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Your Stay in Douglas’s Barn – What is Your Verdict?

Douglas's Barn

In a strange way, we always feel a bit awkward quoting extracts from the Visitors’ Books. Sometimes the comments are quite personal and I am sure guests don’t think of them as likely to be hitting the airwaves but on the other hand we all love to see what other people have said, done liked and what they maybe didn’t like. Also of course it all helps paint the picture, which is vital for possible/potential guests.

For example, glancing through these comments it would soon become obvious that if you wanted fast food outlets or daily cinema trips booking a holiday in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, Parwich is definitely not the answer, nor is it for clubbing enthusiasts or anyone nervous of dark dark lanes at night with very few street lights and no bustling crowds. (I’m quite serious, someone once asked me ‘How can you bear to live somewhere so far from civilisation?’ I thought they had completely missed the point, they felt convinced I had completely lost the plot. If you want comfort and ease (not glamour), if you love walking in beautiful countryside (whether gentle rambles or vigorous hikes), country pubs and good food, then maybe you really are on the right track. Read on…

I knew it was a while but am ashamed to see it is six months since we last did this, gathering up some guests’ comments to help give you a flavour of the kind of holiday you can expect if you stay in either Tom’s or Douglas’s barns. Skimming through, picking some out almost at random here to start with are some unexpurgated comments from the Douglas’s Barn guests. (All can be seen in the Visitors’ Book.)

“Had a fantastic time, what fabulous accommodation! Can recommend Lathkill Dale, with pub in village with brilliant views. The cottage exceeded our expectations, thanks!!” August 2011

“Our first visit but definitely not the last. Everything perfect, beautiful cottage, every detail and more thought of.” August 2011

“A very special cottage which makes you feel at home even when it’s raining…Loved Haddon Hall and the wild flowers at Dovedale.” September 2011

“Lovely cottage in stunning countryside; only used the car once, walks from the door – marvellous!” September 2011

“Fantastic cottages with great walking and cycling on the doorstep. Can recommend the pub in Brassington and the Thai restaurant in Ashbourne. Thank you, John and Marion, for all the little extras.” September 2011

Spring Arrives, as do Our Guests’ Snow and Ice Grippers

Our first daffodils of 2012

Well, we certainly predicted this! Today dawned grey, but true to the weather forecast it got better and better and by lunch time the sky was blue and the sun shining. Down the drive came a delivery van, out jumped the driver and cheerily handed us a parcel – always quite an exciting moment. What should we discover it was but four sets of snow and ice grippers, a pair each for all four guests at a time, and some traction lengths to help cars get out of icy ruts. How we had longed for these when the weather was bad a couple of weeks ago.

Today, in the sunshine it was hard to imagine ever needing such things; however, it is still only February and goodness knows what icy spells await us before spring is really and truly here. And it is a lovely feeling that we shall be able to help our guests negotiate icy paths and roads, not to mention our own front ‘yard’ which John was very pushed to keep even remotely safely passable during the cold spell a few weeks ago.

Some pristine winter equipment

We couldn’t resist photographing our arctic weather equipment by the snowdrops under the plum tree, as the sun streamed down and the birds skittered happily enjoying the nuts and seeds, showing off their glossy plumage to any passing would-be admirer… Talk about tempting fate; no doubt this time next week I’ll be writing a blog post about how useful our snow equipment has been. But in the midst of all this general excitement, John spied, these little miniature daffodils blossoming unseen in our little patch of garden between the back of the house and the stone wall of the road behind. It is north facing but does get the sun from the side in the mornings and we suppose that the space is very sheltered in what is virtually a minute walled garden-on-a-slope.

Talking about road conditions, those of you who have been here in the snow and ice, will know that there is always a particularly bad stretch on the bend as you turn left to go down into the village, or after you have veered right at the road narrows sign when you are coming here. There is a permanent spring or stream or is it a leak (perhaps that explains the predicted drought for the east midlands and the east of England?) Anyway, we have just heard that our lane is to be closed for a week in March while ‘they’ investigate the drains. We will keep everyone posted when we know more.

Beautiful Bullfinches at Orchard Farm

img_0229According to John’s brother’s bird book, bullfinches don’t come to bird tables, but ours do. Need, or maybe just greed must have persuaded ours to change their habit as they have become very faithful feeders, mingling apparently happily with all the others – robins, blue, coal and great tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, even the odd dove and pheasant. Boots watches them all from the warmth and safety of the kitchen window, but fortunately any killer instinct has passed with the years (she is every bit of 14 now, which is quite a stately age for a cat although she is still quite capable of rushing up a tree, or even chasing her tail when the mood takes her).

When he isn’t trotting down to the little Parwich shop-in -the-pub to buy more bird seed and nuts John is out in all weathers with his new camera and lens. The birds are beginning to very much take him for granted, which is good and he has managed to get some lovely photos of the bullfinches. I hope I won’t have mangled them too much by the time I have loaded them here!
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Eating In Without Lifting a Finger…

Paul's Butter Chicken Curry

It doesn’t take long for the subject to return to food, not that I should perhaps apologise. One can’t turn on the telly for a minute without finding a cookery programme and goodness knows how many cookery books are produced each year and fancy kitchens full of even fancier gadgets advertised.

