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Historic Swedish Art in Staffordshire

First, a little teaser: would you want to play with these, build with these or eat them? In fact you shouldn’t really do any of these things, but least of all eat Sue Prince’s paint box!

At the risk of somewhat overdoing a Staffordshire theme, albeit quite unintentionally, last weekend we were back into Staffordshire, although in this case only a few miles from here.Sue Prince, one of those people who fills one with awe because they achieve so much and so successfully, but who turn out to be quite charming and normal when one meets them, had organised an art event at her home, as part of the Staffordshire Open Studios Open Art programme.

It was a pleasure to have an excuse to visit Sue and Terry’s organic Beechenhill Farm, in a beautiful setting right up high above Ilam.

View from Beechenhill Farm

Here they have converted one of their barns into a very striking high ceilinged studio cum art gallery/meeting/party room.

Sue’s art is amazing. Reminiscent of the style of the Bayeux tapestry, the process, inspired by 18th century decorative wall hangings known as Bonads, is based on an ancient Swedish type of painting which no one in Sweden knew how to do any more until Sue started going back to teach them!

Also exhibiting, as well as Sue, were several other artists including Parwich’s very own Jean Wayne, who was demonstrating her very attractive felting ‘creations’. We do have an impressive number of artistic souls in Parwich; that surely is the subject for another post, soon…!

A Christmas Treat Awaits!

There now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of anyone who wants to enjoy a relaxing and peaceful Christmas holiday away from it all.

Our lovely Tom’s Barn, a great favourite with dog lovers and non dog-lovers alike, is still available for Christmas! We find it hard to believe but it is true. Usually by this time, building up to a crescendo right up until Christmas, we are turning away people who have set their hearts – too late – on Christmas in one of our barns…

So you are still in with a chance. For £625 all found, you would have your perfect Christmas setting – complete with little tree and tasteful decorations. (Dogs wishing to celebrate Christmas with their owners will have to pay £25 each for the privilege!).

Whether Christmas will be hot and sunny, grey and wet, or crisp and white, who knows? But what we do know is that once inside the world that is Tom’s Barn, with the log burner blazing, music quietly playing, possibly your dog dozing happily at your feet, mouth-watering smells wafting over from that meal you have knocked up/ordered earlier, you’ll feel so happy and relaxed you won’t even know or care what the weather is doing outside.

That is a totally fulfillable promise: we won’t be singing any ‘We’re sorries!”.

And that is the end of the party political broadcast from Tom’s Barn.

Phew – you can turn the sound back on now… And do click on this link if you happened to want to book or check if it has gone yet.

Sharing Secret and Other Domestic Tips and Delights

A disclaimer, just in case anyone thinks I have suddenly grown my hair, affected an American accent and become a wonder housewife overnight: the heroine of this secret-revealing video is not me!

Having got that clear, here are one or two little snippets which are probably more momentous this side of the fence than yours…

The first ‘secret’, to fulfil several recent requests – and in fact this might be the best one of all – is to give you the link to our Fake Bakewell Tart recipe, which we are asked for so very very often.

Perhaps we ought to have a video of this wonder housewife/cook making the recipe? (I think not, probably!)

And now for an eBay delight, about dinner plates, no less… It can’t have escaped recent Tom’s Barn guests that there were only 5 dinner plates on the rack, six or more of everything else. Ever since the sixth and last of our supply was withdrawn from active service we have tried, absolutely in vain, to ‘source’ as they say these days, some Wedgwood Garden Maze replacements, even going to the Wedgwood factory shop in Stoke. I scoured sites that stock odd plates, and kept checking on eBay, where one could find everything possible from soup tureens to serving platters but neery a dinner plate.

Last night our daughter Ruthie rang to say she had successfully bid for SIX on eBay!! Can you believe it? So that is one problem off the list. The alternative would have to have been replacing everything. (Five Stars – everything in a set must be matching…).

The next ongoing ‘issue’ has been a debilitating and permanent difficulty we have all shared in the Orchard Farm laundry department over folding fitted sheets so they’re fit to grace a Tom’s or Douglas’s Barn bed which for a Five Star listing has to have immaculately laundered bedlinen.

Imagine my delight, then, to discover on Pinterest this YouTube video showing one how simple it really should be.

