Romantic cottages for two in the Peak District

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Do Real People Ever Actually Win a Competition?

Premier Cottages competition winners choose Douglas's Barn

Premier Cottages Stylist Competition Winners

One never expects to win, and many of us may have wondered cynically whether a real person ever does. Does ‘ecstatic Mr B from John O’Groats’ really exist, or ‘Pensioner Mrs J from Land’s End’? Or have they been dreamt up by someone in some PR department?

Well, we can tell you ‘Competition-winner Sal C from Birmingham’ is no figment of the imagination of any (non-existent in our case) PR department. She really does exist. She and Andrew have just spent the weekend here with us in Douglas’s Barn.

To prove it here is a hurried photo taken by John when they came to say goodbye! We persuaded them back to Douglas’s Barn where they very good-naturedly sat on the sofa, still in their outdoor clothes poor things, as they were all set to leave.

Even Sal had not been too hopeful of any chance of success; after she had left we found this delightful and totally unsolicited entry in the visitors’ book:

“Last winter, I was sat on a delayed commuter train and saw a competition to win a weekend break in ‘Jane Eyre country’, in Stylist magazine. Having forgotten I had even entered I was very surprised when I received an email to say I’d won! I had four Premier Cottages to choose from and quickly chose Douglas’s Barn and am very glad I did! We’ve had a lovely relaxing and peaceful weekend in Douglas’s Barn. The barn is equipped with everything you could ever need! Thank you for a lovely stay!”

So, top marks to Premier Cottages, with their ‘unparalleled track record for excellence’! It looks as if we have all ended up winners: Sal and Andrew having had by all accounts a wonderful weekend, we having had some charming and grateful guests and Premier Cottages for once again providing unbeatable quality for their guests and owners.

Certificat d’Excellence pour Tom’s Barn et Douglas’s Barn

Tom's and Douglas's Barns: TripAdvisor 2012 Winner

2012 TripAdvisor Winner!

I know we’ve been dashing thither and thither recently, but I bet you didn’t know that Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns has been on the move too: we appear to have been transported to France…

A few days ago we received this rather handsome table plaque from TripAdvisor, accompanied by a warm letter of congratulations, in French. The plaque, rather conveniently has an English translation on the reverse, but no such political correctness for the (French) letter.

2012 Winner: Letter of Congratulations from TripAdvisor

Letter of Congratulations from TripAdvisor

I mock, but not seriously. Whether in English or French, we are delighted that, thanks to those of our guests who have taken the trouble to write a review, TripAdvisor has seen fit to award this acknowledgement. We have said before, but we feel so lucky to have such lovely guests who seem to be so happy with everything, even when the weather is bad. We often hear dread tales of ‘the guests from hell’, but we are lucky enough to feel with nearly all of ours that we would be grateful to count them as friends.

A Peak District view nearby

With Peak District views like this…

It’s not all sweetness and light. We do have problems from time to time – flooding boilers, power cuts, deep snow, a fridge going on the blink on Christmas Eve… Fortunately – thanks to our great band of loyal and kindly local’tradesman’ and the fact that we live next door and can usually come to the rescue somehow (and that our guests tend to be very understanding and sympathetic) the problems are usually quickly resolved or turn into the opportunity for a party, such as when we have the odd power cut and entertain by candlelight.

Beautiful Bailey, staying in dog-friendly Tom's Barn

And beautiful dogs like Bailey…

And such as also once when our really lovely guests from Edinburgh couldn’t leave because their little car was knee deep in snow but the incoming guests insisted stoutly that absolutely nothing would prevent them from getting here.

We end with two photos that seem to sum up what it’s all about, and neither any credit to us. We are simply fortunate to live in such a lovely area as the Peak District and we can bask in its reflected glory. The views, the walks – with or without dogs, the soothing peace and quiet of our little corner: we appreciate them as much as anybody and it is a privilege to be able to share them with our guests and revel in their enjoyment.

Why on earth ask us about holiday cottages?

