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A daffodil in February (but only just!)

There really is hope – spring is getting nearer all the time. Here at Orchard Farm we have been watching carefully as several dwarf daffs have gradually revealed more yellow each day  since last week, but we can proudly record that our first grown up daffodil has actually made it before the month of February is officially out. What a heartening sight! The splash of yellow sums up sun and warmth and just makes you want to smile. Meanwhile the faithful snowdrops are still blossoming in their happy clumps although the first ones to come out in front of the house are actually over by now; they have all been a real joy and encouragement in what has been a long winter.

Orchard Farm February daffodil 2011Come tomorrow, St David’s Day and we are already well into 2011 now, with the days lengthening and the birds getting seriously lively and chattersome.

We have a busyish morning tomorrow with the AGM of our Peak District Premier Cottages regional group – lots to report and discuss and including a workshop given by Caron Lyon on using social media effectively. As a group we have a Peak District Premier Cottages Facebook page now, to share news and views with other owners and our guests so amongst other things (in the hour!) we are hoping to learn how to use it most usefully for everybody. So far the page has only 15 people ‘liking’ it but when at least 25 people do we can change the name from a random looking lengthy code to the rather more easily remembered Peak District Premier Cottages.

A final news flash – we have just been sent, three weeks after the inspector’s visit, our Visit England Quality in Tourism report. We cannot open it! As you might imagine, that is quite frustrating. What on earth does it say that we are prevented from seeing?

Has SprIng Sprung at Orchard Farm?

Orchard Farm RobinProbably not, but it certainly felt like it today.

We have enjoyed the most perfect spring day, with sunshine, blue skies and warmth… The birds have sung their hearts out including this little robin John snapped in the garden this afternoon.

Orchard Farm in thr February sunshineThe birds were all singing, the woodpecker tapping and the pheasants screeching; our lanes were bustling with village folk going out for walks together, people one has hardly seen for months as we have all skulked indoors trying to keep warm for what seems like a long time – it is three months since the big freeze up started (on 27th November).

But before I get too carried away, rain is forecast again for tomorrow afternoon, and if truth be told, it snowed last Monday morning so we are not quite out of the winter wood yet.  Our guests in Tom’s Barn who have been here a week (on their sixth visit) were saying that they felt they had ‘enjoyed’ all weathers in that time – snow, sleet, rain, fog, mist and now warm sunshine. No wonder we always have the weather to talk about!Boots enjoying the February sunshine

John and I enjoyed strolling round the garden this afternoon, enjoying the snowdrops, the daffodil bulbs and tulip leaves, and inspecting anxiously to see how much damage the snow and cold actually had wrought and which we fear is quite considerable but it was by no means total devastation. The magnolia looks fine and many trees and shrubs which have been badly affected do appear still to have some signs of life in them. The ceanothus in front of the house which has been such a joy is a mass of dead brown leaves, but there is new green growth at the top so we’ll have to wait and see.

And here is Boots lying in the sun, also enjoying today’s sunshine.

Little Extras for Dogs and Their Owners

SONY DSCWe frequently get nice comments about ‘all the little extras’ we provide for our human guests, but on the whole have not thought so deeply about providing some little extras for their dogs

The first little nudge in the right direction was Jane, a recent dog-owning guest, who wrote in the housekeeper’s book that perhaps a bowl, and some old towels would be helpful for dog owners. What a sensible idea in every way and we felt foolish that we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. We had a ghastly feeling that perhaps Jane had struggled on throughout her holiday with  Digby’s bowl?  You should have said at the time!

There has always been (or for some considerable time there has been) a spare lead and dustsheets in case a dog can’t be trusted to keep off the furniture, and a bucket (to the left under the sink) in case you need to do some serious dog-washing and now there is a bright shiny new bowl and some rather tired but hopefully sufficiently porous towels.

However, wait for it!…the best of the enhance facilities for dogs is yet to come. What about dog grooming, dog sitting, dog walking…?

In the village lives the lovely Delia Pegg, who loves flowers, and dogs and no doubt many other things as well. But for our purposes, she is more than happy, for a pre-arranged fee, to take your dog for a walk, groom him, take him home or sit with him in Tom’s Barn while you go out for that meal or pay a trip to the theatre or cinema.

Her telephone no. is 01335 390 758 or 07773 487 882. She is a busy lady so you’d need to give her some warning of the service you were hoping for, or even arrange it before you left home. You deal direct with Delia – we are not part of the equation although more than delighted to recommend her.

And we’re certainly delighted to be able to further enhance the dog facilities on offer (but we’ll never be able to advertise an enclosed secure dog paddock!).

Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns using Facebook

So much has been happening the last few days although following our blog you might wonder as I appear to have been rendered temporarily silent. Not for long…

As well as everything else, Facebook has been on my mind this week. The straightforward news is that the 19 Peak District holiday cottage owners who like us have been lucky enough to be accepted into the Premier Cottages cooperative of  5 and top end 4 Star private cottage owners have started a Peak District Premier Cottages Facebook page.

