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A Moving Blog Post

I started writing this on the East Midland train down to St Pancras on Monday but we were rattling along at such a speed, and lurching to and fro so violently that my attempts to strike the right letters on the fairly minute keyboard of my phone left me quickly feeling rather seasick and out of sorts. Now I am home again, sitting very calmly and still at my desk, and all is well but I decided to keep the title in order that my mobile efforts weren’t totally in vain.

My trip to London was, as always, great fun: a mixture of family pleasure and enjoying the sights and sounds, and occasionally the big London shops if we need anything for the barns – and Marylebone High Street, or Chiswick – if I want some quieter slightly more individual shops. This time I felt the real country bumpkin or awestruck child; the Oxford Street lights did absolutely nothing for me (are they no longer the big attraction they used to be?) but the Christmas lights and excitement in Selfridges were wonderful and the festive atmosphere on Monday night in Westfield (the one near the BBC in White City) was very infectious. Ruthie was busy rehearsing for a concert while Nick and I had the time to enjoy a light-but-spicy Vietnamese snack as we watched families skating happily below us, illuminated by the sparkling white Christmas lights.

It’s lovely being away but always lovely to get back. Before I went away I promised some more of Arwel and Zoe’s photos. Here is just one, my favourite. I know nothing about these things but I suspect Arwel has done something special to achieve – or perhaps accentuate – the rather magical effect of the sun shining through the early morning mist. However, on my way to an early (8.30am) meeting in Bakewell this morning there was a brief moment (near the Minninglow car park for those that know the area) when I caught a glimpse of the sun breaking through the mist on the horizon, achieving much the same effect. Unfortunately I was running late for the meeting so had to stall my instinct to stop the car and try to catch the (fleeting) moment. I got to the meeting with one minute to spare so it was just as well I didn’t linger.

Some Fantastic Guests’ Photos

Fantastic guests or fantastic photos? Both, actually! Unfortunately I haven’t yet mastered how to put more than a few photos on at once so here is a very small selection coming with a big thank you to Arwel and Zoe. We do love sharing our guests’ photos so please never feel shy about emailing them; we put them all in the ‘Your Photos‘ section of the Tom’s Barn Gallery (see green link above). As you will see, I haven’t mastered how to organise this very well, but the photos are still there to be seen and enjoyed, if not the design of the gallery admired.

There are several more including a wonderful sunrise pic, which is quite my favourite but you’ll have to wait a bit for that.

Another of Arwel Jones's Tom's Barn photos

Thanks to Arwel Jones

Some More Foodie Tips and Updates

A light Snack at the Gate, Brassington

The photos look miles better if you click on them to enlarge so please do.

We seem to be on a foodie roll, rather greedily, but following on from take-curries to eat in the cosy shelter of home I thought to start with a pub update for those that want to eat out more sociably. We are so lucky round here with some really excellent local pubs not too far away and our guests all seem to share our appreciation of The George at Alstonefield and the Gate at Brassington.

On Sunday we walked to the Gate, at Brassington, for lunch, forgetting that on Sundays you can’t get the usual hot baguettes and are rather lured towards having a ‘full roast dinner’, which in this case we really didn’t want/need. There wasn’t a great deal of choice for the ‘Light Bites’ and I chose Goats Cheese en Croute on Pears and something (can’t remember what!) but my goodness it was quite delicious! It wasn’t en croute at all, but on toast, but that was a blessing really for someone who only thinks about eating sensibly when there’s no food around. The photo (mine) is bad: it was by candlelight and I didn’t use the flash…

The second tip is for those that like an interesting bread. As a sideline the chef at the Dining Room in Ashbourne is now making the most wonderful breads which you can buy from shops like the Cheddar Gorge, Natural Choice and Wylies Greengrocers; you can’t buy direct from him. The bread – from sough dough, soda to multi grain is not cheap, but it is delicious and well worth looking out for. It tends to go quickly, in my experience but if you can bear to go shopping early you will buy it still warm.

