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Great Gardeners’ Gathering at Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall

With one of my many other hats I am quite (actually VERY) involved with the DRCS (Derwent Rural Counselling Service,) a charity based in Bakewell, that I managed for ten years and am now a trustee of and also a proud member of the very active Friends of DRCS fundraising team. The DRCS was set up over 20 years ago, to provide accessible professional counselling for the local farming and rural communities struggling on their own to cope with often debilitatingly stressful situations affecting their world.

Things have changed a lot since then, but the constant need for funding has not. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Edward Manners of Haddon Hall, one of the patrons of DRCS, we were enormously privileged to be invited to hold a fundraising event there in aid of the service.

Great Gardeners' Panel Conferring at Haddon Hall

Lord Edward is very keen on gardens and gardening, and as last year he commissioned Arne Maynard, Gold Medal winner for the Laurent-Perrier Garden at Cheslea Flower Show 2012 to replant the Fountain Terrace, he was glad to think that our guests could enjoy seeing it this year, as it matures and fills the garden with all shades of pink and purple.

We held our long-awaited Great Gardeners’ Gathering at Haddon last Thursday. We couldn’t call it anything like Gardeners’ Question Time, but that was the format, with the creme de la creme of Derbyshire’s gardeners (and one notable one from Yorkshire) on the panel: Jo Walker from Haddon, Steve Porter the head gardener at Chatsworth, Dr Sue Kohler from the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Robin Allan, now a consultant but who used to be the Head Gardener at Hardwick Hall and last but not least, Jeff Bates, the chairman, who is well known throughout the area as a landscape and garden design expert, lecturer and examiner.

Dinner was served in the Tudor Kitchen

After a delicious dinner, provided by Sue and Chris Cooke of the Haddon Restaurant (what a joy not to had to worry about that side of things!) we settled down to savour every word from the gardening gurus the in the wonderful mediaeval Banqueting Hall, with from time to time the wind whistling mournfully down from the Long Hall. There was nothing mournful about the gardeners as they cheerfully and enthusiastically dealt with all the questions from anxious gardeners, from rampant ‘Rhodies’ to Wilting Wisteria, with many a mottled berry and wizened specimen to examine, discuss and pronounce on.

We could have gone on twice as long, but carriages awaited – we had all to be out by 10 – and reluctantly the evening was called to a close.

In the banqueting hall, listening intently

How much we have made for the DRCS remains to be seen, but whatever the sum it will be gratefully received and will all go to enabling more people to receive counselling who might not otherwise have been able to. And we, the committee and guests had had a wonderfully enjoyable evening helping to raise the money (a real ‘Win win’ situation that we are so often wistfully promised these days).

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2012 for Tom's & Douglas's Barns

You’ll have to excuse the far from excellent iPhone photograph of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence’ we are very proud to receive (taken rather hastily by me and certainly not JF-S in case you were wondering).

As a traveller, like more and more others we rely on TripAdvisor to check out any holiday plans before finally booking, and have been saved in the nick of time from many a disastrous choice. And if we have had a good experience, I am very happy to write a review – although I would hesitate to write a bad one unless the experience was so bad one felt obliged to warn others in time, and probably thanks to TripAdvisor that has never happened yet.

As an accommodation owner, you either love or hate TripAdvisor, and it certainly can be abused. We have at least one good friend, with terrific holiday cottages, who got a dreadful review from someone who had never even stayed but was annoyed because she wasn’t able to book the dates she wanted and thought would be free. Although as the one and only damning review sitting amongst glowing reports it looks suspiciously out of place to any discerning reader, it is still there, rather spoiling the atmosphere.

So far we have been lucky enough to escape any malicious reports from non-visitors, and we hope that if any of our genuine visitors had any queries and complaints they would without hesitation come to us immediately, and we would always do all we could to sort the matter out immediately and satisfactorily. Things can go wrong (Douglas’s Barn boiler – are you listening?) but we always do all we can to get them sorted immediately and we are lucky enough, living in a small and very supportive community, to have local tradesman who will come at a moment’s notice to sort things out for us.

