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A Gold Green Award for Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

Do you remember that we had another Green Business (GTBS Green Tourism Business Scheme) Inspection in March? The assessor had hinted discreetly that he was pleased but obviously could say no more because he had to make his report which in turn will have had to have been assessed and – finally – approved.

Anyway, we got an email the other day, letting us know that we had reached the Gold Level golden heights. We were very pleased. We had never even thought of that as a possibility because we do not have any of the outward green trappings such as wind turbine or ground source heat pumps, and I think to anyone staying here – if they did not already know about our quiet but serious green commitment – it might not be very obvious at all. Also, there is always the anxiety about inviting comparisons or criticism if one makes too big a fuss about something.

The audit is 36pages long, helpful and encouraging. We are congratulated on a ‘well-desered gold GTBS award’ but warned lest we get too pleased with ourselves that ‘there are areas where tweaks can still be made to improve the business performance’. We will work on those but we will always place the pleasure and comfort of our guests first and do not ever want to do anything that might compromise that. Hopefully we can continue to progress greenly and continue to do all we can to make sure your stay here is the best we can possibly offer you.

‘The Magnificent Charity Walk’

Their description, not mine (and the sheep don’t seem that impressed) although it does feel rather good to have completed a ‘magnificent walk’; we’ll gloss quickly over the fact it was only 7 miles long. Let’s face it, the 67 year old man who did 21 miles in just over five hours, jogging down all the hills, and the hills were steeply steep, is more impressive.

The Friends of the Peak District had organised a great charity walking event last Sunday to raise funds for their work supporting the Peak District, with apparently over 200 adults and children taking part. There were various possibilities other than the 21 mile walk. Daughter Ruthie was up from London and she and I opted to do the seven miles one, John preferring to potter about with his camera and (too heavy for long distance walking) lens hoping to get some good bird shots, which he didn’t.

The images convey some of the beauty, they don’t convey so well the ‘up, up, up’ height one climbs.

Ruth and I were however quite delighted with our choice. We arrived late but that didn’t seem to matter. The scenery was truly magnificent, and so was the weather and we both felt it would be a walk many of our guests would probably love too so I will write it up and put it in the WALKS file in the barns. It is worth saying, the walk would not be pleasant if the weather was very wet or windy.

I should have an OS Map in front of me as I write, but I haven’t so will have to rely on my very unscientific description. The walk we did started from Thornbridge Hall, but could just as conveniently be started from the Hassop Station Bookshop on the Hassop roundabout just north of Bakewell, or for a slightly shorter version beginning/ending near a very popular eatery, the Monsal Head Hotel. Both these options would mean one could very conveniently park nearby.

Part of the walk is on the Monsal Trail before – after going through one of the tunnels and crossing a viaduct – one veers off left to start on a large loop ‘off-piste’ up (and up and up) to Brushfield and High Dale, and then down again to meet the River Wye and the Trail before a final steep climb to the Monsal Head Hotel. They must do a roaring trade with hungry, thirsty wakers celebrating the end of their hike.

Ruthie and I had to resist this particular lure, and that of the Packhorse at Little Longstone which did look very inviting, to meet up with John and various friends and colleagues who had also been walking but had all been back some time (we did start rather late…). Even the relaxed looking 67 year old who’d run 21 miles in 5 hours was back, almost limbering up for the next run…

House Cat Breaks House Rules

We get the most lovely comments from our guests in the Visitors’ Books which occasionally we like to share with you; sometimes there are some very touching personal comments, which we tend not to share just because they are personal. Idly going through Douglas’s Barn’s Guest book the other day I came across a charming paragraph addressed not just to us, but also to Boots, so i have no compunction in sharing that!

The secret was out… Boots knows in theory that she is not allowed in Douglas’s Barn although that is where she used to live when she came up from Devon with my father 12 years ago so she takes little heed of now being banned if cat-loving souls are happy to invite her inside. She is very old by cat standards and has brought a lot of happiness, first of all to my father Douglas, and then after he died, to us. We are sure she thinks that is her role in life (unless you’re a dog or a bird). She is very clean and she does not have fleas, and loves nothing better than to be cosseted and loved.

Hence the very personal message to Boots from Tony who like many others had enjoyed her company when staying here a couple of weeks ago:

“Dear Marion and John +*Boots,
Thank you so much for sharing this most wonderful part of the world and Douglas’s Barn with us…*Boots, we enjoyed your ‘Brrrs’ and purrs when you dropped by in the evenings to curl up on the sofa with us to watch football and DVDs, and to have your saucer of milk – Tony.”