The third tip is to point our guests in the way of the Cheddar Gorge, 9 Dig Street. This is the road at right angles to St John’s Road where the other places I’ve mentioned all are. The Cheddar Gorge is a deli Ashbourne can be proud of, with a wonderful array of cheeses – apparently 80 in all, many of them local – pork pies, cakes and pastries, chocolates and chutneys. It is always busy and can be quite crowded sometimes but there is so much to look at while you wait, and the odd cheese sample to nibble at from the counter…

Another story really, but a few steps down Dig Street you will find Nigel’s, an excellent local butcher that we use when it is less convenient to go to the White Peak Butchery in Tissington. The truth is, we are spoilt for choice.

However, when all’s said and one final personal tip is that I should stop taking photos on my phone and rely solely on John but that would mean him trailing around while I do the shopping. Perhaps a few lessons is the answer.

Eating in – Some Local Tips for Weary Cooks

No, we haven’t got an Indian takeaway in Parwich, and don’t suppose we ever shall. However, we have something far better – freshly cooked to order curries by Paul and Evie, whom many of our older (we don’t mean in age, but in the sense of having been Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns guests for some time) may remember from the Gate in ‘the old days’ when they were the landlords.

Paul and Evie retired from pub running to their cottage on the green in Parwich. But you can’t keep a good cook down and they have decided to offer a Thursday to Saturday  making-curry-to-order service . The idea is you telephone them on (01335) 390488 between 5-7.30 the night before, and fetch the curry yourself presumably between the same times the next day. You do have to cook the rice and any side dishes you fancy although I see that to start with (and they hint of more to c0me) they are offering a mango chutney and a tub of chilli chopped onion… And these days you can buy packs of ready cooked rice from the Ashbourne supermarkets (don’t ask me how i know).

This looks like a super extra facility for our guests (and us!). We know for a fact that lots of our guests love to cook, and half of the fun of coming away is cooking at leisure with a glass of nice wine to hand, in a well-equipped kitchen, using carefully chosen wonderful local ingredients they have had fun sourcing. But for even those keen cooks (and I count myself among them) there comes many an occasion when the supreme pleasure would be to sit down to a meal prepared by someone else. The slow-cooker takes you half way there – if you have been out all day the preparation in the morning becomes a distant memory. Then there is always the possibility of having ordered a pre-ordered meal to be brought to your barn from Val Kirkham next door, on 01335 390 458. And now you can order a curry for the weekend from Paul and Evie.

The final tip, unfortunately, is far from local. However, Cook is such a good tip that I happily and most unselfishly pass it on. They deliver here (quite frequently!) but you do have to order at least £35 worth for free delivery. Everything arrives beautifully packed and still completely frozen and many – if not most – of the dishes they recommend your cooking from frozen; most of the dishes are microwaveable. With a bit of careful forethought you could eat like kings but do not a jot of cooking beyond popping food into the over or microwave! This is ready-made food but a serious cut above what one can buy in the supermarkets. It really does taste homemade (and each one comes with a label naming the cook that has in fact made it).

Midweek Romantic Break for Two

We have availability in Douglas’s Barn this very coming Monday, November 28th!

Rather late in the day we have woken up to this glaring fact and are wondering whether there are any among you who have the efficiency, time and enthusiasm to snap up a one-off chance like this which really doesn’t happen that often: a 4-night break self-indulgent break in Douglas’s Barn at a silly price.

It always goes against the grain to be too brash and boastful about one’s own place but having been guests ourselves very recently we can personally vouch for Douglas’s Barn from the other side of the fence. However, to keep it less personaI you can always check it out on TripAdvisor, look at some ‘What our guests think of us‘ posts and I will end with a couple of random unsolicited recent comments from emails and the Douglas’s Barn Visitors’ Book:

“Lovely stay – you have thought of everything to meet our every need.”

“What a super, relaxing week! Lovely walks, stunning countryside- and a smashing place to stay with a warm welcome… The best cottage we’ve stayed in!! Thank you.”

Calling all Honeymooners with a Saturday Wedding Date

Wedding at Orchard FarmWe are all for romance and all for honeymoons. I couldn’t resist starting with this historic photo (of a photo) of a wedding at Orchard Farm about a century ago, when the barns really were working cowsheds and the facilities in the house not much less primitive (which they still were when we bought the house nearly 30 years ago). The wedding party does look rather serious, but possibly that was because they had to stand still for several minutes while the photographer took the picture, and possibly the happy couple did not have a very romantic honeymoon to look forward to, or even a honeymoon at all; it may very possibly have been a case of straight back to work on the farm after the festivities were over.

