With the route planned at a high level and the number of stops determined by things like how far I can reasonably walk in a day and how much height gain I can manage, I now needed to book the accommodation.
Booking accommodation is great fun, it’s one of my favourite parts of the planning process. It doesn’t normally take long either. Even for a 14 day walk like this one it only took about 3 or 4 days from start to end of the process.
I use lots of Internet resources to determine where to stay. The first port of call is the accommodation list for the path in question. Most National Trails have an accommodation listing; maintained and provided by the National Trail organisation – in the UK that’s to be found here: http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/
In Scotland the trails are maintained by Scottish Natural Heritage and on their website you can find a link to the Southern Upland Way website at: http://www.southernuplandway.gov.uk
They have an accommodation page and it’s sorted by order of direction along the trail, which is immensely useful, more so than an alphabetical listing of towns and villages which have accommodation in them – which system I have found elsewhere!
This gives me a feel for the sort of places that the Trail owner is aware of – Hotels, B&Bs, Hostels, Bothies and so on. Unfortunately there’s not enough information here to determine if somewhere is good, bad or indifferent. For that sort of information I use Trip Advisor.
Trip Advisor UK is one of the best sources of reviews for accommodation, not just hotels as you would expect, but anywhere with a bed to rent.
It quickly became apparent that there are far more places along the route with beds available than you will find on the SUW website. Doing a search by each town I wanted to stop in, produced several new options. More importantly though I now had an idea of what other people thought about their stays in these places. There is also a rough guide as to the price of the rooms and the additional extras you can get there.
Trip Advisor allowed me to prioritise two or three providers in each location, which then let me proceed to the next step.
Looking at Trip Advisor or the SUW website gives me an address, but even if that gives the name of the village as the address, it doesn’t guarantee that the accommodation is actually in the village, it could be two or three miles out of the village and that would be a huge problem at the end of a long day – so the next step is to feed all the postcodes into Google Maps and see where they actually are.
Immediately one or two places were dropped off the list – being 2 miles from the trail is not an option (unless of course it’s the only option). Google Maps Street View also allows me to check that the postcode is accurate and that the image of the place matches the accommodation listing.
Proximity to the trail determined I can now do the final selection, price. This typically means visiting the website of each B&B or hotel and trying to filter through some pretty dreadful layouts to find the nugget of information I need.
Almost every B&B now has its own website – only one on this trip I think, doesn’t have one. This makes the process so far, almost completely separated from people interaction. I haven’t had to speak to anyone yet and for the time being I try to keep to this rule.
I now need to email all the places to see if they have availability for the night in question and how much they want for a sole occupancy – so few places actually have single rooms that I tend to pay quite a lot for rooms. It’s best to get that knowledge out as quickly as possible.
Email is good – it means I don’t have to commit to anything initially. If I were to ring people and they say “Yes, I have a room on that night”, they expect me to book it, and I feel like I have to justify my reasons for not doing so. The problem here is that if I don’t manage to find somewhere in one of my proposed stops, I need to shuffle the dates one way or the other to make up for that – to try and find a date where they do have availability. This is so much easier done via email.
Even places that have a website and an email address, don’t always monitor those email addresses regularly. For the SUW I managed to email every prospective provider – only about 60% actually responded in the first 48 hours. After that time I was forced to start ringing people.
The SUW is nothing like as popular as the Coast to Coast, West Highland Way, or even the Pennine Way – that is obvious because I managed to secure a booking in every one of my first choice accommodation providers.
I had to ring four places in the end – out of 14 stops. I still have one place left to book, that being in a B&B close to the path, the only one within 3 miles, and they asked me to contact them in the New Year. If they aren’t doing B&B anymore, or they are full then I have a few extra miles to walk that day (and the next), but it won’t be the end of the world.
My final list of accommodation is likely to cost be £532.50 and with 14 nights, that an average of £38.04 – which is quite a lot in my previous experience. My Pennine Way in 2010 cost a total of £556.45 and an average of £32.73. I guess some of this is cost of living, but it seems like a big increase to me.