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The Mystery Shoppers Target Douglas’s Barn

The Mystery Shopper's cover is blownWho are these people? Probably not the Hotel Inspector (no TV cameras about) nor Mary Portas unless she’s moving from shops into self-catering accommodation…

We can reveal that it was John and Marion from next door, no less, fond next door neighbours maybe but just as potentially critical as those paid to criticise because they/we want to make sure everything is as right for all our guests as it possibly can be. And we feel strongly that you cannot have any real idea unless you become a guest yourself (just as it would help anyone in authority or with power over others such as carers in old people’s homes to try a spot of role reversal. Things might improve rapidly).

So last Monday we moved in to Douglas’s Barn. There had been no booking for that short break and the last chance we had to stay as guests was just before Douglas’s Barn opened, in 2006; you may remember we stayed in Tom’s Barn last year. Interestingly, having just returned from North Yorkshire where we had spent four days in a very charming cottage near Ripon, we were well into guest-mode and it was helpful knowing the things that had made an impression on us then.

The first impression we had of our stay in Yorkshire was a smiling, warm, friendly face chasing down the pavement to attract our attention as we drove past for the third time. What a relief and how lovely! But of course, when we stayed here we couldn’t exactly welcome ourselves so there was no one to welcome us smiling or otherwise The spacious bedroom in Douglas's Barnbut we did feel very welcomed, comfortable and safe, as Douglas’s Barn is so bright and warm and welcoming.With all the lights on, music playing and the blinds drawn we felt completely relaxed and detached from the world – so much so that it was hard to remember we weren’t actually on holiday, despite how relaxed and detached we felt.

In fact we found it too warm probably because our own house is draughty and pretty cold so ended up with the heating turned off and the ‘fake fire’ lit up for atmosphere but not actually on. Having settled in we determined to use absolutely everything and I think did use everything apart from the hair dryer (my hair dried too fast…) and the boot driers, oh – and the rotisserie. (Nobody has used that yet, in 5 1/2 years!) The beautifully equipped Douglas's Barn kitchenFortunately everything worked. While we were there Jason Fowkes our wonderful decorator was touching up the paint work and redoing things like the stairs (we had to go up and down without touching any of the sides or rails!); I washed and ironed the throws and all the cushion covers and took the red patchwork quilt to the laundry as it is too big for any domestic machine.

We cooked several full meals, and Janet and her husband Paul came to dinner on the third night so that they could gauge how it felt to be entertained and we could see how easy it was to cater for 4. Once again I tried a steak and kidney pudding in the slow cooker, determined to perfect it. Thanks to generous greasing of the bowl, it turned out beautifully this time; the others were very polite bit I felt it was overcooked (which in fact it was because we had been in Derby all day and had had to put the pudding on before 9am!). Delicious S&LP cooked in the Douglas's Barn slow-cookerCatering for 4 was fine except there was not enough space on the table for much more than our plates and glasses so I had to do the serving from the kitchen counter, but that didn’t really matter.

We loved the bigger longer/wider bed, we loved the shower, I wasn’t too sure about the whirlpool bath – too noisy and unrestful for me but I always find that on the odd occasion I use a whirlpool anywhere. We loved the spacious bedroom – rather more spacious than ours next door. We missed having a log burner but enjoyed the ease of not having to do anything more than flick a switch for atmosphere or heat (and anyway, we were so hot all the time…).

My main/only criticism was about the kitchen cupboard layout which I spent one whole day and half the night rearranging. Whirlpool bath and power showerIt is now – to my mind anyway – much more logical and efficient. It looked fine how we had it, in theory, but it was a classic case of doing what seems OK rather than what is actually going to be easy and convenient for people to use. We went straight to Derby to replace various bits and bobs such as washing up bowl, oven gloves etc and arranged for Panasonic to look at the brand new micro/convection oven which we discovered to be damaged, or we hope defective (think guarantees – it was expensive). We will replace the toaster which works fine but looks tired. And I bought a new rolling pin; I knew we used to have one but we could not find it… (in Tom’s Barn it was the frying pan that had gone AWOL that we had to replace).

So – our verdict – a very very happy stay for us with some constructive if somewhat exhausting changes made to improve the kitchen ‘workflow’.

In fact we would happily recommend Douglas’s Barn to anyone who asked. We feel it would wonderfully suit most people, of all ages, except anyone that wanted to bring dogs or those set on the idea of having a log burner. (They can find all they need in Tom’s Barn!)

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