“Every Special Place has been inspected and selected by us,” says Alastair

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The early, crazy, days are the best – when there are hurricanes of wind in your sails and the waiting rocks matter not a jot. When we started, in 1993, we had no idea how challenging it would be to visit each and every place. Back then we had to miss out a place or two, but now we can proudly say that every place on our site has been visited by us.

Our inspectors are our heroes

We have had our ups and downs! Our most gallant inspector was Guy Hunter-Watts, of Spain. He was known to sleep under hedges, scrawl 'Wow – this place IS Special!' across his inspection form rather than fill it in. He mingled with the locals with vigour, and they loved him for it. Once, when his headlights failed on a trip up a mountain, he was able to carry on by pointing a headlamp out of the car window while driving. There have been many other heroes – such as lone women battling through foul weather to reach remote Scottish B&Bs, another tackling large chunks of Italy by public transport.

Inspections are about human interaction

So our early days were fun, a touch shambolic but curiously successful. We seemed to have an eye for the right places. And now it is all planned with military precision, but it's still all about human interaction… we need to touch and smell and feel the place and look into the owner's eyes. Have they got a sense of humour? Will they show kindness and generosity when the guests need it? Have they got enough personality to get them through difficulties? Are they madder than they look? And do they actually LIKE other people?

No clipboards and grey suits for our inspectors

Above all, our inspectors must be amateurs, driven on by their interest in other people and other buildings. No clipboards and grey-suits pass our doors. We send real, fallible, people to meet other real and fallible people – and let us know how it goes. That our Special Places be really special is all that matters – still.

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