Romantic cottages for two in the Peak District

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Excuses, excuses…

Just popping up my head briefly to say hi, and sincere apologies for an almost inexcusable silence. If I just mention a trip to London, theatre trip, taking my sister from South Africa on a tourist trip of London on the top of an double decker bus, the London Eye and a trip up the river, brand new iPad which arrived today, working on a mobile friendly version of our website which our wonderful web man Jeremy Brough is developing for us, entertaining some very dear distant cousins to lunch and finally a very preoccupied day involving two trips to Bakewell for (unconnected) meetings today, one on the morning and one in the afternoon it might help paint the picture.
Honesty also suggests I should add that the wonderful June-like weather also comes into the equation. We went down to London at the beginning of last week warmly clad in all winter woollies to swelter as the heatwave struck and here we are a week later, still enjoying the most heavenly weather in clothes one often doesn’t get much chance to enjoy comfortably even in mid-summer. We have sat in the really hot sunshine and had meals outside, as have our guests who are getting browner and more relaxed by the day which is lovely to see.

It is late but I wanted just to make contact today because tomorrow is going to be just as busy,. We have an early start  with a trip to the Cheddar Gorge (delli in Ashbourne) 8.30am to pick up lots of wonderful freshly baked bread by Peter of the Dining Room for the last village Lenten Lunch of 2012 which we are hosting at 12.30 tomorrow. If you are reading this in Parwich tonight (Wednesday) night, do come!

I’ve made two enormous tureens of soup and a Bakewell Tart and bought some nice cheeses,  catering for anything from five to 35 and we will not know how many until they arrive or not!

Finally, a couple of fun photos including a goldfinch which is eating the kernel from inside the pine cone from a tree near the Tom’s Barn garden but here he has just dropped the whole thing. We have to thank one of our guests for pointing out what the birds were doing, as we hadn’t noticed ourselves being so intent on watching all the birdly goings on in front of the house.

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns Recipes: Pecan and Molasses Cake

This week was the first time I had made this tray bake recipe, saved (and considerably adapted) from a Sainsbury’s 2006 magazine. It has taken me six years to try it and I wish I had sooner. Both lots of guest have asked for the recipe, so I have tried to remember what I did which varies quite a bit from the original recipe I have in front of me as I write. Perhaps to be safe I will make this again for Monday’s guests before posting this! (I have and it was fine. In fact, none left for John to photograph! So you will have to imagine it…)

I used molasses but you could use black reacle or molasses; you could also substitute walnuts for the pecans without making a great difference to the final taste.

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns Recipes: Pecan and Molasses Cake

For the cake

1 x 375g pack stoned chopped dates (or chop them yourself)

1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp instant coffee granules OR 1 tsp Camp coffee

75g soft butter

125g caster sugar

100g molasses or black treacle

2 eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

275g plain flour

11/2 tsp baking powder

1x100g pack shelled pecan nuts, roughly chopped

salt

23 x 30cm (12” x 9”) non-stick deepish baking tin (if you think it may not be deep enough, to be safe line with parchment with the sides standing 5cm (2”) proud of the tin

For the Topping

75g chopped pecan nuts

75g dark brown sugar

1tsp Camp coffee or instant granules

1tbs molasses or black treacle

Method

Preheat the oven to 190’C, fan 170”C, gas 5

Put the chopped dates into a bowl and pour 310ml boiling water over them.

Sprinkle the bicarb on the top, and the coffee, and leave to stand.

Put the butter, sugar, molasses, egg and vanilla extract into a food processor and whizz until the mixture is creamy.

Drain the dates, keeping the liquid.

Add the flour, baking powder, a pinch of salt and the liquid from the dates to the mixture in the processor and whizz again until well mixed.

Add the dates and nuts and pulse until the dates and nut are chopped – but not too finely – and well mixed into the cake mixture

Scrape into the baking tin. Level the top and sprinkle in the mixed topping ingredients over the top.

Bake on the middle shelf (bottom shelf of an Aga hot oven, with the cold plain sheet hanging on the second rungs down) for 25-30 minutes until risen and firm to the touch.

New Garden Furniture for Douglas’s Barn Terrace

Douglas's Barn new garden table and chairs

For the last year or so we have been saying we must replace the pub type table on Douglas’s Barn terrace. It is old now, great for eating a meal at or barbecuing but not so relaxing if you just want to relax in the sunshine and read or snooze.

