Judging by the absence of new posts on our blog you might think we at Orchard Farm were all asleep, but not so. We are in fact horribly wide awake…! So much has been happening over the past week, much of it fairly mundane although Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs might value getting one’s returning on time as pretty important and I am glad to say we made the deadline! It was touch and go but all went through although one gathers that with the strike there might have been less need to panic.
We had some friends to stay for our little Parwich book club annual Christmas dinner when we invite the husbands too, on the condition if they want to eat they must have read the book. We had to relax the rules this year as not even all the actual book club members had managed to get through the nearly 600 pages that is Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey. Perhaps more of that another day.
The friends staying with us and we did the RSPB Birdwatch on Sunday. Sadly no dramatic sightings to report, and only one goldfinch when most days there are at least five or six to be seen squabbling over the nyjer seed at any one time. Our friendly neighbourhood robin did not let us down nor of course did the blue tits.
I have just been down to London for one of my regular jaunts which I always love because it also means the chance to see Ruth and Nick, our two ‘English/London’ young as against Sara our Australian/Sydney daughter (how we’d love Sydney to be just that bit nearer!). As well as having a lovely family time with Ruthie and Nick and getting a much needed hair cut I did some useful research in John Lewis into kettles and toasters for both barns and a new lamp for over the Tom’s Barn kitchen table, all of which we shall now order from their online store.
The most dramatic piece of news, Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns wise, is that we have had our 2012 Quality in Tourism inspection already. The inspector rang up on Monday evening, and arranged to come on Wednesday which was a bit of a shock and involved us in a fair amount of rather hurried paperwork, making sure things like the inventories were updated; I did also have to very quickly order some small tumblers as directed by last year’s inspector . Anyway, to cut a 3-hour inspection story short, all was well although until we actually receive the certificates and report there is always that ghastly feeling that we may have misheard her when we thought she said we retained our 5 Stars and Gold Award for both barns, and 100% for cleanliness in both barns. So, more about that when the time comes too.
Four photos from John who is still working hard on mastering his new camera, new lens and most significantly, trying to capture little birds in fast flight.
This will be very speedy, unadorned by photos of birds, in flight or otherwise: it is a merely a short and happy post just to say hello again. I feel as if I have been under a stone for the past fortnight and now I have emerged. This will probably turn out to be one of those blog posts which serve no better purpose than to make me feel better when I have written it.
What not to do if you want to relax here, or indeed anywhere, is embark on a massive marmalade making exercise half way through January just as you realise there is several months of catching up to do before being anywhere near meeting the dreaded January 31 panic deadline for tax returns. Neither Seville Oranges nor her Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or whatever they call themselves now will wait.
Bleary eyed and dreary has it been but we are almost there! And suddenly life has begun to feel positively cheerful again. There is still another four loads of marmalade to go but that is no hardship, especially when compared with spreadsheets of figures that start to make even less sense than they once did. We have such a good recipe I have started using now, with less sugar than conventionally so the end result is just how we like it and we hope our guests all do too, pleasantly sharp and very orange-y. It probably helps having very fresh, organic (Riverford) oranges too.
There is a sting in the tail; wait for it… Returning from Pilates this evening, chatting with a friend as we strolled home in the dark and starlit night (any sign – we thought there might be a hint – of the northern lights?) everything seemed delightfully calm. The newly restored sense of peace and equanimity received an unexpected blow. A telephone message from a Visit Britain Quality in Tourism inspector let us know she was hoping to arrange an inspection of both barns, tomorrow!!!
We managed to suggest that Wednesday would suit everyone better. The barns are spotless already and there’s nothing to worry about there apart from the fact the previous inspector said we ought to supply small tumblers as well as regular ones and as that didn’t seem a big priority we had put that chore to the very back of our minds; the lamp shade over Tom’s Barn kitchen table has cracked so we need to replace that, smartish.
