Meet Claire and Nigel, the owners of The Control Tower B&B. We spoke to Claire to find out what it’s like to run this fantastic piece history in stunning North Norfolk!
What made you choose to open The Control Tower as a B&B?
About 10 years ago, we came across an airfield building in a field in Cambridge. At the time we didn’t know what it was but we loved its shape. We did some digging around to find out who owned it and researched what it had been, and we became hooked on the history. That farmer didn’t want to sell his ‘shed’ so it started a quest to find an airfield building and start a new life – we both felt we were ready for achange from our chosen careers.
Thankfully, we found this Control Tower for sale five years ago, and while it needed a lot of vision to see past the pitched roof and wooden shingles (and a bit of a rethink of how to make it work as a B&B), we could see immediately that it was going to be our idea of ‘fabulous’.
So opening The Control Tower was a big career change for you!
This was a massive leap of faith for us – neither of us had worked in hospitality before. Nigel was a senior academic and I was a university manager… but we both hoped we had the skills to make the change.
What’s the best thing about owning a B&B?
Meeting all sorts of different people is fantastic, and then welcoming them back time after time is just lovely… they sort of become part of the family. We also really enjoy the freedom of being self-employed. We may work a lot of hours but there are times when you can choose your time off, which is lovely. Another great aspect is knowing that the moreyou put in, the more rewarding it is – both emotionally and financially.
What’s your favourite feature of The Control Tower?
When we renovated the building, we spent a long time choosing reclaimed materials and restoring original features. I particularly like the feeling of walking in the front door to see the reclaimed parquet flooring, leading into the guest lounge with its enamel 30s fireplace and deco 3-piece suite. If I’m allowed to pick a second feature, it would be the original art deco bathroom suites in all the B&B en suite rooms.
How did you source the vintage furniture for The Control Tower?
We have been collecting for years so had quite a few things already – mirrors, sideboards, coffee tables and such. However, as we wanted to the whole tower to have a 40s feel, we had to up our collecting. We found lots on internet auction sites (e.g. bathrooms, sofas, tables, kitchen) but also spent a lot of time searching for bits at local auctions and antique shops. It was fun finding the right pieces for the tea trays in the B&B rooms!
Were there any challenges you faced when restoring The Control Tower?
If you have ever watched a restoration programme on TV, all the usual ones – namely time and money. We never seemed to have enough of either but somehow got through the build and opened after two and a half years of working on it. There were a few challenges with the build; when we were re-roofing, there was a massive storm and we had to use every pot and pan in the house to try and collect the drips – we slept that night with the sound like that of a dripping cave!
What do you love about North Norfolk?
Before we moved here, we holidayed in this area for years. The beaches at Wells-next-the-Sea, Holkham, and Burham Overy Staithe are breathtaking and all within 10-15 minute drive.
The pretty flint villages are so beautiful; Little Walsingham is our nearest village and is just stunning. Then there are places like Binham with its priory, Warham with an Iron Age fort, Holt’s fabulous antique shops… I could go on. There are so many nice places for walking and cycling around here too, with lots of places to stop off for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.
What’s next for The Control Tower?
We have one more outbuilding we want to convert into a self-catering holiday let (in 40s style of course!) but we are going to take a little break before we do that. So our main activity is working on the garden and finishing off lots of little jobs that got overlooked.
If you couldn’t stay at your place, where would your ideal holiday be?
We love places like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, around Mousehole in Cornwall, and Hay-on-Wye in Hertfordshire, all of which have a similar feel to North Norfolk.
Our most recent trip away was to the Wales/England border country. We stayed in a beautiful hill farm B&B in the Craswall valley in Herefordshire and then walked over Offa’s Dyke into Llanthony, where we stayed at the Llanthony Priory Hotel. This amazing hotel was created in part of the priory ruins, and we stayed in the tower which was so special…
If you were visiting, how would you spend a day at The Control Tower?
Oooh there is so much, so I’m cheating a bit by taking it from a 3pm arrival time for the weekend…!
After arriving and settling in with a cuppa and chat, I would head to Wells-next-the-Sea via the lanes in our Hillman Convertible (www.weddingwheels-next-the-sea.co.uk). I’d take a stroll on the beach, past the beach huts to the sand dunes (hoping to catch a glimpse of the seals), and then back through the pinewoods.
Then I’d head back to the town for either a drink and pancake on the Albatross on the Quay or some chips from French’s, which are best eaten sitting on the harbour wall. Then back to the Control Tower to avail of the free corkage, have a long soak in a Lavender bath and then downstairs to play some games.
The next morning I’d wake and have a freshly-brewed coffee in my room before heading down for breakfast. Then I’d take myself off on a long 10-15 mile walk around the local lanes and footpaths, planning to end upin Walsingham in time for an early dinner at The Black Lion Hotel. Afterwards, I’d have a couple of drinks at the Bull Inn, and take a taxi back to repeat the bath and games plan.
If I was allowed a second day I would head to Morston to take a boat trip to see the seals at Blakeney Point (www.beansboattrips.co.uk/) and then head to the Art Café in Glandford for lunch. If the weather was not so good, then off to Holt for a browse around the antique/book shops it would be!
Sum up The Control Tower in three words
Relaxed heritage haven
Read more about The Control Tower B&B and book your stay.