So we were truly delighted to receive this Certificate of Excellence ‘that honours business that consistently earn top ratings from TripAdvsor travellers’ and only given to ‘exceptional performers in TripAdvisor’s global business community’… Forgive the moment of ear-shattering (second hand) trumpet blowing but once in a while it does feel rather nice! However, on sober reflection, it is a two way process. We provide the kind of cottages we hope you and all our guests will enjoy, but it is you, the guests, who make them the happy success that they are. For some lucky reason we seem to have the loveliest, most appreciative people staying, who love their accommodation and love to make the most of the beautiful area surrounding us and all the wonderful local opportunities to enjoy themselves while they are here. No wonder they write good reviews…

Keep Calm and Carry on Eating Cake

Tom's & Douglas's Barns Cherry Bakewell

In spite of the fact we get very few people actually commenting on the blog friends, guests and often complete strangers will email us, or tell me on Facebook or at parties how much they actually enjoy reading our blog. They do say they enjoy John’s photos too which doesn’t surprise me. I really enjoy writing the posts, just wish I had more time to indulge my weakness! It feels just like keeping in touch with friends, and is a wonderful pastime and stress reliever.

Some nice soul emailed this today: I regularly keep up to date with your blogs; they are a joy to read and much more cheerful than the news, national or international.

Potentially much more cheerful than the news or indeed our blogs, tonight I have a newish recipe which i have tried out twice now and which has received the thumbs up from guests, family and friends. It is a variation on the permanent favourite Fake Bakewell. Perhaps we ought to call it a Cherry Fakewell?

I asked John to take a photo, but he wasn’t quite quick enough before most of the last batch had disappeared, hence the rather sparse display on the plate.

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns
Cherry Special Bakewell Tart

If you think of the basic recipe as being for every egg 4 oz of ground rice/ground almonds, sugar and butter you can make the size you want. I always make this in a large Aga baking tray so it is the basic recipe times four. For normal family use one would probably do half, i.e. 2 eggs etc.

Recipe:
1lb good (Stork) soft margarine (or butter if you’re feeling expansive)
I lb sugar
*1/2lb ground rice
*1/2lb ground almonds
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Almond extract
Flaked almonds
Fresh stoned cherries, or one tin of cherries, well drained
Short crust pastry (either a bought block or made with 1lb flour)
About half jar jam (sharpish like raspberry, blackcurrant or homemade plum) For the Cherry Bakewell I used cherry jam and some raspberry, as the latter seems a bit softer and possibly moister.

Method:
Roll out the pastry and line the tin you are using. Spread the jam over, and cherries if using. Ideally put the tin (layered with cherries and jam) into the fridge but I can’t say I always – or actually ever – do!

Melt the butter/marge and sugar in a saucepan on a lowish heat, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar completely dissolves into the melted butter. Add the ground rice/almonds and leaving it on the heat, stir for a minute or two until it is all well mixed and smooth. Take off the heat, and when it is a bit cooler, stir in the beaten eggs and a generous teaspoon and a bit (to size and taste) of almond extract.

Pour the mixture onto the pastry. Sprinkle generously with flaked almonds and pop it into the oven. In the Aga (2-door) I put it on the bottom grid of the top oven with the cold plain sheet over, for about 25-30 minutes+ until it is firm, looks golden and the almonds nicely coloured.

*It is perfectly delicious – and I rather think better – made with just ground rice and no ground almonds at all, but I often do half and half. I’ve never (yet) done it with all ground almonds.

Funny First Impressions

We all love flowers!

I was reminiscing recently about the coronation and how somehow its importance had been signified to a young girl by being given a bottle of CocaCola at school.

Idly playing with my iPad this morning I decided to see what TripAdvisor had to say about a local hostelry in nearby Biggin. (We are very often asked to recommend suitable places to stay near here if we are already booked or even for people who don’t want self-catering at all, believe it or not…).

Having already noticed how easily influenced a “traveller” can be – one had rated this particular speciality lodging 2/5 because her glass of red wine appeared chilled, I was informed at the bottom of the page that the person reading this review (me) had funnily enough also visited a nearby speciality lodging, Tom’s Barn and Douglas’s Barn… So back I popped, to our page, but fortunately for us, our lovely and warmly grateful guests are not so easily put off – and fortunately for us too, of course, we don’t serve wine at all, chilly red or not, so no risk of a problem there.

At a workshop the other day we were all told that apparently it takes everyone – is it three seconds, or five – to gain a lasting impression about other people or a place, which is a seriously scary thought. But facing me now is an even scarier thought: impressions gleaned by some mechanical algorithmic process, in this case a TripAdvisor robot scanning our reviews.