We don’t really know what direction it will take but one imagines it will become a meeting place for owners to share news and views with each other and their guests and interested friends; it would be a good place to tell everyone about interesting events in the area, and possibly to find out what people think about certain topics.

Who knows? We haven’t any grand plan, although we do know that our first priority is to get a proper title ‘Peak District Premier Cottages‘ as our url rather than the mile long code we have at present. Apparently we can achieve this when 25 + people have ‘liked’ the site. So – if you are a Facebook user – do have a look at the site and if you can in all honesty click that ‘like’ button and even possibly suggest how you could find it entertaining or useful (or not!) that would be fantastic.

Now the confident tone begins to falter. The ‘we’ I have been using above is as a Peak District Premier Cottage owner and ‘administrator’ of our page. As an owner of Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns the ‘we’ speaking is very shaky (and John is even shakier, if that’s possible).

I have a personal Facebook Marion Sessions profile which I use from time to time, badly but enjoyably – you are very welcome to have a look.  Years ago, in the days when on Facebook you couldn’t have a ‘business’ page Nick set up a Tom’s Barn page like a personal page which being extremely law abiding I felt uneasy about so have on the whole conveniently forgotten about, but it does still exist.

Then daughter Ruthie, set up a Holiday Cottages in the Peak District ‘group’ from her profile, with her, Nick and me as administrators; instead of friends we have members so in effect it is like a fan club rather than a business…

These days you now can (see above!) set up a Facebook ‘business’ page which if possible I need to be able to convert the two previous pages into. Can anybody help? Please! We had Caron – a Social Media guru of some repute – staying in Douglas’s Barn last weekend so I shall direct her to this cry for help too.

Tom’s Barn: Sexy place/love nest…?

… With Valentine’s day fast approaching, and with both Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns having frequently been identified as romantic cottages for two I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised to find Tom’s Barn selected by Kate Quill of the Times for her list of 18 “Love Nests to Rent” in an article headed “Sexy Places”. (Unfortunately we can’t give you a link to the actual article as we don’t have a subscription to online Times but if you do have it is on Page 4 Sexy Places in the Travel section on Saturday Feb 12th 2011.)

But surprised we were; in fact the first we knew of it was when someone rang to book a week, explaining she had just read about us in the Times. So that’s twice this year already – first in Country Homes and Interiors, with Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns highlighted as one of their four recommended Romantic Getaways and now the Times with their love nests in Sexy Places…

Of course we’re always delighted to have our two cottages recognised and recommended by the press; we just always feel the need to reassure everyone that we love all our guests whatever their ages, and as far as we can tell all our guests –  no matter how old or young – love our barns. They are a highly attractive destination for couples of any age.

We never ask people’s ages, but we get a wonderful spread from early twenties to mid to late 80’s, from 21st birthday treats to Golden Wedding celebrations and masses of couples in between. You’re obviously fond of each other and want some happy time together so let’s not be shy – let’s shout abroad about how romantic and sexy Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns are for everybody!

Parwich and beyond…some local news

Those of you who have stayed in Douglas’s Barn may remember the beautiful painting by Lewis Noble above the fire place, one of our (rather too many) artistic/cultural extravagances which we don’t regret for one minute.

Lewis is exhibiting in London at the moment, at the Hart Gallery in London.   We were pleased to see the exhibition highlighted in the current 12th Feb issue of The Week Arts page (p27) Where to Buy…

It is an emotional rather photographic impression of the Parwich landscape, with the wonderful blue/grey/green colours so typical of the Derbyshire Dales and Staffordshire Moorlands and which we have tried to recreate downstairs in Douglas’s Barn. We love it and many of our guests remark on it, as they do the equally lovely but very different water colours by Joan Wood, another local Derbyshire artist – and the delightful Ruby Hickmott cartoon in the loo. (Must ask John to try to capture these all on photograph…)

Before you suspect that we are in commission I must reassure you that a) unfortunately we are not, and b) Lewis has no idea we are writing this.

Finally on a very different note altogether, many of you will have met Sue, who helps us in the garden – in fact without her help the garden would quickly revert to the jungle of docks, nettles and brambles that it used to be (after we removed all the breeze blocks, asbestos and tractor relics from what had been a farmer’s neglected dumping ground).

Anyway, you might be amused to see these shots by John on Parwich.org, the village website, of Sue and Mike trying valiantly – and they did succeed – to transport hundreds of willow canes in last week’s gusting wind. There are several shots of Orchard Farm in the background.

Tom’s Barn Dog Parade

Sam and Gary's BessWe have had our ‘annual’ (last one was in June 2010) inspection today. It is always a tense moment. There is quite a lot of work beforehand making sure the paperwork is up to date and that one has done everything one was meant to do after the previous inspection.