Source: via Ashley on Pinterest


A Too Rare Trip into Neighbouring Staffordshire

Considering Parwich is almost in Staffordshire, in a manner of speaking, it is amazing how rarely we venture any further afield than crossing the Dove at Dovedale, lunching/dining at the George at Alstonefield and occasional walks up the Manifold valley.

All that was about to change. We have long had it in the diary for today to pay a visit to the Farmers’ Market in Leek, which takes place on the third Saturday of every month.To add to the lure, Nita and Darren of Ringehay Farm, fellow Premier Cottage owners, had suggested we pop in on our way back, to see them at Ringehaye, three miles this side of Leek. Most fortuitously, we discovered later that their farm is very close to the local RSPB Coombes Valley Nature Reserve…

Everything conspired to make it a very happy day. The sun shone, we managed to find a parking spot quite near the market in spite of all the road works and hold ups, and – more than we could possibly have asked for – our very favourite Bill Bailey jazz group was playing in the market square as we arrived. The image is meant to be a video, but isn’t – and I don’t know why.

We sampled and bought homemade breads, scotch eggs (including a black pudding one), local beer, Staffordshire Cheese Co. cheese and Polish cakes (Poles who have settled in Leek). ‘Purchased out’ we then stopped for a coffee sitting outside in the sun while some Morris Dancers danced, and then wandered back to the car getting a feel of what Leek has to offer in the way of shops. The architecture and the history are/must be extremely fascinating but that must be for a google search or perhaps another blog, another day.

There seemed to be the usual national stores like Boots (we saw two branches) but lots also of little ‘Totally Locally’ one-off shops, many looking very attractive. The overall atmosphere seemed cheerful and purposeful, although at the moment somewhat hampered by rather extensive roadworks but once out of the car it doesn’t really matter. And by sheer good luck we managed to get out of Leek extremely quickly.

Our next port of call was the RSPB Coombes Valley Nature Reserve, in a beautiful wooded steep valley setting this side of Leek. We only had time for a quick walk and a couple of chats with two of the very helpful volunteers there but we shall certainly return and feel that many of our guests who are interested in birds and ‘nature’ would enjoy a visit, so we came back armed with pamphlets for our barns.

Then, next stop: Nita and Darren at Ringehay Farm. We were so impressed. Their setting is superb and their stone buildings very attractive: not a pale grey limestone like ours but wonderfully muted shades of grey, pinks and olive greens.

We didn’t take any photos, strangely, but if you look on their website you will see what we mean. They have at least five rather beautiful dogs (see Jess, just one of them, on the left) and two holiday cottages, one sleeping six and one four and although we couldn’t see inside as both were occupied we came away feeling we would love to stay there. We do not always feel that!

We had a good day. if this blog post sounds too cosily enthusiastic, I hasten to assure you it comes from the heart, no money or promises have been exchanged with anyone, not even Jess!

All In a Day

Once again, smitten with guilt (and disappointment because I really love what feels like a personal letter to ‘you’) I try to cover up an embarrassing week’s absence from the blog.

There seems to be a lot going on in all the different sectors of my life, more than I sometimes find easy to squeeze into the day. One way and another we have had a very full time recently, partly work, partly pleasure, the former tending to have to be squeezed in rather late into the evening when all other commitments have ended, which does nothing for the maintenance of youthful looks or joie de vivre of the next day (and so on)…

Tonight half the village, clutching cushions and bottles of wine, hurried to the village Memorial Hall for the eagerly awaited Parwich Cinema’s one-night’s showing of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Like many others we has already seen it, but enjoyed it so much we very much wanted to see it again. As John and I approached the hall we were surprised to see that dozens of people were walking away in the opposite direction. Was there some other excitement to which they scurried? No, it turns out the cinema remote control had gone missing since the last village wedding. The spare was safely locked up in the house of someone on a far-off holiday, so the film could not be shown.

So back we all trudged but at least it means I now have time to return to the blog! So it’s not all bad, and the film will be rearranged for a day when the remote control becomes available…

To think back to last weekend, we went to a very memorable 50th birthday party of a friend in Lichfield, followed by lunch with another friend, owner of the beautiful Bronte, who has just moved into a wonderful new to her but very old timbered house near Repton. We sat in the sun all afternoon, something that has not happened very often this year. There followed then a couple of days of meetings and ‘catch up’ then we had the great pleasure of seeing Lorna, a friend from childhood (our parents were friends and we never have not known each other, if you know what I mean) but who now lives in Gloucestershire so we don’t see her that often.