Expectations tend to be higher these days. In the more recent past we have welcomed many a happy newlywed couple to Orchard Farm, often in the winter but just as often in the summer months. It must have seemed rather incongruous therefore and actually quite embarrassing now we think about it that we insisted that all summer weeks (April through to the end of September) had to start on a Friday. As most weddings are on Saturday this was insensitive.

We have, not before time, had a change of heart. Next year, if you wish to book a Monday to Monday week during the summer in either barn, and if the dates are available, please feel free to do so. We will then market the short break that inevitably will result, but we won’t accept short break bookings in advance unless there is already a short break availability created. Does this make sense…? If a Friday to Friday week has been booked immediately after a Monday to Monday week – or vice versa of course, we are then left with a midweek gap which can be booked as a short break.

The change of heart is quite sincere, but it took a booking calamity to force it upon us. Completely innocently a guest booked his honeymoon starting on a Monday, and the online system (mistakenly but very fortuitously as it turns out) allowed the booking. Assuming without checking that the dates were for a week starting on Friday I confirmed the booking in good but foolish faith which led to some general re-thinking. And the more we thought, the more we thought how obvious ir was that we should be more flexible. So, a big sorry to all those honeymooner in the past who have so uncomplainingly accepted a shortened week’s honeymoon, and welcome to all those who may yet be planning a full length week’s honeymoon following a Saturday wedding in the future.

And welcome to those who now can actually book a midweek short break. To start with, look at the availability for Monday 28 May to Friday 1 June in Douglas’s Barn…

Up to the Minute Views of Tom’s Barn

Stairs through the stair gate (dogs' view!)Another view of the galleryTea tray ready for the guestsIt’s been a busy few days and today has not exactly been a rest cure, but we got there thanks to a lot of effort all round: new carpet, ‘new’ paintwork, everything that can be washed/sent to the dry cleaners has been washed/recovered from the dry cleaners and our Friday guests are safely and we hope happily gathered in luxuriating in all the newness…

John took about 20 photos yesterday (Friday) evening when we were finished and they are all to be seen – in a somewhat random piggledy piddledy fashion (and as yet untitled) in the blog gallery. Here are one or two tasters. For those of you who haven’t visited within the past year, the most obvious new things are the oak tables and the carpet; you can’t really tell about the redecoration because this year we have stuck with the same Farrow and Ball colours – Slipper Satin on the walls and Old White on the woodwork. (Year after year we stick in Douglas’s Barn with Matchstick on the walls and Buff on the woodwork because we seem to have struck lucky first time; with Tom’s Barn we have had several attempts before finding what we like now.)

John’s photos were taken in poor light but they give a good idea of Tom’s Barn generally, and not just the new bits. We always try to keep everything absolutely spotless but everything is even more spotless having been cleaned/washed/polished and dry-cleaned…!Radio and bedtime readingGallery view of the sitting roomOur guests will be here soon...

Another Facelift for Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

There has been a lot of talk of holidays, but it hasn’t been all play. We and others have been hard at work too, behind the scenes in our relentless quest to keep our two holiday cottages as fresh and clean and lovely as we possibly can. You could say, but of course we wouldn’t know, that it is a bit like an respected beauty doing all she can to remain as fresh-faced and attractive as ever.
Tom’s Barn is nearly twelve years old now, and Douglas’s Barn nearly 6 but there is not much that hasn’t been replaced, restored, improved over that time. However, we hope and believe all the basics that people love both barns for are timeless – the warm, welcoming, relaxing atmosphere, the feeling as someone put it once that you are in your own little slice of heaven. And of course, our particular setting in the Peak District is a wonderful bonus, in such wonderful countryside with so many walks, beautiful sites and good pubs.

Before I get completely carried away, back to the hard slog, the nitty gritty. While we were in Yorkshire, Jason Fowkes repaired and repainted all the exterior woodwork with our favoured (Finnish, extremely environmentally friendly) Valtti paint. If we had changed the colour it would have been instantly noticeable but because we so love the grey/green/blue (what colour is it? Valtti rather prosaically just use a number) you would probably not even guess anything had happened at all.