And yet we are told that nobody cooks any more. We know that is not true. A lot of our guests take a lot of pride in cooking, and part of the fun of their holiday is having the time, and in a well-equipped kitchen, to prepare delicious meals to enjoy together.  But even they, and indeed all of us, however keen we may be as cooks, do like occasionally to sit back and enjoy what someone else has prepared.

We are lucky in Parwich to have some really excellent nearby pubs and restaurants where you know the food will be good and the atmosphere fun and you will feel you’ve had a real treat. However, drink-driving laws and winter road conditions both also make the idea of eating in very attractive, and  with no worry about getting home afterwards, much more relaxing. This – with some forethought and planning – is charmingly possible in Parwich.

Discounting the possibility of having cheated by popping something into the slow cooker in the morning, or the often very tasty prepared ready meal meals one can buy in Waitrose and M&S in Ashbourne – and indeed in all the super markets, we have some unique gems in Parwich to offer our guests.

Firstly, you can ring Val Kirkham beforehand on 01335 390 458 to find out about her meals which she will cook in her house next door to Orchard Farm and bring them round personally to your door when you want them. Secondly, you can pre-order a curry from Paul and Evie, at the Cottage of the Green, on 01335 390 488. These are available at the weekend, and you do have to fetch them (5 or 6 minutes ‘walk).

Today John and I did just that. Fridays – our changeover day – are always busy  and supper time can come with us feeling a little weary and with nothing delicious miraculously appearing on the table. We’d planned ahead this week, and ordered a chicken curry, rice and a chutney. Paul and Evie had popped in some very thin lacy-textured poppadoms (heme-made?) and we had a feast fit for kings. Last time we had a lamb curry, next time who knows…?

All we do know is that they will always be very authentic and quite lovely and very good value as we find a portion for one does us both and we are NOT known for our birdlike appetites. We do have to ask for mild to medium strength, slightly embarrassingly for people who lived in India for three years and have eaten some pretty hot curries in our time. I suspect Paul’s ‘Hot’ would be just that, hot! If anyone has tried one we’d be intrigued to know!

Parwich: TripAdvisor’s “Travellors’ Choice” Destination for 2012??

Will Parwich beat London – or even Baslow – for TripAdvisor’s latest Travellors’ Choice Awards?
This evening I received an invitation to rate these three destinations; could this be the first hint that Parwich has reached the UK’s short list for this year’s awards?

Sadly, probably not, but let’s see what the criteria is before we give up on the hopes of toppling London. I was going to give you the actual link to the page but fortunately I realised in time that TripAdvisor might blacklist us immediately if 15 or even 50 people filled in the form and rated Parwich as John and me; instead I write it out myself:

How would you rate Parwich for these activities? Answer 1-5 (1 being terrible, 5 being excellent)
Beach/Sun
Food & Wine
Outdoor/Adventure
Skiing/Winter Sports (almost could have said yes last week!)
Golfing
Nightlife
Gay/Lesbian
City Break
Spa and Wellness
Romance
Family

What is your score? Much as we all might love Parwich, it is not going to make it to the Awards…

Finally, to end on a slightly more serious note… TripAdvisor has been a lot in the news recently, with hoteliers I think, mainly, being very upset about malicious anonymous reviews that they cannot remove; others have claimed that often rivals would write themselves, or get members of staff to write, bogus rave reviews about their own establishment whilst slating the competition.

The fact that many millions of travellers use TripAdvisor to plan their holiday, researching accommodation, restaurants and destinations (vote for Parwich!) and finding the information and reviews extremely helpful has been largely ignored in the articles that I have seen.

As far as we are concerned here, being such a small, personal setup, we have not yet suffered any mishaps and we have played by the rules ourselves: we most certainly have never written a review ourselves pretending to be guests of Tom’s or Douglas’s Barns (not even when we have stayed as genuine guests!). We often do not know who has written a review but from what people say, and their destination one can be totally confident that so far all the reviews we have had are completely genuine ones, from guests that have stayed really here.

The fact that the reviews have been very positive is very encouraging and rewarding for us but we are well aware that one day we may have an upsetting one. Things can go wrong in the most ordered of setups (fridges giving up the ghost on Christmas Eve, water pouring through the kitchen ceiling, keys getting stuck in locks – yes to all of those!).

One can imagine that very often people who write damning reviews are feeling so aggrieved is because they feel nobody has listened or cared enough to do anything about their grievance at the time at the time .

This is where people like us, being on the spot, have an enormous advantage. We would always hope to be able to deal with the problem instantly which thanks to a wonderfully loyal and willing team of local tradesmen, builders, cleaners  and general helpers we almost always can although it can be very fraught at the time.

