and also offer locally smoked salmon and various other changing options, as well as vegetarian.
Guests are offered tea and cakes if they arrive at tea-time, or a glass of wine if they arrive a little later. Also, we will be offering special occasion afternoon tea in the autumn (by advance booking only).
I have the best quality 100% cotton bed linen and have now started introducing organic cotton sheets, too, in keeping with my Gold Award for Green Tourism. This has also impacted on all the washing and cleaning products we use in the house.
The B&B is a family affair and my husband James works tirelessly ensuring the garden and grounds look superb. He also helps me when serving large numbers for breakfast, producing weather reports, newspapers, driving directions and some information on places to visit. And he grows soft fruit, loads of different berries, apples and pears and also a cutting garden for the house.
I think part of the secret to success in running a B&B is having a very fine eye for detail. We have L’Occitane products and toothbrushes, for example.
We’ve picked up tips from travelling all over the world. We lived in the Far East, too, for a while. As for the future, we’d like to keep going, for as long as we’re able."
Dunnanelly Country House rates are currently £100 per room per night, based on two people sharing. A double room for single occupancy is £70 per night, all inclusive of bed & breakfast. 26 Rocks Chapel Road, Downpatrick, Co Down BT30 9BA. www.dunnanellycountryhouse.com
Willowbank House in Enniskillen fought off stiff competition locally to be featured in Daniel and Majella O’Donnell’s (below) upcoming six-part B&B Road Trip for UTV Ireland. The cottage-style four-star, overlooking Lough Erne, is run by retired civil servants Tom and Joan Foster, who previously lived in Magherafelt with their three grown-up sons. Joan prides herself on her famous hospitality and award winning breakfasts, cooked on her Aga, using local produce including the famous Fermanagh Black Bacon.
"There’s a bit of a story behind how we landed here. Tom’s from the area and we were looking for somewhere to retire to. We’d been looking at a house on the other side of the lake and had sat down at a marina to have a think about it, when I saw Willowbank across the water. I thought it was beautiful, so we got Tom’s brother and drove down that way to have a look at the area.
En route, Tom said he knew of a house for sale there and landed us right at Willowbank. There was a For Sale sign in the garden that I hadn’t seen. It had been a B&B at one stage — we weren’t looking for one but I always had the notion in my head to run one, even if Tom hadn’t. I fell in love with it, but Tom was very quiet.
Couples rarely agree on these things and I was afraid to ask if we could afford it and so on, but when we were on down the road a bit, I asked him what he thought, and his exact words were, “We’re going to buy it”.
I was taken aback but delighted. We decided to do it on a five-year plan, but here we are, 15 years later, on the third one. Fortunately, the recession didn’t really affect us very badly. Even if they’re not going abroad on holiday, people still enjoy short breaks and we’re affordable. We used to come to Fermanagh on holiday as a family and the boys are still happy to come back here.
We’ve our own quarters and the guests have their own entrance, so we don’t intrude on them, but we are here if they need us.
We had Daniel and Majella here last week and they were totally charming; so easy to look after. They were filming their new series and we were very lucky to be chosen for it. The filming was an exciting experience, if a little tiring.
I grew up on a farm in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, as one of four daughters and always enjoyed cooking and baking. I did a lot of cooking for my three sons too, as you can imagine. I’m very fussy about the bedding and do all the laundry on site. We have quilts, but provide blankets for those who prefer them and throws.
I love entertaining and I enjoy people. We get all sorts of interesting guests here and we have great fun."
Willowbank House, 60 Bellevue Road, Ring, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, BT74 4JH www.willowbankhouse.com
At The Beach
At The Beach B&B on Portstewart Strand gained a five-star rating in its first assessment by Tourism NI in June - just 14 months after it opened in April 2014.
Owned and run by Glenda Moore-Wilson and her son Todd (20), the luxurious premises is one of only five B&Bs in Northern Ireland to achieve five-stars on the scheme.
