Written by: Stephen Hargreaves | Founder & CEO

 

It was 13 years ago this September that I was stood in my favourite pub at the time, the Hole In’t Wall in Bowness…

 

It was a Friday night and I was having a few pints with my mates when a guy I knew, Andrew walked in. In true Cumbrian style we got chatting about life, business and more or less everything over a couple of ales. Andrew was retired but had worked in hospitality in the Lakes for years and he turned to me in his rather sharp direct way and said “if you like doing up property, you should come and have a look at this one.”

That ‘one’ was The Cranleigh. A traditional Lakeland stone-built hotel in Bowness. The following day, and admittedly slightly hungover, I went round. The bones of the building were good but it was run down, tired, with yellow and pink bathroom suites, flowery wallpaper, threadbare carpets and flaking window frames. Whilst it was clear it had once been someone’s pride and joy it was now unloved and in desperate need of care. I looked at the property in detail and to be honest I was thinking I could buy, do it up and sell it. It came with two annexes too and I planned to sell two separately and keep one for staff accommodation for the local community. 

But I broke the first rule of property developing…

 

 

 

 I started falling in love with it. As I worked on The Cranleigh, its character began to reveal itself; it was as if by breathing some new life into it, it began to breathe new life into me. I decided I wanted to do more to the building than ‘make it ready for sale’ I wanted the building to be what it once was, a proud place full of people. I started uncovering more and more of its potential, and it struck me that perhaps I could create a new kind of accommodation in the heart of my hometown. I decided to keep it but didn’t want to turn The Cranleigh into ‘another B&B’ it was now a passion project and I wanted The Cranleigh to be the best of its kind in the area. Those who know me, know that I don’t do things by halves, so I borrowed a lot of money (and all the sleepless nights that go with it) and began creating something completely unique. At first I could only afford to do the four top floor rooms up to the standard I wanted. Once they were ready I began taking bookings for them. I’d become an accidental hotelier! I even needed staff and I’m extremely happy to say that many of the team who joined me nearly thirteen years ago are still with the company today. I am thankful for all the people who supported me during this time because in truth I can’t have been easy to be around, I was like a man possessed, maybe I still am? 

Soon the rooms were consistently full and reviews showed that customers loved the luxurious feel, it cemented in my mind that we were doing the right thing. I’d aimed for a standard that in 2007 was really only available in high-end hotels and over the next two years I poured in blood, sweat and tears and invested everything back in to build up the rest of the building to the same high standard.  

I wasn’t aware that at the time I was breaking new ground in the Lakes. Luxury had been reserved for the ‘big boys’. Most of the local B&Bs and smaller hotels were charming, but not particularly modernised and certainly not luxurious. But by now The Cranleigh boutique had become one of the most stayed in hotels in the area, I’m proud to say it still is. So I guess back then, it looked like we had a magic formula. We didn’t, but we had unwittingly set a new standard and before long other accommodation providers began to re-furbish at a rate the area hadn’t seen before. I’m sure you’ll agree that The Cranleigh now has competition and I don’t mind that. It’s better for everyone that the South Lakes can boast some of the best accommodation in the UK. It means (in normal times) that the boats, bars, restaurants and cafes are busy. It means that our local butchers, solicitors, florists and boutique shops are busy and it means local people like me have interesting places to go and things to do. I didn’t set out to ‘break new ground’ it was the magic of The Cranleigh that bewitched me. I felt like I owed it to the building. Its success as a business is its thanks. 

Nearly thirteen years later I am still sometimes surprised by its success and extremely grateful that my team take as much pride and passion in it as I do. We continue to re-invest, re-invent and rejuvenate in The Cranleigh and in doing so we have been inspired to start other projects. Today I have a team of over 70 staff working across The Cranleigh, The Church suites, Bon Vivant Boutique Smart Villa. Our luxury cocktail bar The Fizzy Tarte and our more casual bar, restaurant and nightclub, Baha and the amazing Lake view Garden bar. How they each came about is another story, I’ll share them with you soon. 

Im loving sharing my story with you, thank you for reading.

Stephen Hargreaves founder and CEO.

 

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