So we think TripAdvisor is great… But, back to the destination rating. How has Parwich fared? 55/55 is the top mark but we have no beach, no nightlife, no one offers city breaks and the skiing is not well established. Perhaps it will be Baslow, or even London.

Warm Weather Prognosis from Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns

What is the secret? You’ll have to wait and see how effective it turns out to be…

The icy conditions persist. We have had no snow recently, and none the night before last in spite of warnings and dire predictions of what was to befall. However, the old snow is still with us. Each day it starts to thaw slowly, then each night freezes hard again so conditions underfoot tend to be perilous and the drive not much better but everyone seems to be getting in and out so it’s obviously not that awful.

John and i have not exactly been skipping abut on the snow (unlike the lovely Springer Tweed whose photos we shared on Facebook) the other day but we are certainly teetering out a little more confidently, all thanks to some very effective Ice and Snow Grippers that daughter Ruthie gave us both for Christmas. There are various types around but these are the best we’ve seen, metal studs fitted onto a rubberised thing that slips over your boot or shoe (and very easy to put on and take off).

So impressed with how effective they are we have today ordered a couple of pairs for each barn so that our guests will be able to use them while they were here. And we’ve also bought some traction treads to put under any car or delivery van that gets stuck round us as I did the other day in the doctors’ surgery. To digress for the moment I would like to add a public thanks to Peter R and his granddaughter, Amy, who pushed me out of the frozen mounds of snow I was caught in on the surgery car park. Without them I might be there still.

So now we await the arrival of our snow aids. I’m not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed if it means that as soon as they arrive we find absolutely no need for them at all.

Five Stars and a Gold Award

We had our annual Quality in Tourism inspection last month and have just received confirmation that we retain our Five Stars and a Gold Award for each barn which of course is enormously pleasing. We try all the time to keep updating and improving but one never likes to take things for granted, aware that standards and expectations do keep rising.

We are pleased but we do have reservations and each year we have a gripe.  Almost inevitably there are inconsistencies in the scoring; the quarry tile flooring in both barns is identical, but are scored differently; both barns are decorated by the same professional painter, using Farrow and Ball Modern Emulsion: Douglas’s Barn gets 4/5, Tom’s Barn 5/5!

What does it all mean for guests who do not know and probably don’t care?  It’s an indication of quality and what facilities one can expect. Each section – Exterior and Setting,  ‘Management Efficiency’,  Cleanliness, Public Areas, Bedrooms, Bathrooms, Kitchens meets the minimum level for (in our case) Five Star:  What does it mean for the owner? It ensures one keeps up to date, and it is reassurance that one’s standards are not slipping. The inspectors see many different cottages and often can make very helpful suggestions.

Actually to us probably the most pleasing and reassuring element is the Gold Award is for ‘exceptional quality of accommodation and customer service’.

And for Janet, Carol and all of us concerned with the cleanliness and care, the 100% for cleanliness is worth its weight in gold!

So when a new cottage owner asks innocently whether it is worth being assessed by Quality in Tourism or a cynic claims doing so is merely a licence to charge more we would say that the system may not be perfect but it gives guests the chance to make an intelligent choice. Before selecting their holiday accommodation guests can ask themselves, “Is it important to us that our cottage should have a dishwasher, to know it’s super clean, well- equipped….?” Or indeed, “Perhaps we would be happier with unknown/lower expectations and possibly a cheaper price?”

Guests have a measurable standard by which to judge a holiday cottage and it certainly ensures the owners keep on their toes and don’t sit back and rest on their increasingly dusty laurels.

Snowy Update from Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

Tweed, dancing for joy in the snow!

Just a quick post after a day of snow. Last winter the snow came with a vengeance at the end of November; this year we have had to wait until early February so it seems more exciting – there isn’t that slight niggling worry that it might be going to last for four months or so, and it has come at the weekend so the children and actually many adults could toboggan and not too many souls were worrying about getting to work.

Sadly our Douglas’s Barn’s  guests had decided, very wisely as it turns out, to leave yesterday after they had seen the snow forecasts as they had commitments on Monday that they could not risk missing.

People are getting in and out of the village but without a heavy duty 4×4 it would be wiser to stay safely put!

A Fantastic Midweek Opportunity

The first real snow of this winter

It will be lovely…Think toboggans, walks in the  snow.
It is snowing, hard. Douglas’s Barn, warm and welcoming, awaits you, IF you can pass the test…

  • You can’t resist a challenge
  • You can’t resist a bargain
  • You like spur of the moment excitement
  • You have a 4×4 vehicle
  • You love the Peak District in the snow
  • Can you resist a challenge? The snow is falling fast, now but  – how long will it last – it may be gone tomorrow, or it may not? And even if it does stop snowing, which we gather is likely, no doubt the roads will still be icy.

    If you score 5/5 in the test above you deserve a treat and we are prepared to make you a fairly ludicrous offer, financially speaking. Give us a ring on 01335 390519…


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