We love meeting all our guests but have yet to adopt Boots’s shamelessly loving approach.

Historic House and Farm Contents Auction in Alstonefield

We had an interesting day on Saturday. Those of you who have walked up to Alstonefield from Dovedale or vice versa for that matter, may well have noticed a very beautiful wreck of a house opposite the church. A Grade 2 listed building dating from the late 16th century it had been in the Harour-Crewe family but had been sold to meet death duties in 1951. For years and years it just slowly grew more dilapidated although it was actually inhabited until the owner died last year and the house is to be sold by auction on Thursday 10th May.

What a wonderful project if only one had about a million pounds or perhaps even two… The house could be stunning – the photos may give you a slight idea. The reserve price is quite low but to restore it would take as much again, and more… Sadly we shall be away on the 10th May but would otherwise loved to have gone to be part of the excitement, with hands firmly in pockets and eyes averted from the auctioneer’s in case there might be a terrible misunderstanding and we ended up the already impoverished new owners.

On Saturday was the auction of the contents of the house and farm machinery, all old – some interestingly old and some just plain old. The outside of the house had been tidied up, new gravel laid, and bits and pieces of farming equipment laid out on the ‘lawn’. In the shed was a motley collection of furniture, and general bits and bobs, in the house, ditto. There were some interesting pieces, and some badly in need of repair were snaffled up by people who obviously would lovingly restore them for their home, or perhaps tart them up and sell them on at a greatly inflated price. Obviously many people knew more than we did, and while some things went for a ridiculously low price, others were bid for eagerly in a way that astounded the ignorant among us. Why should anyone want to spend hundreds on an old jug with all the pouring lip side missing? Then there were two pony traps which went for surprisingly little to the delight of the buyer who looked as if she had been expecting to have to go much higher.

There was a lovely atmosphere and it was all great fun. There were so many people there, farmers, families, traders and lots of local people who had just gone along for the experience. It got cold by the end though so we were very glad to retire to the George for a (delicious) late lunch by the fire!

The RSPB Garden Birdwatch

On January 29th this year we had some very good friends, the Cartwrights, staying with us from Yorkshire. Like so many of us they are very interested in birds and encourage them in their garden; John is very envious of them because one of their ‘garden birds’ happens to be a kingfisher which they frequently spot by the small stream which borders their garden.

Kingfishers aside, we all decided after lunch to set aside an hour, from the comfort of the Orchard Farm kitchen window (it was January after all) counting the birds that came to our garden for the RSPB Annual Garden Birdwatch. Inevitably at first there were no birds at all. Was Boots around, stalking them stealthily? Or perhaps it was an unseen sparrowhawk circling above? For a while we had visions of making a ‘nul points’ return but fortunately our feeders were soon as busy as usual when the usual ones started flocking in; unfortunately we did not keep the list we made. One enters the totals online for the RSPB and therefore we have no record of the final totals but I can confidently say that we had no wonderful surprises to record.

The faithful Orchard Farm feeders are – not necessarily in this order – Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Dunnock, Goldfinches, Nuthatch, Tree Creepers, Blackbirds, Bullfinches, Pigeons, Pheasants. The squirrel tries his hardest to pretend he is a bird and gets up to the most amazing antics to get at the feeders, usually unsuccessfully I am glad to report. He does look horribly glossy and well-fed, though, so maybe he is clever enough now to time his maraudings when we are not watching like hawks at the window.

The first ten for Derbyshire this year were: House Sparrow, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Starling, Woodpigeon, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Robin. Bullfinches come in at no. 20 and overall were only recorded in 8% of the gardens in Derbyshire on January 29th so we certainly buck the trend there as we see them a lot now, to our pleasure, and I know we saw several on the birdwatch day.

The first ten for England were: House Sparrow, Starling, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Collared Dove, Robin. Interestingly, the Bullfinch doesn’t feature in the first 20 in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Next year the survey happens over the weekend of 26 and 27 January 2013 I shall make a point of keeping our personal tally, just for the amusement of seeing how we vary from the average.

The Sky’s the Limit for Douglas’s Barn?

In the past year or so Tom’s Barn has been the focus of all the attention as far as new purchases and improvements go; it is four years older and right from the start has been very popular. In the recent past there has been a new fridge, washing machine and cooker, we have had the stair gate and new oak tables and bedside cabinets all custom made, and most recently carpeting put up the stairs and in the bedroom.