They came to supper on Wednesday, then yesterday, Lorna, her husband and two friends asked us to join them on a walk up the Dove from Dovedale. Having dropped us at the car park, John and Lorna’s husband were to transport the picnic to Milldale where they would meet us for lunch. This significantly meant I had no back up camera pro at my side and would have to rely on my mobile phone camera.

It was sunny and warm and peaceful, once we had passed the scores of school parties on ‘educational’ trips clutching clipboards with questions they could hardly read. One little group of very young boys who approached us for their ‘survey’ were struggling so hard to read their questions they were relieved to pass them to us to read them out to ourselves before answering!

We stopped to photograph a heron (or was it two? We weren’t sure) on the water, patiently waiting for lunch to swim his way. The Dove is so clear we could see the little minnows that he occasionally snapped up, but we could also see what looked like a trout, over a foot long, skulking in the shadow of the overhanging trees. Either the heron didn’t spot him or we were too impatient, but he suddenly flew off. So when we came across another (?) heron later we weren’t sure if it were one and the same.

In my enthusiasm I over-zoomed my mobile phone camera so all but a couple of photos are hopeless. However, to my fortune and pleasure, who should we bump into but Martin and Sue, who were staying in Douglas’s Barn! What a small world… They very kindly gave me their two photos of the heron so all was not lost!

There followed a lovely picnic in the sunshine at Milldale; having had lots of heron views, but no kingfishers. Maybe next time?

Tom’s Barn ‘Dog Policy’

We are often asked for our `Dog Policy’, and have to admit rather sheepishly that we are a bit anti policies (there’re too many around already) and we are also a bit lazy and do not yet have one as such. But we are also often asked our advice by other holiday cottage owners who are wondering about whether they should accept dogs so this little piece will try to do both.

We have always really loved having dogs and their owners. There is something rather special about most dog owners – we no longer are (dog owners I mean). Mostly they come to enjoy the countryside and walking and the countryside round here is second to none, and the walking quite superb so they are all happy. Also, we have found that top quality cottages that also accept dogs are rarer than is convenient, so we find Tom’s Barn is always in great demand well in advance, when organised dog owners plan their trips. Douglas’s Barn is in as great demand but the bookings tend on the whole to be less dramatically in advance.

When asked whether we’d recommend accepting dogs our answer is always an emphatic ‘Yes!’ in theory but of course it does need to be thought through.

We do stipulate well-behaved. We do stipulate that dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. If asked whether dogs can be left in the cottage unattended we say it’s OK by us if they can fully trust their dog a) not to be unhappy and yelp and whine and b) not do start chewing the furniture in frustrated loneliness!

Other than that we tend to leave it to the owners’ own good sense, as ultimately it is the they that are responsible for any harm that their dog might do to others or to the fixtures and fittings. If the dog owners have any concerns about their dog or about the suitability of our accommodation we stress that it is vital please that they discuss this with us. Anything that might impinge on the peace of mind of the guests in Douglas’s Barn would be a clear no. Similarly, any dog prone to constant barking or chewing furniture would not be welcome, but this would be obvious to most owners.

On the other hand, we will warn the owners that our garden is not secure and that there is nowhere where a dog could be left safely on his own outside. People still come after we have told them all our ‘cons’ when they specifically ask but it does’t seem to put them off; they just know where they are.

We charge £25 per dog, with a normal minimum of two but we have (after prior discussion) agreed to three if they are all tiny and their good behaviour is vouchsafed!

From the cottage owner’s point of view, that £25 is well-earned. Taking dogs does make more work, much more work and more wear and tear. Dogs do usually leave a hairy mess behind them that can take at least three complete hooverings to remove; they can come in somewhat damp (even after a good towelling outside) and damp dogs can leave a doggy smell that has to be completely eradicated. The old bedspreads and sheets we leave so that guests can cover the furniture if necessary all have to be washed.

One has to be neurotic that no incoming guest should smell dog, or see a single dog hair. Non dog-owning people tend to be on the look out for any evidence of a dog’s presence; Janet who does Tom’s Barn now always asks one of us to do the ‘sniff test’ check generally. A fresh set of eyes (and a fresh nose in the case of dogs) is invaluable.