There is also that underlying nagging worry that a domestic disaster might occur immediately beforehand, like an overflowed bath or a particularly hairy dog but the only disaster of any sort was my ‘fake Bakewell’ which wasn’t quite up to the usual standard but was thankfully still reasonably edible.

The inspector herself was warm, friendly and extremely helpful so in fact the whole inspection passed very constructively and well. The final result we will not know for a day or two and of course we will announce the result…

Tracey and Darren's Sid, on Tom's Barn doormatMeanwhile, on a totally different note, we often agree, all of us here behind the Orchard Farm scenes, how lucky we are with our guests who are always so friendly, pleasant and appreciative – we couldn’t hope for nicer.

But tagging along with these lovely guests are some pretty super dogs. Darren and Tracey who left this morning have just sent a ‘thank you for having us’ email (thank you for coming!) enclosing this gorgeous photo of their Sid lying on the Tom’s Barn doormat. We can’t quite make out the expression – what is going through Sid’s mind?

And while we’re on the dog track, so to speak, here is another beauty, still very young; she has yet to pay her first visit here with Sam and Gary who normally come with their cat but she no doubt will when she has successfully ‘left the nursery’. Meanwhile, here she is with a cuddly toy considerably bigger than she is!

Both photos will look better if you click to enlarge them.

Reserve List for Last Minute Availability

Both Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns are fully booked now until August (Douglas’s Barn) and September (Tom’s Barn). But when people have booked well  ahead, cancellations are always on the cards so we are starting a ‘last minute reserve list’ for  those who may have been too late to get the date they wanted earlier.

We get the strong feeling that in spite of – indeed probably because of – the current economic uncertainly more and more people are desperately keen to seize a few precious days away, as far removed as possible from the daily grind, the continual daily stresses and strains, the noise and the rush.

After all, what price can one put on peace and serenity? And to find it is easily available, not far from home yet feeling a million miles away… We’re talking about nothing more mystical than the chance to enjoy some peace and quiet and fresh air and comfort – walking in the beautiful Peak District, delicious meals in lovely pubs, coming back to a warm and welcoming ‘home from home’ (but without your real home’s responsibilities).

Planning ahead is part of the magic – so often people say when they have rung up to book ‘”I feel better already, just thinking of it.” But sometimes, a last minute spur of the moment unplanned trip could be just as exciting. Personally I am full of admiration for anyone who can so organise their lives as to be able to drop everything and go at relatively short notice but we are know that there are many who are.

So, if you would like to be on ‘Cancellation standby’ please let us know. We’ll ask Jeremy our lovely webman to hep us devise a suitable form but in the meantime, we have already started a list. We will always advertise sudden gaps and availability on our website but we appreciate that not everyone is permanently glued to our site so a quick email or text (preferably) or phone call wouldn’t come amiss.

It will be a question of first come, first served – your place on the list won’t mean you are in a better or worse position because the emails would go out at the same time. And we won’t keep your name on the list for ever, unless of course you ask us to!

Some Random Local Recommendations

We have some guests’ recommendations, and John and I have been doing a little sampling of local eateries, too.

Firstly, a joint one. Sam and Gary, who were here on their sixth visit very recently (they first came for their honeymoon, several years ago now) arranged for our next door neighbour, Val Kirkham, of TopNosh Catering to bring them a meal. Sam was warm in her praises, and wrote in the Visitors’ Book and in an email after they returned home, how much they had enjoyed it.

Val has done several parties for us, but we’d never had a private meal brought to the house, so we – never to be outdone – promptly decided to have a lazy night in with a friend from a nearby village and asked Val to bring us a casserole, new potatoes and salad. It was comforting, nourishing and delicious, and lasted us for another meal as well! So, there is one recommendation…

Guests in Douglas’s Barn last week went to the Druid; this pub has had slightly mixed reviews lately but keeps getting the Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ award. Anyway, these guests said they had an excellent meal, although they felt the menu was limited – no bad thing we reckon (as long as you like what’s there!). When a restaurant has dozens and dozen of choices on the menu, you know they can’t possibly be doing more than re-heating something probably mass-prepared many months previously.

Our great favourite (we like the Gate at Brassington too) The George at Alstonefield goes from strength to strength. We were lucky to get a table (already reserved for later) for a bowl of soup there on Saturday and only because we were very early and weren’t going to linger.

And finally, I don’t think we’ve mentioned this before, but we recently had a really lovely long and delicious Thai meal at the Basement Thai Restaurant in Ashbourne. It is tiny, more or less underground, and John and I didn’t even know it existed until we were taken there by friends a couple of weeks ago. They don’t appear to have a website, but the telephone no. is 01335 300 305. You can order a take away but not a home delivery even if you live in Ashbourne. The address is Middle Cale, St John’s Street, Ashbourne DE6 1GP


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