So last week John ordered two arm chairs and a table from Pepe Garden Furniture.  We are great Pepe fans – their stuff is reasonably priced, comfortable, well made and environmentally very acceptable,  and we have recommended them to so many friends. Every time we order something or go to their stand at shows we always suggest we are due a commission but so far the suggestion has fallen on deaf ears…

But that is by the by; meanwhile we are pleased with our new purchase and hope the weather will soon prove so summery and warm that out Douglas’s Barn guests are able to try them out. So far our guests have found lots of occasion to sit outside their barns which is such a warm and sheltered spot the minute the sun shines. And now the camellia is out and the tulips ready to burst forth; the clematis and roses are in good leafy promise. What a lovely time of year spring is!

Tissington Tea Rooms Re-Opening

Tissington Tea Rooms

Tissington is one of our nearest neighbours, an estate village which has been owned and run by the FitzHerbert family for four centuries – 403 to be precise! According to them it is where heaven and earth meet in the Peaks – I thought that was Parwich but we’re not far away so they may have got it slightly wrong!

Anyway, to be serious, it is a lovely village and a great favourite with our guests and us who love walking over the hills to tempt ourselves in the White Peak Butchery there with the array of wonderful meats, sausages, black pudding and bacon; many of them have also discovered On a Wick and a Prayer wonderful candle workshop, not to mention Tissington Hall itself and the Tea Rooms where we often like to go for a delicious lunch or afternoon tea.

Sir Richard FitzHerbert and Mr Michael McLoughlin our local MP

The Tea Room have been shut for a bit, while very super fancy new loos and other improvements were put in. We were delighted to be invited to the official opening yesterday morning, where the Derbyshire Dales MP, Michael MacLoughlin (also Chief Whip) opened them and we all celebrated with champagne and  a specially commissioned Tissington Tearooms cake.

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns – Romantic AND green!

Orchard Farm Goldfinch

As many of you will know by now, we had our third GTBS (Green Tourism Business Scheme) inspection last Friday. If you follow the link to their website you will see what this signifies, but basically, to quote them, it means we are ‘committed to sustainable tourism and minimising its damage to the environment’ which must be an admirable goal by any standards. The inspector, who had been before, said he was impressed with what we have done to make our two cottages as environmentally sustainable as is compatible with our guests’ comfort and ease. He was impressive himself, and very constructively helpful about what more we could achieve.

So far so good. He was pleased with our ‘greenness’ but criticised our modesty!  We were always taught that it was very desirable to be modest, indeed wholly admirable never to brag or blow one’s own trumpet (too loud, anyway!). These days this restraint is probably less respected, and now we understand that far from being admirable it is totally undesirable if one has green holiday cottages, and particularly green cottages in the Peak District! (That’s another story.)

The GTBS inspector said quite rightly that our website did not “shout green” and I accept that it did not, to an unhelpful extent.

Anybody wanting to find out more than our Green Policy would have been a bit pushed apart from the odd snippet on the blog, although in the barns there are massive ‘Green Files’. All the information is to be had if you are actually here but that is no good if you are not.

Anyway, he tactfully hinted that if we got our act together, with Jeremy our wonderful web man, and gathered up all our green information together and available online in an obvious section of our website before he returned home from his tour of inspection to start upon his reports, that would help our final grading significantly. No promises… but it is worth the try. I have a full day of meetings tomorrow but all being well will be able to tackle it towards the weekend. As they say, watch this space.

Parwich Road Works: Orchard Farm is Nearly Cut Off from the World

No access to Orchard Farm!

For years and years there has been a leak/spring/stream sometime gushing down the road round the corner from Orchard Farm, just after you take the right fork at the grassy triangle with the Road Narrows sign when you are coming to Orchard Farm. We have more or less learned to live with it until the weather tunes icy or it snows and then the whole road freezes over in a most unhelpful fashion. Everybody has periodically complained to the District Council who until last Monday didn’t appear ever to have thought it mattered.

The suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, yellow notices popped up warning us that there were to be drainage investigations and Monsdale Lane was to be closed for  week. We were however subsequently assured that the potentially entrapped residents would be allowed access so we did not worry too much. However, no such luck! By access they must have meant on foot: there is a large and deepish hole across the corner and some pretty serious barriers. It is very obvious where the so-called spring was coming from  as there are two sections of drain visible, separated by a couple of feet. I trust it was waste water from drains higher up, not from someone’s  metered water supply.

A muddy hole and one broken drain

Of course we can all go round the ‘back’ lane, Monsdale Lane ,what our children used to jokingly refer to as our back drive, so we are not really cut off at all by more than a mile or two of charming (we really love it and so do all the local and visiting dog walkers) but decidedly narrow country lane. All is well until one meets someone coming the other way which is fine if one has all the time in the world to back cautiously to the nearest spot where there is enough space to pass, and the moral is to be sure to leave enough time…

So at the moment it is a minor hardship to be endured and commiserated over. A week will be long enough, so let’s hope they will be finished as promised by Friday 16th although it isn’t looking very promising to the untrained eye.

How Did You Enjoy Your Time in Douglas’s Barn?

Daffodils amid the waning snowdrops

It had been such a long time since I last collected some comments that they have had to come in two instalments. This is the second Douglas’s barn one and Tom’s Barn’s will follow in due time.

“Lovely stay! You have thought of everything to meet our every need.”: October 2011

“Thank you John and Marion for making our Pearl Anniversary so special! Our 2nd visit and just as excellent as ever.” October 2011

“Dearest John and Marion, what a joy to meet you both and stay in Douglas’s Barn! We have had such a wonderful time: the barn is so beautiful, we felt like the first ever visitors here! The love and care you have taken makes this a place we truly do not want to leave! Thank you so much for everything.” December 2011

“What a beautiful place to stay. We enjoyed it so much we barely left during our visit! A brilliant setting for A’s 30th and for getting into the Christmas spirit.” Dec 2011

“What a wonderful place to relax and take it easy. I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time doing nothing…apart from walking, running, jigsaws, knitting, reading and…relaxing.” Christmas 2011

“Thank you so much for a wonderful week. The cottage had everything we could possibly need and was incredibly cosy. We loved the local walks, and lots of eating too. Great local food.” January 2012

“Wonderful barns, hosts and village. We have completely recharged our batteries. We will be back!” February 2012

There is just one thing I really feel must be said: if we were to write a Guests’ Report we would be pretty gushing. We are most very fortunate in that we have such genuinely lovely, interesting  people staying here. It makes it so easy and pleasant for us. In fact, as I write this, inspiration has struck: I think my next blog post must be a Report on our Guests – so wait for it!

Eating Well with Minimum Effort in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

Revamping our ‘green’ papers for the GTBS inspection on Friday I see that it is over two years since I first published this post. It has needed updating and correcting so I thought it would be useful to post the updated version for any of you planning a holiday here in the future, or even dreaming about one.

Before you arrive, we will always send you an updated list of recommended local pubs and restaurant. We also send the names of a few local butchers, farm shops and delicatessens: we are spoiled for choice in an area that boasts the Chatsworth Farm Shop, various ‘original’ Bakewell Pudding shops/delis in Bakewell, whilst in Ashbourne we have Smith’s for fine wines and good food, the Cheddar Gorge for cheeses, pies and cakes and Natural Choice for everything organic ‘green’. In the two latter shops you can now buy delicious fresh bread baked by the Dining Room on St John’s Street. You will also find a great selection of cheeses at the Hartington Cheese Shop.

Nigel’s on Compton in Ashbourne sells excellent local meat and the meat from the White Peak Butchery in Tissington is something else again – not for nothing do some of our guests walk over every day to buy their next treat!

You may find a visit to the Chatsworth Farm Shop another  essential treat…

For any basic necessities you suddenly find you need, Janet Gosling in the pub/shop, will undoubtedly be able to help you. You could have a quick drink in the pub at the same time if you felt like it or even a bar meal.

And, when you return to cook your effortless casseroles and even steak & kidney pudding, we have the slow-cookers ready and waiting for action in each barn. However all this requires at least some energy output, however pleasurable. There are several recipe books to help.

