Booking accommodation for a walk was not always so simple

Published 9 April 2023

Sign at the Old Dungeon Gyhll pub, offering food and accommodation, where accommodation is spelt with only one M.  A additional M is added above in yellow.

I recently booked a few hotels for a walking trip on the Offa’s Dyke National Trail. Sadly, not the whole trail in one go. But five nights, meaning five beds to be booked.

Four of the bookings were gloriously easy. Type in the name of the location into Google Maps, hit the “Hotel” button, enter the dates and away you go. It’s so easy now to book hotels and B&Bs, all over the country. Most accommodation providers are now online, and if they’re not, well there’s bound to be somewhere nearby that is.

The fifth? In this particular place, there’s four places to stay. Three pubs and one B&B. There’s nothing else for miles – if you can’t get in one of them, you’d need to get the bus elsewhere.

And here’s the thing. Not one of those places had online booking. Not a single one. One of them didn’t even have a website, or any form of online presence.

I had to phone. I phoned the B&B first. They couldn’t help as they were on holiday themselves. But they told me of a mysterious other place run by “Mary”. She was “up on the hill” and sometimes does B&B.

In terms of the internet, Mary’s a complete enigma. A right mystery.

I filed Mary as a backup and tried one of the pubs. They didn’t pick up as they were closed at that time of day. Not that I knew this as they didn’t have an answerphone. I just guessed. I rang up later when their website said they’d be open and as they had room, booked in.

Three phone calls over several hours to get one bed for the night. Crikes.

But it reminded me of how things used to be. When I first started planning walking trips in 2009, this was how it always was. When we tried to plan our Coast to Coast trip – requiring fifteen nights accommodation, we put aside a whole weekend to trying to book places.

For the fifteen nights accommodation we needed for the Coast to Coast in 2009 we had to spend hours ringing round to see who had room. Using a published accommodation list – no Google Maps hotel search back then – booking one nights stay could require multiple calls. When you found someone with space, you nabbed it quick, no matter what the price.

Then there was the deposit. To guarantee you’d turn up, most of them wanted a cheque sent in the post. So for every night booked, there was then the process of writing the cheques, sorting out the envelopes, putting the stamps on…

We assigned a whole weekend for the phone calls. The cheques got sent out over the following week.

Thankfully the pub this year didn’t want a deposit (they did offer me the opportunity to pay one “if I wanted”). I left it because why worry. But if I had wanted, it would have been done by card, over the phone.

The experience was a reminder that the internet has made a lot of things easier. Booking beds for a walking trip now is – mostly – a doddle. We don’t always appreciate how easy it’s become. Or, indeed, even think about it.

But every now and then, there’s a reminder. A reminder it wasn’t always like this. A reminder of a time I’d be rather happy never to go back to.

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