Slightly more worryingly, there’s a lot of paper work that needs to be tackled too – policies and inventories and a summary of any new purchases and improvements made since the last inspection so it looks like tomorrow will be another busy day. We’ll get there – and it is always better to work under pressure…
How not to relax!
What with trying to get our tax done before the crucial Jan 31 HMRC deadline whilst making loads of marmalade I have rather lost sight of the fact that we have the Monday 23 to Friday 27 midweek break next week still free in both Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns.
That was careless; so in the hopes of making up for lost time we are offering the midweek break in either barn for £295. For what you would be getting that is extremely good value.
If two lots of friends or two generations of a family wanted to book at the same time to come ‘together but apart’ the total price would be £560. A number of our guests have found this an ideal arrangement: you have all of the fun of sharing meals, walks and outings and yet all the pleasure of being on your own when you want to be, with none of the inconvenience and loss of privacy of actually sharing a house.
So! Whether couple on your own or two together, first come first served! Give us a ring, or email. If we haven’t done our tax returns off by Monday I may possibly appear somewhat jaded but nevertheless possibly all the more delighted to welcome you, and we can guarantee a fresh pot of newly made Seville Orange marmalade!
Maybe even a larger pot than usual if the tax is done…
The lengths one goes to to avoid doing the tax, but the organic marmalade oranges and lemons have been sitting in the kitchen since Riverford delivered them on Friday, and we have at least six batches to tackle, so needs must. Perhaps I don’t need to write a blog post as well, but any marmalade maker will recognise that sense of excitement and achievement and the need to share it… The achievement actually extends to having caught the Seville oranges in time, before they disappear for another year; the season is so short, one flash and it’s gone and one could easily have missed it altogether.
And now that we leave a little jar of homemade marmalade alongside the bread, milk, butter and eggs for every couple when they arrive we find we are getting through a LOT! We started off just trying it out on our guests after we had made some last year, thinking we would stop again quite soon after a temporary flurry of marmalade sharing, but such was the reaction, with public comments in the visitors’ books and on the blog that we felt almost compelled to carry on. And we are glad to do so, because anything we can do to make our guests’ holiday here enjoyable and a little bit special for them is a pleasure for us too.
The marmalade production process is very much a joint affair as you can see by this fairly rare photo of John. It is not often he is in a photo as he is usually the one behind the lens We are now using a relatively new recipe I got off the internet recently when I was making between season grapefruit and lime marmalade, which we are rather pleased with. It involves boiling the quartered fruit first and using slightly less sugar than the conventional idea which means you can eat more.
Let us know what you think, if you still have a holiday here ahead of you before the current batches run out!
Anything to distract from the acutely pressing need to do our tax before the end of Jan but I couldn’t resist adding (and I still haven’t mastered how to do it neatly) one or two photos that John has taken in the last couple of days. The most lovely one of our Orchard Farm robin, on our doorstep this morning in the (relatively) warm sunshine this beautiful frosty winter morning, you can see here, on our website Home page.
John was up and out early this morning, enjoying the wonderfully frosty peaceful scenes as Parwich wakes up to a new day after an extremely cold night. Peaceful it may be, but the woodpecker can be heard now, every day, down by Church Farm…
John is still trying to capture birds in flight, and there are a couple of rather amazing pics here of bluetits with the sun shining through their wings. They look so beautiful and their movements so graceful, but watching them outside they don’t seem quite so gracious, although not such curiously bad-tempered little creatures as the goldfinches who are always squabbling with each other and fending off any other birds who also want to come to the feeders!
If ever you are planning your stay here and look at the advance weather forecast and wonder if those grey clouds and downward droplets necessarily mean there may not be non-stop sun, we have another wet-weather tip. How about a 3-hour ‘award winning chocolate experience‘?
See if you can book a session into Cocoadance. It is well worth it.