By the time Douglas’s Barn came along, we had learnt a lot and were also by now on our greenward trail so we kitted it out with the best and ‘greenest’ equipment we could afford, which is all still going strong. We did have lots of problems with the boiler and were going to replace that. However, since our friend Steve Ogan from Blakelow Farm recommended the most wonderful man (Phil Jennings if anyone wants a good tip) to provide us with a new one – I hardly dare tempt fate, but after a thorough repair the original boiler has gone well. There has been little reason to replace anything, in spite of Douglas’s Barn, like Tom’s Barn, being full nonstop.

However, we couldn’t help noticing that condensation had started creeping in between the double glazing in the front door, looking horribly – whenever the sun shone – as if it just needed a good clean! Yesterday the glass unit was replaced by local Parwich man, Roger Cundy, and it now looks as good as new (which of course it is).

We also have decided to have wireless access points fitted in each barn. Up until we now we have relied on a router and booster but although the reception in Douglas’s Barn seems fine, from time to time guests in Tom’s Barn have experienced problems. They have always been very understanding and non-complaining but we advertise free (permanent understood) wi-fi and feel strongly that guests should not ever have any problem that we can humanly avoid. It isn’t just wanting the Internet for Facebook and Twitter either, we know that a lot of our guests have to bring their work with them if they come away at all, so they must be able to do access the Internet without a hitch. So that is another developmen,  happening in the next week or so.

The big item I am keeping until last. As from this afternoon, Douglas’s Barn has the full Sky package…! Mike the Sky man who came to set it up was a bit shy about having his photo taken but there he is at the top of the page, working away behind the TV! Both barns have had FreeSat and from time to time we have wondered nervously about providing Sky but the sheer cost instantly put us off. Also, when we asked guests if they missed it/would like it, they always said no. It took us some time to realise that we were not asking the right people, because anyone that desperately felt the need for Sky would not have chosen to come here in the first place!

But recently, thanks to a suggestion by Neil our aerial man, we have been able to apply for an additional ‘multi room’ package for Douglas’s Barn which is next door to the room where our telly (with Sky) is, at a relatively modest monthly rate. We would not be able to do the same in Tom’s Barn for technical/phone line/financial reasons. So that means another choice: log burner or no log burner? Dogs or no dogs? Sky or no Sky? We are pretty sure we know that some wives or partners of sport fanatics will have some interesting discussions before a possible compromise has to be reached on that last point.

Powerless in Parwich

Two weeks ago we were watching our guests slowly attain a deep tan while we all sat in the sunshine, barbecued outside and strolled about in light summer clothing. The flowers bloomed, the grass grew, the birds sang fit to burst. Unfortunately it was all too good to last.

We heard unimpressive rumours about snow but didn’t believe them for a minute until on Wednesday morning we woke to see the world had gone white overnight and snow continued to fall most of the day. Heavy winds blew, trees fell, power lines went down and we experienced a series of temporary power cuts followed by a very permanent one which eventually lasted from about 9.30am until half past midnight.

It was all strangely liberating. You realise how much of our day to day activity depends on electricity, from turning on a light, making a cup of tea to sending an email. Apart from the Aga and our log burner we had no light, heat or telephone and no communication with the outside world apart from, as we did discover eventually, a very old non-digital telephone which meant we were able to phone out for updates about the situation which changed alarmingly each time we rang.

One becomes strangely resourceful. It was fun to see how we could, as it were, beat the system. We could have cheated too, with the shop and pub being open but in the circumstances it felt better keeping warm indoors. I tidied my desk; our guests read, played scrabble, did the crossword and one happily managed a lot of knitting without the sense of guilt she would normally have experienced knitting during the day.

Of course, we felt responsible. We worried most about our guests in Douglas’s Barn, which is all-electric. Fortunately it is very well-insulated and kept warm all day; however, a warm bath or even a cup of coffee became an unattainable luxury. John and I kept them supplied with hot water in a thermos and mugs of soup at lunch time. Our Tom’s Barn guests were much more fortunate: they were able to keep themselves as snug as the proverbial bug with the log burner and could boil up pans of water to make hot drinks. They could have baked potatoes had they wanted to or in fact fried themselves eggs and bacon.

