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A Fresh Slant on Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

View of Tom's barn from upstairs in our houseIt is hard from the outside to make our two lovely holiday cottages in the Peak District look anything other than what they once were – cattle barns on a working farm!

Orchard Farm is not a listed building – in spite of its age and general loveliness (beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder) it is not deemed of any great architectural merit by the powers-that-be. However, we are in the Peak National Park and we are in a Conservation Area so there were many restrictions imposed when we converted the barns, many but not all of which we understood and accepted. After some ‘discussions’ the planners did accept that our guests would need some daylight upstairs and they agreed to our choce of colour for the woodwork instead of their originally stipulated ‘black or drak brown’.

Arial View of Tom's & Douglas's BarnsCrucially, our romantic cottages for two had to stay looking like barns from the outside, however romantic/contemporary the internal modernisation…

Other than that, all we could do to suggest that they are no longer cattle sheds is to put pots of flowers outside! So, when it comes to producing enticing external photos for websites and the Premier Cottages brochure we are a bit stumped to make them look in the slightest bit inviting, or suggestive that inside might be quite exciting and fun!

Taken by Jeremy Brough on Mick's cherry picker!John and Jeremy Brough our webman/friend have nearly fallen out of upstairs windows with me clinging to their legs as they try to get a moderately enticing shot (see the first photo, taken by John). A couple of years ago Jeremy also happily allowed himself to be strapped to a pallet on our neighbour Mick’s ‘cherry picker’, gamely aiming his camera above his head as he swayed and wavered in the breeze up high (see his photo of Orchard Farm on the left).

Preparations for arial photos of the barnsLast Sunday Mark Nunnerley took several excellent shots with his camera on top of a pole; he meanwhile had both feet safely on the ground as he directed his camera via his laptop. Both sets of guests were game enough to allow themselves to be included in the shots, as they sat outside in the sunshine studying maps and drinking cups of tea (it was too early for the wine that came later). So our barns still look like barns in his photos but one can also see signs of life and also one can see our rural village setting, with open countryside immediately behind.

Mark Nunnerley sent six photos which you can see in our blog photo gallery; there are also two that John took of Mark taking them. See what you think. We are very pleased with them; so a big thank you to Mark and also a big thank you to our involuntary ‘extras’ who were staying last week! By the way, all the photos look better if you click on each one to enlarge it.

Another Food Update from Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns

You must excuse the present stress on food but we do have a good tip to pass on after a doubly positive experience re the Peak District Pemier Cottages Privileges project, and Rowley’s Restaurant, in Baslow, which is one of the founder members of the scheme.

We have had Angela, a friend from Yorkshire staying, who is an excellent cook, and extemely interested in food generally. By lucky good fortune we were able to go together to Max Fischer (of Fischer’s which is related to Rowley’s) Taste of the Peak’s cookery demonstration at the Dome on Tuesday as part of Buxton Festival programme. Max was inspirational – apparently completely unfazed by the total gas and electricity failure at the start he began demonstrating a salad… When power was restored he made a risotto and a plum crumble which we tasted afterwards and marvelled over and decided then and there to go to Rowley’s the next day to see if it lived up to our expectations. John and I had been before, but a couple of years ago. We justified our rather self-indulgent proposal by deciding It was pretty crucial that we should test out, there and then, how our new Peak District Premier Cottages Privileges scheme was working.

So we were pretty gratified therefore when the Rowley’s manager instantly recognised the scheme, and made us very welcome; the girl that served us was also charming (we didn’t ask her name unfortunately). Even more importantly, the food was quite delicious and certainly lived up to our expectations. Eager to pick up more tips we sat at the table by the kitchen and watched the chef and his mate like hawks and I am sure we must have made them feel quite uneasy although they seemed quite affable and relaxed when we thanked them at the end.

For those that are interested John wanted a very light lunch so had roasted cherry tomato soup and a selection of ice-creams. No such restraint for Angela and me: Angela had a pea risotto and a creme brulee, complete with a dollop of banana compote, a banana ice-cream and toasted popcorn on top! My photo hardly does it justice. I also had the creme brule and a spiced beef and naan bread ‘sandwich’ which came with chips which I shared with the others, and a very delicious sauce. John’s soup was officially a starter, Angela and I had a ‘light bite’ portion but a heavy bite would be more than either of us could have managed and as it was we all felt obliged to have a brisk 4 mile walk afterwards.