For totally relaxed forward planning, who don’t you pre-order online with Waitrose (plenty of healthy and organic choices there as well as nice wines)? They will deliver here DE6 1QB any day, free as long as you spend over £50 – which doesn’t take long these days. If you arrange delivery in the 11-1 slot for the day you are arriving we will put it all away for you before you arrive, but of course you can place an order for half way through your stay here if that seems a good idea. If you let us know that you are going to be out, we can take delivery and keep it all cool and safe in our house until your return.

You can also order organic veg, fruit, meat and dairy products – even wonderful chocolate – from the local Riverford Sacrewell Most conveniently they deliver here on Fridays; we can take your order in, keep it refrigerated and put it in your barn before you arrive as we do for Waitrose orders.

The system with Riverford for one-off orders is rather more personal than it is with the bigger Waitrose.  Look online to choose what you would like but the actual order itself needs to be made by telephone on 01780 789700. Explain you are staying here at Orchard Farm and would like your food delivered at the same time as ours on the Friday you arrive. You can pay them by card over the phone, or send a cheque.

You also now can pre-order a delicious homemade curry for the end of the week  (hottish – let them know if you don’t want it too hot!). Ring Paul and Evie Burlinson on 01335 390488; you collect it from their Cottage on the Green between 5 and 7 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Finally, we will let you into a little secret. You will find the kitchen very well equipped, with sharp knives and pretty well everything you might need, and most of our guests find they really enjoy cooking a meal after all, in spite of having vowed they would do the very minimum.

Apologies for The Long Silence

Believe it or not, life goes on as normal in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, and Orchard Farm too for that matter, although judging from the loud silence from these parts you might be forgiven for wondering. I am really sorry to have been so apparently lazy but in fact we have been away! We spent a few days in Yorkshire helping a very old – as in longterm – friend celebrate a significant birthday.

She did this in some style so we arrived home larger and decidedly better fed than when we left, and as usual after even a short time away there is a mountainous backlog of emails and urgent things to do. The emails I have almost worked my way through; one very urgent matter which is going to take a lot of time is our 2012 GTBS (Green Tourism Business Scheme) inspection which is due this Friday…! It is rather tedious in that one has to produce monthly records of oil, electricity and water consumption and cost. This would be easy for those efficient souls who keep monthly records and up to the minute accounts but those of us who tend to rely more on meeting deadlines as and when they occur find it rather demanding.

The more interesting side is gathering up and updating all our green information (even transport policy…!) but even this is pretty time-consuming. Inspections are never fun but it certainly is good being kept up to the mark, and forcing one to look critically at how one does things and how they could be improved. At the moment we have the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark and the GTBS Silver Award so we have standards to keep up! It would be ignominious to be downgraded but I don’t think we will be(?).

The other ‘excitement’ this week is the Regional AGM of the Peak District Premier Cottages group. This will be an interesting an convivial affair, with much to be discussed including what is apparently a hot topic in the self-catering world – whether to have an all-inclusive price or not. I think we all in our area are fervently all-inclusive: personally, I feel there is nothing more annoying and unsettling to discover that unexpected and unwanted extra charges suddenly appear (like booking a cheap flight on RyanAir when  you discover there is actually a booking charge, per person, per journey… so their quoted rockbottom price is not the price at all, merely the starting point of a quickly much larger bill, sneakily arrived at). John and I like to feel that once our guests have paid the balance the embarrassing subject of money is behind us and  finished with. We will greet you and think of you as genuine house guests and apart from your paying for your newspaper if you have one – which I think we’d all agree is fair enough – the subject of money doesn’t enter into the relationship at all…

Anyway, (we feel quite strongly about this!), another project that we have all got involved in is the Visit England 20.12 offer, which involves offering a special discount or extra, ideally worth 20.12%. We will be offering 20.12% off weeks in November and December (but NOT Christmas and New Year before anyone gets too excited); we are pretty well booked up until then except for odd weeks so it makes a holiday in these two months at the end of the year pretty good value.

To benefit from the discount these holidays have to be booked via the Visit England 2012 website, quoting a voucher code so keep an eye open for that. I think it is going live on March 8th.


LATEST NEWS

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    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 […]

  • A busy Sunday in the Peak District

    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 […]

  • Time to book a last minute Autumn break.

    So the sun may not be shining at the moment but we are going into one of my favorite times of year – AUTUMN. If the weather follows previous years we are in for a lovely September and October and even November can still be delightful. This time of year attracts reduced rate for some […]

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