“ Address: 63 Ivy Lane / Canterbury / CT1 1TU / Tel: 0871 984 6471 „
Strange as it may seem to some, but whenever I'm going away for a short break in the UK, my first port of call for accommodation is the Travelodge chain of motels.
Before owning our dog, the thought of staying with these people would never have entered my head, but times change. Although we have found a good kennel facility not too far away from us, for a long weekend away it seems more sensible to find somewhere that's dog-friendly to stay and take her along too. While we're happy to leave our cat in the capable hands of our neighbours or friends, it's not practical to burden them with our dog.
Travelodge are one of the few large chains that will allow guests to bring their pets too for an extra fee. Of course, there are B & B's which are dog friendly too, but, well, they haven't met Amber. It would all end in tears. The thought of insulting a national chain doesn't seem so offensive really.
Nowadays, we usually try to get away for a long weekend with Amber at least twice a year. Our most recent stay at a Travelodge was at the Canterbury one last month.
Canterbury itself is a lovely town I hadn't had the opportunity to explore before, apart from a short school trip many years ago. It's location also makes it an ideal base for exploring other areas in Kent, such as the coast.
A bonus is that travelling from south London this is a straightforward journey by motorways, and a nice, manageable distance to travel with a pet. Staying further afield would require more rest stops en route, for the dog if not for us, and thus takes more planning. A nasty smell emanating from the back of our car signals it's time to pull over, before we're left with any horrible surprises to clean up.
So where is this Travelodge?
Situated in Ivy Lane, which is off the A257, which itself is off the busy A28. Driving there, you will almost certainly nearly shoot past Ivy Lane as we did when we arrived. Only seeing the brown 'tourist' sign for the Chaucer Hotel at the last minute did we realise that that was infact where we should be going and turn sharp left. Finding the actual motel shouldn't prove a problem, as it is the last building on the left hand side as you drive up Ivy Lane.
With any luck you shouldn't meet any oncoming traffic. Ivy Lane is little more than a single lane road, with the houses directly opposite the Travelodge dating from the 1820s if I recall correctly. The first part of the road is one way, with a slightly different route being taken when you drive away.
If you were to travel via train, it is probably a 15 minute walk from Canterbury East station.
What's it like?
As is standard practice, earliest check in here is at 3pm. We arrived around 4pm, having made various scenic detours enroute. I'd found their website to be rather vague as to the parking facilities, merely saying that there is parking onsite, which is chargeable.
We found when we arrived that there is parking for around a dozen cars in front of the entrance, and we chanced on a vacant spot to park in while we went in to check in. There is also an overflow car park back down Ivy Lane with spaces for around another dozen cars. The motel was fully booked when we were there, and aside from when we first arrived, we had to park in the overflow area.
This building has just been taken over by the chain, and ever the optimists, we had booked our accommodation in early March before it had even opened. The website at the time of writing this still hasn't even uploaded any photos of the outside, so it was a lucky dip as to what we'd see when we turned up. This having been an existing hotel called the Chaucer, I'm pleased to say that it looks very pleasant from the outside and is far more suited to it's surroundings than the purpose built red brick buildings we've stayed in before.
The main doors are set to open automatically between 6am and midnight. Between midnight and 6am you have to use your room card to gain access to the building. A short walk down a corridor leads into a large reception area on the right. Despite the size of the reception/lobby area there is only one reception desk which seems to be the case in most Travelodges I've visited. Along the entrance corridor is a small rack of leaflets featuring local attractions, and a vending machine selling overpriced chocolate and fizzy drinks.
At the far end of the reception area is a separate little bar/cafe area, where breakfast and dinner is served for those wanting to eat there.
Having paid in advance checking in was quick, and the helpful receptionist handed us the room swipe card. We needn't have worried about carrying all our luggage very far, we had been allocated room 6. This as it turns out is one of their few rooms for physically disabled guests, and directly opposite the reception desk where we were standing, barely 20 feet away. When we queries this, the receptionist seemed to think it was because we had a pet with us. I didn't mind at the time, it was actually very convenient, should we need to rise in the middle of the night to go out with the dog.
The room itself
Travelodges have two choice of rooms, either double rooms or family rooms. We always opt for the family rooms simply because they're that bit larger. In theory they should sleep up to four, with a double bed, and a sofa bed that in theory sleeps two more. This is wonderful value for money if you have a young child staying with you in the room. Although we don't, it's nice to have the extra space for the same money.
This room though only had the double bed and nowhere else to sit or sleep. This was fine for us, but for a family with one wheelchair bound parent it would be a no-no. Behind the door is the wardrobe space. This consisted of four or five hangers on a rail, together with a deep shelf above it where extra towels had been placed. Not only are there no doors on the wardrobe space (as is usual in Travlodges) but the sides of the 'wardrobe' have also been removed, presumably for better access by a wheelchair bound guest.