We found the whole a most enjoyable experience; it was also we felt surprisingly reasonable – we had two courses each and a glass of wine (and of course our free PDPC Privileges coffee and fudge) and it came to under £50 – I think £43, but John paid so I am not quite sure. We will most certainly return and are very happy to continue to recommend Rowley’s to our guests – but with even more conviction now. (By the way, just in case you are wondering, nobody at Rowley’ has any idea I am writing this entirely unsolicited report.) And finally, we are even more convinced what a good thing our PDPC Privileges card is going to prove to be, for everyone involved.

More Tom News

Just a quickie to let you know the latest news we have about Tom – apart from the fact he and Clare have just had their first baby, which is very exciting.

On the acting front he has had another big break with Top Hat, a musical version of the movie starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. You can read about it at more length on our Parwich Blog. You will remember that Tom won the Strictly Come Dancing a couple of years ago and is a fantastic dancer so it should be a real treat dance-wise and of course he and his co-star Summer Strallen will be singing the old favourites such as ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Let’s Face The Music and Dance’ and ‘Top Hat, White Tie & Tails’;  we are told also to expect beautiful sets and lavish costumes.

Practically, the important thing to note for those that will be wanting to see it while it is in these parts, is that it will be showing at the Lowry (Salford Quays) from the 27th September to the 8th October.

Tom’s Gift

We seem to be full of Toms at the moment – our grandson Tom in Sydney, Tom Chambers – there’s more news about him shortly,  my cousin Tom Jackson who has just successfully completed his cycle ride from John O’Groats to Lands’ End in 9 days, our nephew Tom Hall who is up in Derbyshire for a wedding at the weekend and of course  Tom’s Barn – all very special Toms in their different ways. But this is about yet another special Tom, a particularly special one that we do want to tell you about.

Last weekend we went down to Wales to stay with friends. Corisande and Angus Grahame lost their Tom, their very dearly loved son of six, just before Christmas after a long and brave struggle with cancer. Their lives have been torn apart but they have two other children and they are all doing their best to carry on; one of the ways they have managed to do this is to set up the Tom Grahame Trust in his memory (Do have a look at their site.)

How many will play the cello?Their first big challenge is to raise enough money to build a playground for the children in Clyro where they live. I am not sure how much they’ve made yet but I gather they are not far short of the £75,000 they need to start the project. Last weekend there was a wonderful musical workshop and entertainment for children followed by a concert for their parents, with tea and cakes in the sunshine on the lawn, in between.The concert was laid on by the Aquila Trust Mid Wales Music Fund with the Cambria String Quartet and I gather the Trust extremely generously donated the entire proceeds to the Tom Grahame Trust playground appeal.

The whole event went like clockwork and was a delight from beginning to end. John and I sneaked in to the back of the children’s musical workshop and were entranced as the children, many of them tiny, watched and listened and concentrated so intently, both making music and listening to the musicians who conducted the workshop and played so inspiringly (cello, Playing the violin...two violins and a viola). The adults also had a guest oboist who was quite superb (we just listened, no music-making for us!). John has loaded several photos of the event in our gallery which you may like to look at.

We had a lovely weekend. We would love to help Corisande and Angus spread the word about their playground appeal and the work of the Tom Grahame Trust. Do have  a look at the website where you can donate if you are moved to do so, and have a look at – and hopefully ‘like’ –  their Facebook page too. We feel they deserve all the help and support we can possibly give them.

More Recipes & Recommendations from Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns

Vincent's Crispy Almond BiscuitsI am almost too embarrassed to show my head again, having written nothing for about a week apart from last night’s poppy seed cake post. The ‘busy’ excuse is wearing a bit thin, although it remains true – more about what we’ve been doing later but meanwhile, down to some food tips.

Two lots of recent guests have been to and thoroughly enjoyed The Packhorse, at Crowdecote. This is one of many pubs that has gone up and down like a yoyo, starting from a good high; apparently it is very pleasing again. The setting is certainly superb and worth the trip alone.Do let us know if you do visit, meanwhiloe john and I intend to as soon as is decentl;y possible. (Note they are shut Monday and Tuesday.) A restaurant that one or two have written highly of recently is Rowley’s, in Baslow. Rowley’s is now part of our Peak District Premier Cottages Privileges scheme so all the more reason to visit!