It involves perhaps an hour’s drive, to Castleton in the High Peak, which is stunningly beautiful, and when we went just after Christmas all the lighted Christmas tres and decorations made it look like a fairy tale.
However, you leave this enchanting spot, and drive up and up behind Castleton along an increasingly narrow road until you come to a little (National Trust) farmhouse looking quite lost and lonely, sheltering by Mam Tor. Then Dave and his wife Bridget come out to greet you and suddenly you are in a place buzzing with light and energy, and smelling wonderfully of (good, really good) chocolate.
Having just done it (really, unlike many other of the Peak District experiences that we haven’t yet tried) we can promise that it really is a fantastic experience. It helps if you like chocolate but the chocolate Cocoadance makes is superb, and a very far cry from the sickly sweet ‘chocolate flavour’ experience one can all too often have from cheap chocolate. Some very kind friends had asked us to join their party just after Christmas and not one of us felt in the slighted bit queazy after three hours of solidly sampling chocolate. Unbelievabe, isn’t it?
You learn, you do, you taste and you are tested (literally blind, with one’s eyes behind such thick eye masks cheating is absolutely impossible). You design your own creations, some intricate, some beautiful and some it must be said looking faintly kindergarten-y. We learnt how different countries have developed different tastes and fashions, and how here in Britain, tastes have been shaped by Cadbury’s Milk which (I don’t want to be sued by Cadbury’s) is ‘chocolate’ rather than chocolate.
John Ruthie and I came back from our afternoon healthily replete, and absolutely buzzing with the whole experience. Two weeks later we are still eating and enjoying the fruits of our own handiwork and still regaling any unsuspecting folk who stop to listen with our newly gained knowledge and expertise.
(By the way, we had to wear aprons and particularly fetching hairnets; as you see from these photos from John below).
We always love it when our guests let us know what they’ve done and what they’ve enjoyed; we’re genuinely interested but it also helps us keep up to date and we keep learning new things about the area which is useful, even humbling to realise we live here and are constantly learning new things from out guests who have only been here a week or two at the most, although to be fair many come back so often that they do have a slight advantage. However, I would be embarrassed to compile a list, but we have never yet been to the Crich Tramway Museum nor to Poole’s Cavern to name but two, both places guests have enjoyed…
Walks and cycling are two vast subjects which one couldn’t begin to condense into a sentence or two; there are just so many walks, and variations on routes. All our guests love to go out, some for serious day-long hikes and others for less demanding shorter walks possibly with binoculars, camera – maybe even a picnic – in hand. One of the lovely things is that there is such a choice. If the choice is overwhelming, you might enjoy as one guest did recently, asking Sally Moseley to devise and take you on a walk that she can plan to fit in with your requirements. Whatever your stye of exercise the fact is that the countryside all around us is stunning and just being out can make you feel good; even better is the joy of returning to your warm, cosy barn, a hot bath and a cup of tea by the fire afterwards…
Of the more extreme sports we’re quite happy to remain ignorant, although there certainly is scope locally for ‘proper’ climbing, abseiling, hang gliding etc but we have never been aware of any of our guests enjoying such things while staying here – or if they did they have remained discreetly silent. The only guests to book (it was a surprise from her to him) a helicopter flight over Ladybower – I could cope with that – had the flight cancelled because of apparently poor weather so we can’t report on that even at second hand. Actually, it was a wonderfully bright and sunny day, so there was the sneakiest suspicion that maybe he wasn’t as keen on the idea as she hoped… We’ll never know. (You can actually go from the Cat and the Fiddle too, high up on the Pennines towards Macclesfield/Cheshire.)
Bookshops are popular, and we’re on stronger ground here, able to speak from personal experience. Scarthin – a quaint bookshop in Cromford crammed with second hand books – is much appreciated, as is – on a very different scale – Brierlow Bookstore, which is enormous with over 20,000 books.