Under the section: What TripAdvisor travellers say about this ‘Speciality Lodging’ it picks out as the main points:
“Fresh flowers” (9)
“Short drive” (4)
“Personal touch” (3)
“Very warm welcome” (3)
“Lovely place” (3)

All lovely observations, if short on detail – and I am quite surprised it hasn’t picked up all the appreciative cake comments which keep cropping up – but that is beside the point. What intrigues me, is the “short drive” which comes second from the top. Is the Orchard Farm drive embarrassingly brief or in fact is this seen as a good thing? Or perhaps it’s only a short drive to Chatsworth? Or from home, be it Lincoln, Taunton, Aberdeen or even Derby (yes, we’ve several guests from as short a drive away as Derby, Chesterfield and Sheffield). I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, but that’s another example of a possibly quite unhelpful if not completely misleading first impression.

Homemade cake or biscuits for you

Still, there’s no use agonising over this. We’ll continue to care for you/all our guests as well as we possibly can, in spite of the short drive. It is such a pleasure to welcome here so many truly nice, interesting, different, fun people. We try hard to make our barns as lovely for you as we possibly can and we can be pretty sure you will love them. The rest we can take no credit for: it’s down to our great good fortune to be in a quiet, friendly village in such a beautiful setting with wonderful walking and in fact only a short drive to so many interesting places.

It’s the Diamond Jubilee!

The Royal Barge, taken from the telly

I should have added the recession as well, but did not want to let that cloud the atmosphere; however, in fact it almost helps us appreciate all the more what we do have to celebrate.

As I post this we are watching the pageant on the river, on the television. What a wonderful sight, and what a fantastic experience for those actually there. The sense of excitement, rejoicing and – dare I say it? – patriotism is a welcome contrast to all the public gloom and doom which daily surrounds us and about which, as individuals, there is little overall that we can do to improve the bigger picture.

Sneaking a little personal confession in here, don’t tell anyone but I remember the coronation, all of 60 years ago!!! I know as a child then, in 1953, if I had heard that someone had even been alive 60 years previously I would have been horror struck at how incredibly ancient they must be, and wonder that anyone so old could still be alive. But 60 years later I don’t actually feel any older inside although perhaps the looks have aged a bit…

My 'Canaletto', taken off the TV

As a (very!) young girl at boarding school in Bulawayo (now Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia) we were filled with the excitement of the coronation itself but also the wonder of such a young woman having to take on such a demanding role, for life.The acknowledgement that it was a major event was further reinforced by an amazing wonder: the nuns at our school (not known for their indulgent attitude to their pupils) provided us each with a bottle of CocaCola at lunch time! We had no television to marvel at, I presume we all listened to the service on the school wireless; to us youngsters, the coke represented the significance of it all.

I do remember a great sense of loyalty and excitement, and protectiveness even – she was such a young woman, she’d been in Africa, our continent, when she had heard of the death of her father the previous year; I remember a lot of excited talk, in the country so many thousand of miles away from Britain, about the ushering in of a new Elizabethan era.

Another image captured off the TV!

Looking back it has been in many ways a troubled era but the queen has weathered it with us and I think we all in this country owe the queen such a lot for what we normally all take for granted: like a parent she is always there, doing her best tirelessly and forever, with no cheerful prospect of retiring to egg her on – just her own sense of duty and commitment. Can you imagine if instead of her we had a president, fighting to get elected, then looking always to be re-elected, worrying about the polls and trying to please the current ‘Murdochs’ and other media and financial influencers? It would not be the same.

Anyway, enough of the ‘politics’ (not that for me it seems like that). Having not quite followed the wise advice of my father-in-law to his son upon going to university to avoid public statements about religion, politics or women we now move firmly onto the firmer ground of Parwich. Parwich is doing the weekend with its usual village style. The best thing I can do is give you this link to the Parwich Blog rather than churn out all the dates and times.

Derbyshire Open Arts weekend

Ruby Hickmott, at work in her studio

Until Monday night when we have the lighting of the flares on Parwich Hill the weekend is a fairly normal one except that it is also the Derbyshire Open Arts weekend.

There will be artists opening their studios all over Derbyshire but this year we only have two open here; however, there will be lots of pictures to look at and we can most sincerely recommend going to both if you are anywhere near Parwich. For more information about opening hours and addresses see this link to our village blog – the fount of all information!

Gill Radcliffe, by one of her own paintings

There are some other local artists who will also have a few pictures hanging in Gill’s studio.

While I have been at the computer, writing, John has actually been out and visited both studios and returned with – no, not a painting this time – the two photos here, just to give you a taster.


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