The bed was a decent sized double bed and there was also the usual wide desk and chair in the bedroom as well. Travelodges do indeed cut all the corners but in Canterbury I'm happy to report that they still provide a small kettle with the usual coffee sachets, teabags, some uht milk and sugars. One gripe I had about our room was that there were no bedside tables at either side. I imagine this is because the room is designed to be wheelchair friendly, and so, instead we had a strange looking bedstead which came with two small inserts for holding items. These could just about hold a cup of coffee and nothing more. Surely someone in a wheelchair is just as likely to have brought a book or magazine to read with them? If so, the only place for it is on the floor by the bed.
At least the bed linen was clean and fresh. To start with anyway. Amber, not being allowed upstairs in our house, instantly decided to bounce on the bed and ruck the sheets up.
The room being at the front of the building had a large bay window which not only let in lots of the sunshine we were graced with, but overlooked the front car park, and then a small lawned area - too petite to be classed a park, but well maintained by Canterbury Council all the same.
The windows looked like they had new secondary glazing installed, but we still managed to open the main window easily. That said, anyone in a wheelchair would probably need to ask for assistance as it involved pushing the inner window up to my shoulder height.
On the wall opposite the bed was a nice new LCD television. The remote control had either been lifted by an earlier guest or was never intended to be left in the room, because we had to ask for one at reception. There were some Freeview channels available too, although it didn't appear to have a big selection. On a different holiday, abroad say, we hardly even bother switching on any television in our room, but it's nice to unwind with familiar programmes when we're staying in this country.
There is no mini bar in the room, neither is there a safe to keep any personal belongings.
The overall colour scheme in Travelodge rooms is always blue and our room here was no exception. The carpet and the curtains matched, being a dark blue. Not a very soothing colour to me but I suppose darker colours hide any dirt easier!
The standard bathroom was actually a shower room in this instance. Ideal for anyone who has difficulty getting into or out of a bath, the shower in the corner was completed by a fold down seat which sits flush to the wall when not being used. The shower itself was easy to use and there was plenty of hot water, morning and evening.
The wall hung basin and toilet were basic but served their purpose. There were plenty of rails on the walls to provide assistance to those who might need it too. My main gripe with the bathroom was the distinct lack of storage space in there. There was definitely the room for some small shelves to be fixed above the towel rail and toilet roll holder and in the shower area too, but no. The only place for toiletries was on the sink, which isn't ideal for me as I always travel with far too many toiletries than I'll ever need. Another problem was with the extractor fan. Not having a window, we were reliant on the extractor fan to work efficiently. In this particular room, after my shower the fan took ages to clear the room of steam. Not nice for your partner have to use a still damp room.
Being how this is at the low end of the market, it's understandable Travelodge try to economise in just about every way possible. This includes not supplying any toiletries for the customers to use. If you've forgotten to bring anything yourself, it's all available to buy from reception.
For those security conscious among you, it's worth mentioning that the room doors all have a peephole, although not a door chain.
An enjoyable night's sleep?
Mostly. The bed was very comfortable and I managed to get to sleep with no problems at all. Despite overlooking the car park, and further away a busy roundabout, neither of us heard any traffic noise. If the bar was busy late at night, we couldn't tell from our room either thankfully.
The bad was partly of our own making. Our dog has a very affectionate nature and wonderful with everyone she meets and other dogs too. Put her in a hotel room though, and out comes her territorial side. Several times each night, when latecomers were returning from their evening out, she took exception to the noise by barking and growling by the door, waking us up in the process. Goodness knows what they thought out in the corridor.
On that note, the Travelodge advise guests that they should display the 'do not enter' sign on their door whenever they leave their pets in the room unattended, probably for the safety of their staff who might otherwise try to clean the room.
The location ...
... was perfect, it really couldn't be improved. The centre of the town was virtually just across the road. It took us no more than a few minutes to stroll across to the western city gates. We also had a look around the very attractive rows of shops that are in the main shopping area, and around the Cathedral, all of which are within easy reach which made our choice to stay here perfect.
This is undoubtedly where the Travelodge chain lets itself down. Their website's information on each motel is rudimentary and generic to say the least. Rather than make a point of selling their individual motels best features on their website, it merely states the basic room details and parking facilities, and gives directions using Google Maps. This particular lodge not only has more character than the majority of others but it also has a history.
