In association with Gazetteers Plus

Beckenham, KentCottage for a weekend

Each week, Mystery Shopper calls on agents across the UK. Shops are judged on five criteria:

Agency appearance (15%)
Brochure racking (10%)
Product knowledge (25%)
Sales technique (25%)
Staff attitude (25%)

The top-scoring agency receives a Travel Weekly certificate of commendation. Agencies must score a minimum of 60% to qualify. Any agency that scores under 30% will be named and shamed as this week’s Shop of Horrors. Please note, no additional information will be given about Mystery Shopper’s visits.

169 High Street

This agency occupied a good corner spot. The consultant offered me the Hoseasons Holiday Parks and Lodges brochure, saying it was a case of working through it to find the sort of property I wanted. She said some of the cottages were quite luxurious, but couldn’t find any that fitted the bill. Adding that the agency did sell some more upmarket operators, she failed to find any of their brochures and didn’t offer to order any. Neither did she offer me a business card, although the Hoseasons brochure was marked with the agency’s details.

Score: 30%

250-252 High Street

Both consultants were on the phone when I entered but one came to serve me as soon as she was free. She handed me the Hoseasons Country Cottage brochure and Blakes Country Cottages. I asked if their properties were of a high standard and she replied that both brochures featured everything from budget to quality, but then didn’t show me any examples of the sort I wanted. Instead, she said I would have to search through and read the descriptions of each property. Flicking through the Blakes brochure she showed me one cottage that slept 12.

Score: 36%

183 High Street

I approached one of two consultants who presented me with the Blakes Country Cottages brochure and Hoseasons Holiday Parks and Lodges in Europe brochure. When I pointed out that the latter didn’t cover the UK, she swapped it for the correct version. She went off to look for more but returned empty-handed. She pointed out there was a list of large properties at the back of the Blakes brochure and said if I left my details, she would try to find a suitable one, but as the agency was empty, I didn’t see why she didn’t do so then.

Score: 43%

37 Croydon Road

On arrival I found that this agency, which was quite a trek out of town, was no longer a walk-in shop; instead clients have to make an appointment. Although the telephone number was printed in big red numbers on the front window, when I buzzed at the door a consultant let me in and handed over the English Country Cottages and Hoseasons Holiday Parks and Lodges brochures. She said I would be most likely to find what I was looking for in the English Country Cottages brochure, but it would be difficult to find one with seven bedrooms. Explaining that not all the cottages were available for short breaks, she showed me how to look through for ones sporting the appropriate symbol. After adding that there was a list of the largest properties at the back of the English Country Cottages brochure, she offered to do some research and get back to me – but it would have been so much better if she had taken the time to look through the brochure with me. Having said that, she had let me in without an appointment and perhaps was busy.

Score: 50%


Tip 1: Blakes, Hoseasons, English Country Cottages and Country Holidays have a good range of cottages throughout England. All their brochures have a summary page of properties that sleep 10 or more.

Tip 2: English Country Cottages has probably the widest selection of cottages in England, and a couple of seven-bedroom houses in Suffolk.

Tip 3: As houses this size are quite scarce, renting two adjacent ones is worth considering.

Tip 4: Properties are normally rented per week, and will not always be available for shorter breaks.

Tip 5: Cottage rentals can be found on gazetteers and under the special interest category “holiday homes”; there are currently over 20 operators listed under England.


Having got together a group of seven couples for a long weekend in the UK, Mystery Shopper was trying to find a cottage to suit their needs. She wanted a place with seven double or twin bedrooms, preferably within 50 miles of London. She also insisted the cottage be of a high standard and equipped with mod cons including TVs, a dishwasher and washing machine. Judging by the response from agents in Beckenham, it’s hardly surprising more and more people are researching and booking this type of break direct. Most of the agents did little more than hand out brochures; none of them found a suitable property or gave Mystery Shopper a reason to return and book through them. Only the winner gave the impression of having booked a cottage in the UK before and even she gave off very negative vibes.

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