Ages ago I promised the Poppyseed Cake recipe, which I posted last night. Now I am about to reveal a delicious French recipe for a crispy almond biscuit, ‘croquant‘. Last weekend we met amongst other people a very charming French couple who produced these croquants to everybody’s delighted enjoyment! Vincent, the Frenchman, gave me the address of his (French) blog site where I found his recipe, also in French but which even to my rusty French brain was very easy to translate, so here goes:

Les Croquants
3 egg whites
125g flour
320g sugar
120 g almonds (either ground, or finely chopped)

Mix together all the ingredients. Put tiny, very well-spaced spoonfuls (they spread a lot) onto a lined baking tray. Bake at 200′ for about 20 minutes (check!). Leave the biscuits on the tray for at least 15 minutes after you have taken them out of the oven.

Lemon, Lime & Poppy Seed Drizzle Cake

As many of you know, I enjoy making – as well as eating – cakes; the regular Friday cake-baking session for our guests is never a chore. A couple of weekends ago I found myself offering to make two large ‘traybakes’ for the Flaxdale Open Garden and as I am always on the look out for new recipes decided to try one of Mary Berry’s Poppy Seed cake recipes.

It turned out OK but looked very speckly and I did wonder whether the crowds at Flaxdale might be a bit apprehensive – it even just occured to me that some of the older visitors might have wondered for a horrible moment about weevils. Remember them? Anyway, nobody mentioned weevils and in fact I was rather surprised but very delighted that everybody seemed to simply love it (thanks, Mary Berry!); lots asked for the recipe.

So by genuine popular demand I reproduce the recipe, which I adapted slightly to incorporate what I did/didn’t have in the larder. I made a large amount in a large Aga Baking tray. Halve it if you want a normal tray bake tin size (sorry to be so scientific). Apparently it is an Australian recipe, and I have just checked up with Sara (in Sydney) who confirms that you certainly so see it around (also ‘Lamingtons’).

Lemon, Lime & Poppy Seed Drizzle Cake
450g SR flour
450g sugar
6 eggs
350g soft margarine
3 level tsp baking powder
Grated rind 2 lemons & 2 limes
12 tbs milk
80g poppy seeds

Crunchy Topping
350g Demerara or granulated sugar
Juice of the 2 lemons & 2 limes

Line your baking tin with foil or whatever you normally use. Grease well.
Put all the cake ingredients into a mixer or bowl and beat well until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour the cake mixture into the tin.
Bake in an electric oven at 180’ or in an Aga (top oven, lowest runners with the cold plain sheet in the second set of runners) for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and coming away slightly at the sides.
Remove the cake from the oven. Mix the lemon/lime juice into the topping sugar and pour it all over the top of the still hot cake. When it is almost cold take the cake out of the tin.

Buxton Festival 2011

Buxton Festival 2011 is now in full swing, havng opened officially on Saturday. It’s a cultural highlight of the year, which sadly, this year, we are not supporting as well as we usually do. There are various good reasons, one being a diary clash with prearranged trips and events and another, more shamefully, because we had left it too late by the time we got round to booking – even though as ‘Friends of Buxton Festival’ we have a chance to book before the box office opens to the general public. We’ll try to do better next time.

Anyway, with luck there may be a last minute opportunity as friends and colleagues in the village find they have bought tickets they cannot honour which will be advertised on the blog. We start tomorrow with one of their wonderful mid morning talks in the Opera House. These start at 10.30 – possibly after a leisurely coffee in the sunshine beforehand if one is sufficiently organised, or possibly a pleasent lunch afterwards if not. The talks last for an hour, concluding with very relaxed question and answer sessions; the Opera House is sufficiently small to make it feel quite intimate and uninhibiting, but the audiences are always very respectful and appreciative, and questions – even when very searching ones – are never offensive (or at least, the ones we have been to).

Amongst other literary talks we’ll be going to is Joanana Lumley, standing in for the Dowager Duchess, who sadly is indisposed (at 91 that’s fair enough). There are always a lot of opera and musical recitals, and then the odd cookery demonstration, debates, hosted walks round Buxton and masses of things on the Festival fringe. It is an excellent three weeks.

The talk tomorrow is Professor Christopher Andrew and Professor Keith Jeffrey talking about the MI5 and MI6 – we’re told “Expect an interesting debate on many different aspects of British, colonial and international history over the past 100 years”.

Special Privileges for Peak District Premier Cottage Guests

Our local Peak District Premier Cottages group of ‘the very best 4 and 5 star holiday cottage owners’ locally are setting up a very exciting scheme of discounted prices for our guests at various appropriate local attractions, products and restaurants.

Each set of guests will be find a laminated ‘privilege card’ on their set of keys while they are staying, which they will show to the relevant destination to receive the price discount, free pudding etc… The scheme is already up and running  although the list is still growing; I have put it up now on a new page within the Tom’s Barn and Douglas’s Barn Facebook site which I can keep updating but you can also click on this link to see the current version from the Peak District Premier Cottages Facebook page.

