Lots of hotels in Britain claim green credentials these days, then point proudly at things like notices informing guests that bed-linen and towels will no longer be changed daily to protect the environment.
But conservation-conscious Francis Young is scornful of such gestures. “They do wonders for laundry bills but very little to save the planet,” he says.
Young should know. He and his wife, Anne, both experienced hoteliers, own and run what is possibly the country’s greenest hotel: The Pear Tree at Purton, in the Wiltshire village of the same name. Although it is only a short drive from the booming town of Swindon, with its fascinating Great Western Railway Museum and vast designer shopping outlet, the Pear Tree is a country cottage-style hideaway with an authentically homey atmosphere. Guests will find a decanter of sherry and biscuits in their room, and yellow plastic ducks in the bathroom.
The bedrooms are the sort you could move into quite happily for weeks on end. Just as well, perhaps, because the public rooms are a trifle cramped. An exception is the restaurant, which spreads into a conservatory and is equally pleasant as a cheerful breakfast venue or for formal dinners.
What guests may not realise is the lengths to which the Youngs go to ensure the near invisibility of each guest’s carbon footprint.
A year ago, the Department for Rural Affairs (Defra) lent Young a machine called The Rocket which, in a couple of weeks, turns garden and kitchen waste into compost. “We’ve got seven-and-a-half acres here, and grow all our own vegetables, so we put the Rocket to good use — and now we are conservation enthusiasts,” declares Young.
The hotel also has its own vineyard amd a wild flower meadow and a wetlands area to encourage wildlife, and has won a Green Tourism Business award — and Defra are so pleased they are letting them keep The Rocket.
A pretty village at the heart of an interesting area, Purton is a good base for exploring the Cotswolds, Oxford and Bath as well as Stonehenge. (And the daily newspaper you read and discarded in your room before your sumptuous breakfast will be well on its way to composting the cabbages before you are thinking about elevenses).
Another hotel playing its part in saving the planet is the atmospheric Charlton House, just outside Shepton Mallet in Somerset, which is owned by Roger Saul and his wife, Monty. Saul was the founder and MD of luxury handbag company Mulberry and the couple have recently made their names in the world of fabric design and spa and beauty products.
The Sauls also own nearby Sharpham Park, where the farm — which is well worth a visit — is being taken back to its historic roots with organically-grown spelt and rare breeds of cattle, sheep and red deer.
The hotel’s guests are the principal beneficiaries, with spelt-based mueslis and a light spelt bread as part of the superb breakfast. Dinner is a real event at Charlton House. It is preceded by drinks and canap?s in the huge lounge, and the food (with fish and vegetarian available) is superb. The restaurant is in a vast, triple-roofed conservatory, which can feel rather soulless, but the staff are very attentive and the conservatory makes for sun-filled breakfasts.
Although the hotel’s Middle Eastern-style decor is a little unexpected in this part of the world, Charlton House is packed with up-to-the-minute, power-saving electronic wizardry and Monty’s, its natural health spa, is a sublime spot to relax.
Deans Place, in the lovely Sussex village of Alfriston, is one of a number of country house hotels that have changed their shopping habits in recent months, by putting the emphasis on local foodstuffs and other produce in a bid to shrink their carbon footprint and support local suppliers. Although it sometimes seems to have grown in a somewhat haphazard way, it has fine guest rooms, charming public rooms, an excellent restaurant (with locally caught fish) and is a good spot for walking by the sea, or along the South Downs. Facilities include an outdoor pool, mini-golf course, a croquet lawn and an outdoor terrace for summer dining.
Even closer to the sea is Cornwall’s Bedruthan Steps Hotel, a family-run property on the north coast and ideal for long beach holidays or shorter breaks. It is pleasantly up-to-date, very comfortably furnished, extremely child-friendly, and is steadily amassing an impressive collection of sustainable tourism and green business awards for such things as its “Buy Local” policy, beach cleaning and use of solar panels, light sensors and dual flush loos.
At the other end of the country, the Torridon, situated beside a loch in the north-west Scottish Highlands, has been named one of the UK’s top green hotels for saving energy, buying local produce and also for its work conserving local wildlife and the environment. With its dramatic setting and opportunities for deer-stalking and bird-watching, the Torridon really is rather a grand hotel and a new member of the prestigious Pride of Britain group. A former shooting lodge, it has been imaginatively extended and converted, with comfortable lounges and spacious bedrooms.
But, when it comes to green credentials, Dutchman Peter Vermeulen, who bought 120 acres of marshland on the west coast of Guernsey in the 1970s, takes some beating. He used Dutch know-how to drain the site, then built (using recycled hardcore) the beautiful La Grande Mare Hotel, Golf and Country Club, complete with what is now the island’s top 18-hole golf course. As well as luxurious bedrooms, a fine restaurant and bar, the hotel has a health centre with a fully-equipped gym and handsome indoor swimming pool, plus a heated outdoor pool. Adding to its green credentials, it is a super insulated construction; recycles paper and bottles; uses only local produce (Guernsey butter, milk,eggs and, of course, local fish); has low-energy light bulbs throughout the property; puts “green” oils in its golf machinery and fertilises its golf course with seaweed-based products.
Great Britain - Travel facts
Trying to reduce your carbon footprint? Robin Mead finds the UK’s best eco-friendly hotels.
The Pear Tree at Purton, Swindon, Wiltshire SN5 4ED (01793 772100) from £110 per room per night.
Charlton House, Shepton Mallet, near Bath, Somerset BA4 4PR (01749 342008) from £265 per night per room, with breakfast, dinner and use of Spa.
Deans Place Country Hotel and Restaurant, Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TW (01323 870248) from £95 per double room with breakfast.
Bedruthan Steps Hotel, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall TR8 4BU (01637 860555) from £67 per person per night for dinner, bed and breakfast.
The Torridon By Achnasheen, Wester Ross IV22 2EY (01445 791242) double room from £195 with breakfast and dinner.
La Grande Mare Hotel, Golf and Country Club, Vazon, Castel, Guernsey, Channel Islands GY5 7LL (01481 256576) from £85 per room with breakfast; £100 half-board