The only trouble was, no one knew how long it was going to last. Come the evening, as darkness began to fall, suddenly it threatened to become less than funny. We checked torch batteries, gathered up dozen of candles and tea light, stoked the log burner and invited our guests in for a candle-lit supper. I meanwhile scuttled about, making a casserole with some lamb steaks we most fortunately had in the fridge and all the lovely Riverford organic vegetables which we most fortunately also had. Some generous measures of red wine to help it along its way and into the by now worryingly cooling Aga the whole thing went!

And what a fun evening we had! The six of us talked and laughed our way through the evening and it was well past midnight before any of us thought of moving. As they said their goodbyes and stepped outside, suddenly the world came alive – all the light came on, fridge and freezer buzzed and whirred and life suddenly and rather disappointingly returned to normal. It hadn’t actually, as it turned out. My computer had been badly affected so i spent the whole of the next day still without access to the internet and with the digital phones still not working. It was 6pm last night before, thanks to Dove Computers in Ashbourne, life truly returned to normal.

For once, I had a very genuine reason for not having written a blog post.

The Scarlet Letter: A Good Read?

In our house we have more paintings and pictures than wall space. We have nothing valuable in money terms but all valuable in what each picture means to us; I could say the same about books. I put some of my favourite books on the bookshelves in the barns for our guests to enjoy and many of them tell us how much they do. We have bookshelves in every room in the house, with books lined two deep and in untidy piles everywhere. And they keep coming in as we buy them, get given them and the Parwich Five book club that four friends and I have belonged to for over 20 years means there has been at least one more new book every month which makes over 240 in all.

There are many joys about our book club. It is small so we all get a voice in; we all read voraciously and we all come at the books from a different angle. One of us is American, I was born and brought up (and educated) in central Africa, two of us had very strict convent type eductions, the youngest is the same age as the oldest’s daughter. We have very lively – fun and interesting – discussions and agree to disagree without hurt or reproach although funnily enough on the whole we seem to be in general agreement; the best discussions are when we don’t!

Usually, we all find that even if a book doesn’t appeal at first, after a certain number of pages (there’s meant to be a magical number) often to one’s surprise one begins to enjoy it and sometime by the end one is completely won over. Our latest read, chosen by American Deb in response to our request for an American classic, was the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. To our shame the rest of us had not read it and knew little about the background whereas to Debbie it was a familiar, well-loved classic, taught in every school and part of everyone’s background. Just as she had struggled with Trollope so well-known and familiar to us, so we all struggled with Hawthorne, and only partly because The Scarlet Letter was a deceptively tiny book with print as minute as a Bible’s so not relaxing to read at the end of a long day.

However, after our discussion and Debbie’s surprised reaction that we had not enjoyed it at all, at least two of us have decided we ought to read it again, trying to get beyond the ponderous style and very depressing 17C Puritanism and think more about the (equally depressing) underlying themes of guilt, remorse and redemption. On a more positive note, Hester Prynne, the heroine, is a very strong and courageous woman, and her daughter Pearl an almost alarmingly free ‘free spirit’ presumably because they had been set apart from society so did not have to obey its conventions. Pearl having been born out of wedlock her mother Hester narrowly escaped being executed for the social crime but instead had to live as an outcast, with a scarlet letter A pinned to her chest to mark her out as an adultress.

Our next book will be a complete change: ‘Call the Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth, which has recently been serialised very successfully on telly.

Another Update as we Launch into April

April 1st has seen the usual spate of clever and amusing April Fool spoofs but this is not one of those!

We have all enjoyed such a wonderful spell of settled warm sunny weather, that would have been remarkable even in mid-summer but was truly amazing for March. Day after day we and our guests had meals outside and we watched our guests get browner and browner; the birds are all in a state of glossy excitement and every day eat their way through expensive packs of nuts and seeds. Nobody would think the dove below to be underfed; in fact they have taken to pretending they are a blue tit or chaffinch and trying unsucessfully to perch on the bird feeders so they can get directly to the nuts rather than having to scrabble for them on the ground. Leaves are unfurling everywhere, the blossom is out on the still leafless damson trees (they are under threat, but that is another story), the Spiraea is out, the Azaleas outside the barns and the Magnolia (Stellata), we have had to water the pots… What bliss – we’re not complaining!

Today has been sunny but distinctly cooler but still no rain. Tomorrow is one of our last Monday change-overs for a while and we are taking advantage of the opportunity to get some quick essential repairs/work done; the sweep is coming, our plumber – with a daunting list of leaking taps and other plumbing chores to deal with and the TV engineer to try to discover why Douglas’s Barn upstairs telly will not work.


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