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|Otterburn Castle Country House Hotel
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|Not to be trusted
|In late 2014 having visited many different venues whilst looking to arrange our wedding we visited Otterburn Castle where we were greeted by an employee called Andrew. On 26th October 2014 Andrew gave us a guided tour of the castle and was a very pleasant bloke. However, his knowledge of the packages available and of the castles layout wasn’t the best – we often found ourselves a little lost when viewing the different suites available due to the castles dated layout.
However, were initially quite impressed by what we saw so decided to reserve Sunday 16th August for our wedding. Ideally we wanted Saturday 15th August but were told by Andrew and later by Stefan, the castles manager, that this was not possible as there was already a pre-booked wedding planned for Friday 14th August and a turnaround period of around 24 hours would be needed for the castle staff to clean, vacate all rooms from the previous day and to set up our own wedding.
All was going to plan until my mother in law to be attempted to reserve her own room for the eve and day of our wedding!! She was informed by a receptionist called Judith that there was a wedding booked for Saturday 15th August and all rooms had been reserved for this wedding so there were now none available for her or any of our own guests, despite being told that we’d pre booked all rooms ourselves when we agreed to marry here.
The receptionist seemed to be in shock and didn’t understand how the castle was expected to host three weddings in the space of 48 hours. We agreed with this and when we attempted to discuss with Stefan (the manager) we were informed that he was in Bulgaria and would not be returning to work for over three weeks. There was no assistant manager who was able to fill in for Stefan and apparently no-one else was able to make any decisions. Slight problem when you have basically agreed to spend around £6000 on a basic wedding package and already booked a live band, registrars, photographer etc. and the person who you need to speak to is unavailable for over three weeks when a massive problem has arisen!!
When we met Stefan on Saturday 6th December 2014 we found him to be quite an unapproachable bloke but did appear very knowledgeable and answered any queries that we put to him, including those about poor Trip Advisor reviews, which helped us make our minds and choose Otterburn castle as the location of our wedding. He was constantly mentioning the fact that he’d just spent £500,000 on renovating the castle in recent months with further spending due in 2015. Stefan was also name dropping frequently by informing us that the castle was financially very secure and currently owned by the same businessman who owns the Orient Express. In hindsight I have my doubts about this and worry about the future of this lovely location.
The castle itself is a lovely looking building and at first sight I was very impressed. On entering the castle we were made to feel welcome by the castles staff. On our first tour of the castle with Andrew we noticed a few grubby areas and mentioned these when we met Stefan a few weeks later. Stefan was keep to point out that the marquee would be taken down and re-assembled in early 2015. The marquee was in a horrible state – it appeared to have been standing there for decades. It was run down, the wooden floors were chipped and uneven, and the entrance corridor was incredibly cold, dirty and run down.
Right from the start we informed Stefan that we’d be booking a live wedding band. This was fully encouraged by Stefan and he pointed out where the band would play. A week after confirming our band Stefan informed us that the castle has a sound restriction of 85 – 86 decibels in place. He said this was very strict and all music would be cut off if the band broke this as numerous complaints have been made by unhappy locals. Having mentioned this to the band they said they’d be unable to play to such levels with the full six piece band which included a small brass section. Despite the band using a professional sound engineer they said it’d be very difficult to perform to their best under such restrictions.
The castle has 17 bedrooms. During our two separate lengthy tours we viewed numerous rooms. Some are lovely, spacious and looked very comfortable. Others appeared to have missed out on the refurbishment altogether and were very dated and actually felt uncomfortably chilly. Some of the furniture was very scruffy in appearance but again we were informed that future improvements would amend these issues. If like me you can’t do without your technology you’ll struggle with the lack of working Wi-Fi. Although we were lucky enough not to spend a full night in Otterburn castle I believe that we spent enough time within the location (around 5 hours in total during two separate meetings and tours) to give a fair account and review on the place and some of the service received. I cannot comment on sleep quality here as we did not spend a night within the castle, thank God!!
As mentioned earlier, we first visited the castle on Sunday 26th October 2014 to meet with Andrew and decided to book a table for lunch following our meeting and first tour of the castle. Andrew appeared to arrange a table especially for us in the Oak room. We were the only people there at this time and were well looked after by the waiting staff. My partner had a fish dish which he said was very nice, nothing spectacular to look at but very nice. I had beef dinner, as did my future mother in law. The beef was clearly reheated and over cooked and there was barely enough food on the plate to fill a child. I’d expect this if we were dining in a Michelin Star restaurant but despite what Stefan wants us to believe we most certainly were not. The price of the menu was also very much overpriced in my own opinion. The food provided was adequate at best.
In our dealings with the rest of the staff (whilst Stefan was sunning it up in Bulgaria), I’d say we were just about satisfied but left very frustrated indeed. The receptionists, Judith and Jenny were polite and attempted to assist as much as possible. However, Stefan basically has shackles attached to them and gave them no powers or responsibilities what so ever. Hence the reason we had to wait over four weeks to obtain a full refund as Stefan was solely responsible for this. Lack of an assistant or someone to help when issues do occur is a massive issue!! I still have no idea what role Andrew plays at the castle?
Upon Stefan’s return from Bulgaria my partner attempted to speak with him on three separate occasions only to be told by Judith and Jenny (the receptionists) that he was in a meeting ….. Yes each time!! My partner then requested he call us back to discuss the whole situation further but around 6 weeks have passed and still no contact from Stefan!! Incidentally, both ourselves and all of our guests have finally received full refunds from the castle, after almost 4 weeks of asking but guess it’s better late than never.
To summarise, I believe that the castle has a lovely shell and so much potential. I believe that they probably can provide unlucky wedding guests with a day to remember but I’m far from convinced that these will be happy memories especially whilst Stefan remains in control. Stefan clearly has financial targets to meet and will let nothing get in his way when attempting to meet these. If you’re looking for a weekend away, you’ll find the castle to be adequate and the location is fantastic. The food isn’t bad and you have a 50% chance of being placed in a good bedroom.
If you’re planning more than a few days away please think very carefully. We were promised an awful lot but very little was met and our perfect day was basically double booked and wrecked!!!
|James Harris - 02/03/2015