Since then Jason has completely ‘touched up’ the interior of Douglas’s Barn and has done Tom’s Barn this week, when – shock! horror! a carpet has been laid up the stairs and in the bedroom in response to a directive from above that we must upgrade the floor/flooring in Tom’s Barn upstairs (see How Friendly is Dog Friendly?) for an explanation. What do you think? Actually we are rather pleased. It is nice to walk on and looks great; perhaps we’ll soon be wondering why we didn’t do it years ago.

Other improvements this year include lots of custom made oak furniture in Tom’s Barn, a new telly and hi fi in Douglas’s Barn and several more minor additions – the latest being a very nice wok/stir fry pan from John Lewis in each kitchen. I have very recently bought one Magi-Mix Micro food processor which we will experiment with at home to see if we think it would be a useful addition to our cottages or just make more clutter and mess for our guests (there must be a thin line – somewhere – between anticipating your every need and overdoing it).

The only other major thing I can think of is a dramatic rearrangement of the use of storage space in the Douglas’s Barn kitchen. I think it is much improved and shall be interested in feedback. Tom’s Barn kitchen is more compact, with its 3 sides, so I suspect there is less need there but I await any suggestions.

How Friendly is Dog-Friendly Tom’s Barn?

Bronte BWe love dogs, and their owners, and we welcome dogs to Tom’s Barn, warmly and almost unconditionally. However, we do always stipulate ‘well-behaved’ and we do politely suggest that they don’t go upstairs or onto the furniture (unless it is adequately protected by dust sheets and old curtains which we do provide).

So, what is this all leading up to? And, no, we haven’t had a bad experience, not for a long time… What is worrying us is that on Wednesday we are having a carpet laid! Carpet, up the stairs and in the Tom’s Barn bedroom and no… we didn’t really want to do this having always tried as hard as we can to keep our two barns as charmingly ‘barnlike’ as we can rather than what in the circumstances would feel to us to be overdressed and inappropriate.

So what has brought on the astonishing change of mind you may wonder? Well, it’s status seeking, no less, or perhaps, status retaining. As you know, both our barns are annually inspected and given 5 Stars with a coveted Gold Award. In Tom’s Barn this is quite an achievement, accepting dogs as we do (although by no means all our loyal and lovely Tom’s Barn guests have dogs) and we are determined not to risk losing it, nor do we ever want to threaten the pleasure of any guest coming without a dog. At our last QiT (Quality in Tourism) inspection we were warned in no uncertain terms that to retain our Five Star status we had to do something about the wooden surface of both the stairs (bad, thanks to occasional sharp and slithering dogs’ claws) and the bedroom floor (mostly just general wear and tear and countless moppings but also what can only be the odd doggie claw mark).

We consulted Jason our decorator, David our joiner and various other experts who know about these things, hoping against hope that someone would have an attractive and workable solution. Very very reluctantly we have come to see that short of serious structural and extremely expensive reflooring which anyway would be impossible to achieve with little likelihood of a long enough gap in our wall-to-wall bookings which we can’t disrupt the only reasonable solution is what we hope will be attractive and hard-wearing carpet.

So three burly carpet layers from Nutts Carpets of Clay Cross are coming on Wednesday to lay the carpet. I say burly, but of course they may all be wiry and slim but what we do know is that they will be strong and they will be skilled because they will have to lay the carpet with the enormously heavy bed in situ; they also have the central pillar to work around. It won’t be a simple job. Guests are coming on Friday and everything has got to be spick and span and spotless so the pressure is on for the poor carpet layers and for us.

And once the carpet is down for all sorts of obvious reasons we will not want dogs up the stairs or in the bedroom, please. I know most people wouldn’t dream of letting their dog upstairs, here or at home but we do understand that for some dogs it is difficult: there is no door you can firmly shut and if they can hear and see you upstairs they may find it hard to understand that they aren’t welcome. Fortunately we now have a permanent stair gate and we do ask your cooperation not just for our peace of mind but for all our guests as well, those with dogs and those without.

John this evening took a few before shots of the carpetless wooden surfaces; all being well tomorrow we shall have some after pictures which we will all be happy with!

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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