Offering accommodation for up to 10 adults in five stylish rooms, At The Beach provides some of the best lodging anywhere along the north coast and wider Causeway Coastal route.
The bright new-build has stunning sea views and direct access to the golden sands of Portstewart, combined with understated beach-themed decor and excellent facilities.
"I always intended to do something like this when I had the house built six-and-half years ago - I made all five bedrooms en suite. I grew up on the site and knocked down our old family home to build this one.
I'd been away for years, since going to art college in England, and had worked as a graphic designer and in retail for a long time.
I paint as well, and I'm into interior design, so I was quite involved with the building and architecture of the house.
My approach to interior design is to keep it neutral, then you can jazz it up with different accessories. I love the colours of the seascape. We're very, very lucky to have the beach at the bottom of our garden here, and the cliff path.
Business took off immediately after we opened last April and I hope to stay open most of the year now. We get a lot of foreigners from all over the world, all lovely people so far. They tend to stay around more than I'd expected - lots of Game of Thrones tourists going to see the different venues. The Dark Hedges are a major attraction.
I use very good quality cotton sheets and quilts, with nice throws to dress them up. I'm very particular about the beds - they're all Hypnos (favoured by the Queen), in super-king or singles that can be linked. The rooms are very similar but vary in size. One has a Jacuzzi bath, another has a walk-in shower.
Todd and I make the breakfasts, from fresh and stewed fruit to the full cooked. We serves kippers and cheeses, too.
We're very hands-on. We're based here, so we have time to chat to the guests and help them if they're not sure where they're going.
I think the secret of our success is the personal touch. I'll run it like this for a year or two, but I have plans I can't reveal just yet.
In the meantime, I get real enjoyment out of seeing people comfortable and happy. That's what it's all about."
Room rates At The Beach range from £100 to £135 per room for two adults, with breakfast included. At The Beach, 80A Strand Road, Portstewart, Co
Londonderry BT55 7LZ www.at-beach.com
The multi-award-winning Causeway Lodge is perched in rolling countryside surrounding Bushmills. Run by owners Anne and Lyle Taggart, this purpose-built B&B has a highly commended five-star rating from both Tourism NI and the AA.
Causeway Lodge was also the winner of the Best Serviced Accommodation at the 2012 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards, and holds the World Host Recognition for Customer Service.
The Taggarts ran the Fullerton Arms Hotel in Ballintoy for several years before building their B&B.
"I've been in hospitality all my life and we always wanted somewhere of our own, so we built this house from scratch 10 years ago for our semi-retirement and decided to run it as a B&B seven years ago.
Lyle's a builder, so we were able to have it exactly as we wanted it. He did all the wrought iron work on the stairs and so on and we put in marble floors. We've five rooms for guests and our own wing and an annex for my daughter, who helps us, and granddaughter.
I always had the idea in my head. It took a lot of work but we got there. We're in a peaceful rural setting, near Bushmills Distillery, Causeway Coastal Route, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, Whitepark Bay and the Glens of Antrim.
The rooms are named after the local attractions.
All the American visitors want to do is to see Ballintoy Harbour and the Dark Hedges, because of Game Of Thrones. We pay a lot of attention to detail. I think if you're going to run a B&B in the countryside, off the beaten track, you have to go for luxury. I have white linen on all the beds, 400 and 500 threads counts. I send it out for laundering.
We use aromatherapy fragranced oils in all the rooms, too. Lyle and I do the cooking together, full Irish breakfasts. The Americans love our pancakes, in particular. We serve tea, coffee and shortbread between 4pm and 6pm. We've had the most tremendous year and are hoping for plenty more success in the years ahead."
At the Causeway Lodge, the Causeway Suite is £130 per night; the Dunluce Suite £130; the White Park room and Carrick-a-Rede room £110 per night, and the Portbradden Room £90 per night, all including breakfast. Causeway Lodge, 52 Moycraig Road, Bushmills, Co Antrim BT57 8TB www.causewaylodge.com