And finally, because I can’t go on for ever, we come to the pubs. Consistently, the Gate (which now has a website!) and the George (which now has a new website!) are rated favourites, with the pendulum swinging one way then the other. The Gate with its fires in the lovely old ranges – and especially if you go into the room on the left – scores better for atmosphere although the George, if you can sit in the pubby part on the right, runs it pretty close. The food at the Gate is good, and generously served. You can’t always say that about the George whose portions can seem small to the greedier of us although I would say the food at the George is better, and perhaps better suited to more sophisticated palates; some find it a trifle expensive but good food does tend to be. Like the majority of our guests, we just love both of them!
Like pretty well the whole of the country, we have been having some very unpleasant blustery, grey and wet days. We have escaped the terrible wind which we can hear roaring over Parwich Hill which deflects it all nicely away from the village so the trees in Parwich are untouched.
I had to go to Bakewell for a meeting this morning and had an interesting drive along country roads which hadn’t been so protected, through deep and lengthy puddles, and skirting very delicately at one stage around a large tree which had fallen across the road.
In spite of everything the sun did manage to get out this afternoon, and outside in a flash was John with his new camera at the ready (the bad weather has been a serious frustration for him, photographically, but it has been good in that he has been able spend some time poring over the manual and a couple of really good books he has been given which are very helpful but which to those whose camera is on their mobile phone, could be in another language. (This new camera is not a toy…!)
What a year 2012 promises to be! From the depths of financial despair and gloom we soar to Jubilee and Olympics hysteria… Meanwhile most of us just plod on as best we can; whilst horribly aware of rising costs for all and job insecurity for many and although the timing is unfortunate it is great that we have some exciting distractions ahead and certainly Visit Britain and VisitPeak District are very upbeat about the possibilities that this year will bring for tourism and the economy.
Life has to go on and like many of you we will just continue to do the best we can and to do our best to ensure that all our guests have as good a holiday as possible. Unfortunately we cannot control the weather, but neither can anyone so that’s a relief… And to continue the financial theme for one more minute, our 2012 prices have now kicked in and I am about to put them up on our website. They have been on the online booking system for some time. The prices have all gone up a rough 5% which actually is somewhat less than our costs have increased.
Bank Holidays this year include the Jubilee celebration tacked onto the Spring Bank Holiday (June 4th and 5th). That week has already been booked in both Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns as have two of the Olympics weeks by folk anxious to escape from London for the spell!
Chatsworth House reopens on March 9th but there are talks and things going on before then which clicking on the link will reveal; the Horse Trials are 11th to 13th May and the Country Fair is 31st August to 2nd September. Haddon Hall I suspect may open at Easter (April 6th to 9th) but so far I have failed to discover the exact date. The Buxton Festival is 7th to 25th July. And of course throughout the summer we have the famous Derbyshire well-dressings, with the local Tissington celebration from the 17th to 23rd May being a special highlight.
This just skims the top of the barrel – check this page of the Visit peak District website to see just some of the events there are, not to mention the permanent activities and sights which are here all year round – the walks, cycling, sailing etc at Carsington, hang gliding,climbing and so on…!
And finally one has to eat and who could be better placed than we are round here for good unspoilt pubs serving great food
There is still time to book a last minute Christmas get away in Douglas’s Barn. The weather may be cold but the barn is very warm and cosy. Why not treat yourselves to a get away from it all break. You can order all your supplies from one of the supermarkets, get it delivered and […]
Time to get a bit of relaxation before the Christmas mayhem. There are still short breaks available in Douglas’s Barn. Plenty going on in the Peak District. Lots of Christmas markets selling lovely gifts that you don’t see elsewhere. Chatsworth House is also a must at this time of year. There are plenty of stories […]
Lots of events to go to in and around Parwich today but managed to get to the Horticultural Show in Parwich and the Hartington Show. Missed out on the Antiques in Ashbourne though which is always worth going to. Izzy did better than me by getting 1st prize as the Prettiest Bitch at Hartington Show […]