A little blue plaque we happened to notice on the side wall of the lodge indicates that the creator of Rupert the Bear, Mary Tourtel, lived in this building, or at least part of it, towards the end of her life. Now I may not be a rabid fan of Rupert the Bear books (it would be strange if I were at my age), but I still enjoy finding out these things. A local woman, Tourtel was born, raised and died in Canterbury, but to the Travelodge behemoth, it's of no consequence. It's just not the Travelodge way.
If I want to bring my pooch with me...
... There is a £20 surcharge for up to two domestic pets for each booking, regardless of the length of your stay. This we paid online at the time of booking. Presumably this is to cover extra cleaning costs. Our dog is perfectly well house trained, but perhaps with others there may be the occasional accident. And if like Amber, your pooch wants to curl up on the bed, or just ruck the sheets up, it's bound to cause extra cleaning. We don't let her upstairs in our house, so this is the only time she sees a bed and she gets hyped up.
However thoroughly the staff clean the rooms (and I don't think they vacuumed our room at all after the first night), there are bound to be traces of dog hair left behind. I can only assume, therefore, that the staff set aside specific rooms for pet owners. If they don't, then there's always the possibility of someone with an allergy to pet hair being given one such room. It's something to bear in mind if you have any such condition.
We had paid for breakfast when we originally booked simply because you get a 10% discount with an online reservation. The full charge is £7.50 per person. It's a buffet consisting of a choice of cereals, yoghurts, muffins and a choice of two fruit juices, coffee and tea. There's also bread and a toaster. Non vegetarians can also help themselves to a cooked breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and baked beans which is included in the price. This is served between 8 and 10am.
The room was light and airy thanks to a glassed ceiling in the middle. It's all fully self service at breakfast, but if you need any assistance you'll have to be quick in catching one of the staff who walk through now and then to bring out freshly cooked hot breakfast items and clean the tables, as there didn't appear to be anyone in attendance permanently. You can also eat dinner here if you wish, although I would recommend eating out in the town, which is what we did both nights. It wasn't difficult for us to find somewhere nearby which had a good atmosphere and reasonable prices too.
We booked in March when the rooms were available at £19 per night. This was at their Non-refundable rate, there was a more expensive rate for those wanting to pay through the nose for flexibility. We booked two nights, and all 60 rooms were taken when we were there according to the staff.
The good points:
* It has just opened in April 2011, so the furnishing, paintwork, tiles etc all look fresh;
* Can get very cheap room deals if you're flexible with dates;
* They allow you to bring a maximum of two pets;
* The rooms earmarked for those with limited mobility or who are wheelchair bound seem to be very well thought out, although it really needs someone with mobility problems to judge;
*Superbly placed for the centre of Canterbury, which itself is a very good base for those wanting to explore further afield in Kent;
* At the time we were there, there was free parking on site; and
*They have 24 hour reception, although we had no need to contact anyone at an unsocial time.
The bad points:
* The motel's leaness - few towels or bed linen and no toiletries (which to be fair is standard practice with this chain and not the fault of the staff here);
* The hidden extras - Wifi is available here but is not free; £20 per pet per stay seemed a bit steep especially if they don't intend to vacuum the room until after you check out;
* The buffet breakfast is reasonably good value for those who eat meat. Any vegetarians are limited to cereals, toast and yoghurts. You would probably be better suited to finding a local café or restaurant which serves breakfasts;
* On that note, I would have liked a better selection of hot breakfast items, such as fried bread or hash browns;
* Not suitable for business people - in line with all Travelodges there are no conference facilities here.
* I'm not sure if there is a lift available, for those on higher floors.
Yes, the location of this Travelodge is perfect, and Canterbury being well worth visiting anyway, seals it. We had time to explore Canterbury, on foot and accompanied by our dog. Although we didn't take her inside the Cathedral, we were able to explore the pedestrianised town centre and walked along part of the City Gates that are still standing, not to mention a few parks close by. Walking along the City gates involves climbing steps so isn't ideal for anyone with mobility issues.
Canterbury itself is easily accessible both by train and car, and this Travelodge is only a few minutes away from Canterbury East station for those travelling on public transport. A big plus is that parking here is free, at least at the time of writing, as this is a city wanting to be explored on foot rather than by car.
Further afield, the pretty seaside town of Whitstable is only about 6 miles to the north and worth a visit. Although Margate to the east looks more run down than ever before, there are some pretty seaside walks to be had around Reculver and Birchington nearby. To the south it's a straight run of around 17 miles on the A2 down to Dover, for those intending to travel to France.
The only minor drawback is that Canterbury is a popular destination with groups of foreign schoolchildren, but they were all so much better behaved than our local ones.
Room prices vary and currently the non refundable room rate is around £39.50.
Travelodge Canterbury Chaucer Central
63 Ivy Lane
Tel: 0871 984 6471
Fax: 01227 470538