We are lucky to have a council operated dog poo bin 50 yards away but we warn that there would need to be an easy way for owners to cope otherwise you might nasty surprises might be left on lawns or lurking in your rubbish bins!!!

Ideally owners that take dogs provide washing down facilities but ours unfortunately are fairly rudimentary. Careful owners won’t let their dogs in until they have ensured they are clean.

We don’t provide bedding. After a suggestion from a guest, we do now provide a spare bowl, lead etc, just in case anyone has forgotten theirs, which can happen.

Putting it all down like this makes it look scary, but it hasn’t been at all for us and we have had hardly any problems. I suppose one must acknowledge that you may also find you risk putting off a minority who may have chosen you just because you do not take dogs but you’ll never know about that, unless they tell you. We had one couple recently who booked the dog cottage, Tom’s Barn, rather than our dogless Douglas, simply to avoid the risk of the other guests having a dog…!

For any holiday cottage owner who has lots of other cottages and guests fairly nearby it is a little more complicated. Is there one of them where dogs and their garden would be hidden from general view? And also possibly where owners can park their car nearby as we have noticed that some dogs like to sleep in the back of the car sometimes.

I hope this gives you the basis of a dog policy plus some tips for other holiday cottage owners. I am a great believer in anticipating problems so that one can prevent them ever happening, so it may all sound rather problematic. We have never regretted for a moment taking dogs and find we have so many really lovely people coming back and back, who would not dream of holidaying without their dog, especially if they are coming for a country, walking type holiday.


This post leads on really from a great idea we saw and shared on our Facebook page (look for a post actually headed ‘Great idea!’ with a pic of a red telephone kiosk stuffed with books) for a book exchange that apparently some villages are setting up in their now redundant telephone kiosks.

We do keep both our barns well stocked with books as all guests will know. We keep adding to them – one way of reducing book overload in our house; the vital difference to this book exchange in a telephone kiosk idea is that many of our books are personal favourites so we don’t want to lose them. Anyone is welcome to take a book home to finish but we do appreciate them being returned.

It gives us enormous pleasure to know how much pleasure these books give to so many of our guests and we have had many a discussion outside or over the occasional glass of wine at the kitchen table and sometimes carried on in Facebook! I am very grateful to one of our guests who recommended the DoveGreyReader, to quote ‘a Devonshire based bookaholic, sock-knitting quilter who is a community nurse in her spare time’. I do recommend her blog: she writes so knowledgeably and well – just how she manages to fit in all she does every day beats me.

I belong to a small informal group of friends that meet once a month in each other’s homes to discuss a book we have all read the previous month, chosen by each of us in turn. It is a great way of reading books one might never otherwise have chosen or even come across and we all appreciate the discipline of ‘having’ to read a book that at first glance we would have instantly rejected. ‘You can’t tell a book by its cover’ is very true! I have hardly ever not enjoyed a book by the time i have finished it -I can think of two, over 20 years! But funnily enough, our best discussions are always when opinions vary and someone has really not enjoyed a book, or aspects of it, as much as others have.

We have a very varied reading list, including a graphic novel, poetry, classics and the latest ‘short listed best sellers’ (aren’t they all?). Occasionally we have decided on certain themes such as nothing newer than 50 years ago, and the Christmas choice is always a difficult one. We invite the spouses along to this, on the understanding that they must have read the book in return for a slap up meal which the five of us all produce. We find some of the men somewhat reluctant to branch out of their comfort zone, whether this be histories, action, biographies or advanced engineering manuals so we always hope to find something reasonably interesting to at least the majority – not easy.

After an unsuccessful choice we do find one or two instances of wise noddings, and ‘I agree’s which strangely are not often backed up by any original comments, amd that’s not just the men. Last Christmas we read ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ by Peter Carey which should have catered for most needs but several of us had found it hard to appreciate. I think perhaps I should read it again. The year before, ‘Blood River’ by Tim Butcher was enjoyed by all, helped perhaps by the fact several of us know Tim! Much earlier on, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbon provoked some interesting discussions/disagreements.

Recently we have found ourselves really loving the early 1900s era, including Nancy Mitford, Vita Sackville-West, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Elizabeth von Armin to name but a few. Over the years, perhaps ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt stands out as a favourite, and Madame Bovary.

The current read is ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel.


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