I already know that Haddon Hall is starting in the autumn (when their tills have been re-calibrated to cope with this special situation) and Sally Mosley’s Guided Walks are offering a 10% discount off her walks which will make them even more enticing and there are numerous other concessions in the pipeline.

A Memorable Event – Went the Day Well?

Sorry it has taken so long to get round to writing about this. So much has been happening but while we wait to go down to watch the Parwich Hill Race I have a few blissful spare minutes which I shall enjoy putting to good use.

The concert in St Paul’s was a wonderful occasion. John and I had taken an earlyish train down last Wednesday to give us plenty of time before the reception in the crypt at 6.15. The sun was shining and St Paul’s looked wonderful; as soon as we went in we discovered there was a Sung Eucharist at 5 so we decided to get ourselves in the mood, and managed to place ourselves literally beside the choir (complete with young cousin Harry!). The music was superb and an impressive number of people were attending, including a lot of young – maybe that is normal on a Wednesday evening when it’s St Pauls?

We then crept down to the crypt, which had been totally transformed into a party venue. By this time we had been joined by Ruthie and Nick, and Tom Sykes, a family friend and were served generously with wine and canapes before making our way up for the big event, the concert. The Duchess of Gloucester arrived, looking very elegant in a lime green outfit… But still what anticipation…!

Lots of lovely music, mostly but by no means all of the 1st World War era with several Benjamin Britten pieces plus a 7th Century plainsong and ‘How Beautiful are the Feet’ from Handel’s Messiah. And then we had the anthem we had all been waiting for, the first performance of Ben Parry’s especially commissioned ‘Went the Day Well’. It was hauntingly beautiful and there were many family hearts swelling with pride when Harry sang the solo parts, accompanied by his brother Tom on the French horn.

Then it was home to Ruthie’s flat for a delicious meal conjured up by Nick, a quick night, a haircut and then back to the Peak District. I don’t think Boots the cat even knew we’d been away.

Meanwhile, no peacful Peak District for the two boys, who will be now be on their nine-day cycle ride, hoping to average I think it was 120 miles a day for nine days. Rather them then me. You can follow them on their blog which makes terrific reading especially from the comfort of an office chair!

They have already raised over £12,000 for Help for Heroes which is pretty amazing for two 17-year olds, still at school. Help the Heroes has agreed that all of the money  raised will go towards the new Just Giving site for any kind soul who is minded to help them in their quest.

Parwich Wakes 2011

Parwich Wakes Sunday 3 July 2011The sun has shone brilliantly all weekend, apparently there are more Nottingham campers and caravaners than ever and the Oddfellows Dinner had a record turn out yesterday (so I’m told).

It has been a busy and fun time for everybody and the Carnival and Rec. Committee has done us all proud once again. Our attendance has ben a bit sporadic as, after a buy day yesterday we missed all the evening jollities including our neighbours’ annual barbecue and the fancy dress parade last night as we had been invited to a very lovely party just outside Lichfield to say goodbye to Peter (the headmaster) and Ros Allwood (his very supportive wife) who are leaving the Cathedral School after a number of successful years there. More later, but back to Parwich where we did not return ourselves until lunch time today, having stopped overnight with friends in Lichfield; busy catching up we ducked out of the treasure hunt here this evening but tried to make up for our absence by offering helpful suggestions to the rather perplexed hunters wandering along past the house.

John always takes plenty of photos on these occasions and as their unofficial ‘Official Photographer’ he felt very honoured to be asked by Mick Edge to attend the midday ‘Feast’ of the local Oddfellow ‘Loyal Laurel and Crown Lodge’ as a guest.You can get an idea of the parade and general occasion by looking at the Parwich blog entry which saves me repeating it all!

While all this was going on there was a village market on the green with various stalls and attractions. My main responsibility was to help Sue Hughes on the 1st Responders’ site, selling heart-shaped biscuits and letting people practice or learn how to do CPR (chest resuscitations) on the two limbless Annies lying on the grass! We were most impressed by the children – they all, even six and seven year olds knew what to do, much more confidently than many of the adults. Apparently thay are taught it at school as part of life-saving, which I remember we did too, all those years back, although ours was largely to do with recuing people from drowning; we weren’t allowed to swim in the school pool (this was in Africa) until we had passed our life saving test.

Only one photo from us tonight. This is Parwich pulling Nottingham which sounds rather like David and Goliath! It passed me by, who actually won, but we do have some strong men so possibly it was Parwich!


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