Photo of Red Lion, Buckinghamshire

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 2nd June 2010.

When it comes to budget hotels, we tend to think of Premier Inn and Travelodge.

But there are other options available. There's the traditional b & b, now heavily under threat from the budget chains; and there are also pubs with rooms.

Imagine you decide at the last minute on a visit to the Chilterns. You scoot around on Google and come up with the Red Lion, a Marston's Inn set in the centre of Wendover. The price of a double room and breakfast is just short of £90.

On the same night, you could have stayed at the nearest Premier Inn, in Tring, for £72, plus breakfast at £7.75, making your expenditure just £10.24 less than at the Red Lion.

But if you need Wi-Fi, then it's free at the Red Lion, while at the Premier Inn it costs £9 for 24 hours, leaving you a princely £1.24 better off.

So what do you get for your extra pennies? Rooms dripping with character as befit a 16th-century inn where Cromwell once addressed his troops from an upstairs window?

Not exactly. Pared down, bland but practical accommodation as at the Premier Inn, Tring? Definitely more interesting than that; not characterful (honourable exception for No 5 with fireplace and No 21 with panelled walls) but certainly more alluring.

The 23 rooms have all recently been decorated the same: elderly looking dusky pink toile de jouey curtains, yellow-painted walls (pink teamed with yellow?), with one picked out in matching patterned wallpaper, and the same boring repro picture of trees.

We were greeted with a lot of "elf 'n' safety" talk about fire alarms and emergency drills, then shown to our rooms, where complimentary earplugs made us further wonder what the ensuing night had in store. Are earplugs really a good advertisement for the joys of staying in a Marston's Inn?

But we slept in peace and dinner was bearable in a dull, Beefeater sort of way.

However, the Red Lion has a secret weapon that no upstart Premier Inn or Travelodge could ever produce.

Dolly Saville, at 94, is England's oldest barmaid and has worked there for 64 years. She's joined by Enid, in her seventies, and Janet, who has been in the kitchens for more than 30 years.

Did my stay at the Red Lion make me yearn for another Marston's Inn?

No, especially as I'm told that this one is their best (heaven help the rest of them). But would I prefer to stay there than in a budget hotel? Absolutely.

Though I should add that for the same price I could have stayed in a privately owned inn such as the 16th-century King's Head in Bledington, in neighbouring Oxfordshire, where I would have breakfasted superbly and slept in a charming, quirkily decorated bedroom.

Why do chains have to be dull? It can't be that hard.

  • 9 High Street, Wendover (01296 622266; Doubles from £89.95 per night, including breakfast. Adapted room for guests with disabilities