Tom's and Douglas's Barns in 1983

A disclaimer: Presuming to write this does sound horribly big-headed, but we have been asked for advice about holiday cottages over the years by a number of friends, colleagues and relations and we have just had another urgent plea from a family friend, so John and I have tried to put our thoughts together, hopefully helpfully.

It’s funny the way things go – one spends ages feeling a complete novice and long before feeling at all confident – if indeed one ever does – suddenly people start asking for advice. This massive status leap takes some getting used to.

The fact is that we have now been going for well over a decade. Tom’s Barn’s transformation from dilapidated cow shed’ to des. hol. res’ took place in 2000; Douglas’s Barn, the newbie on the block, only saw the light of day in 2006.

Tom's and Douglas's Barns now

Over the years we have learnt a lot, and still are learning, all the time, but are very happy to share what we have learnt with anyone interested, and also to pick other people’s brains too. One could never claim to have all the answers.

We take it very seriously, absolutely love it and live it. We don’t think of it as a business as such but nor is it a little hobby on the side. It more feels like a happy extension of what John and I have been involved in all our adult lives (and my parents before that in their career abroad) – looking after people and doing all one can to ensure they are comfortable and happy! So, here goes…

1: First do your research!

Assuming you have a property in mind (if not, look for somewhere in an attractive area, reasonably near you or someone extremely responsible) our first advice to anyone thinking of launching out, is to do your homework with an eye on the local market and of course, the available budget. Ask around – is there a gap in the local provision or might you be overloading it? What seems to go well locally? Will you easily be able to find essential local suppliers and domestic help?

I’d recommend at this stage sending for holiday cottage brochures and looking at websites to help get a feel for what’s around and what you’re aspiring to. Look at local holiday cottage websites and talk to local owners; think of your local colleagues as friends and not competitors. it can be a lonely business if you’re all on your own and you’ll find sharing information and support with them is invaluable.

Also, it might be worth getting in touch with your official local tourism people who might have some very useful information about the local situation, and also, just possibly, where you might get local professional advice or even financial help if you are tackling an ‘interesting’ building. Locally there is an e-Business club which provides wonderful training workshops for people setting up new businesses (no longer free sadly, but still modestly priced). It would be worth finding out if there is anything similar in your area.

At this stage possibly start thinking about good local builders, sympathetic to what you are trying to achieve, and architects if appropriate. Depending on what you are hoping to do, and to what, you may have to get planning permission from your local District Council for change of use or whatever is deemed necessary – it’s best to be safe if you’re in any doubt! In our case, the Peak Park authorities have a big say in any project and it is very wise to work with them from the start.

2. Decisions

Visit England Quality grading 'bible'

Bearing in mind what clues you’ve picked up about the potential demand local support, think hard about the kind of holiday cottage you would like to have – cheap and cheerful or more expensive and select, for families with children or cosy twosomes, for big parties and group celebrations or perhaps as part of a creative centre running classes and demonstrations…?

We would always advise going for the highest standard you possibly can, whatever you category you plump for. Ask the Visit England Quality in Tourism people for their booklet explaining their grading system, with guidelines for the relevant star grading, 5 being the top. This way you will get a clear idea of what needs to be done to achieve – without too many tears and tantrums – the standard you would like.

Orchard Farm as we bought it in 1983

By this time you should be ready to start making some concrete plans… Stage two in a few days!

I couldn’t rest putting in this pic of Orchard Farm as it was. It’s not really relevant at all, but it is in so much as it gives an indication that we have a track record of sorts!

Madam, you have a knife in your handbag

… The Swallows and I, we flew to South Africa leaving one husband/ swallow photographer behind…

The swallows will fly over western France to South Africa, at an average speed according to the RSPB of 35 mph, in search of warmer weather and juicier insects. No security checks, iris recognition checks, ‘six clear pages in the passport’ worries for them.

I too have flown to South Africa, but rather faster at about 500 mph, to see my sister again who is recovering slowly in hospital; juicy insects were something I did my best to avoid (nearly successfully).

The weather was not particularly good apart from a couple off beautiful sunny mornings but with most of the time spent in an air conditioned hospital the weather was not a priority. However I must admit that on Saturday I did enjoy a super breakfast in the sunshine on the Durban beach front with a friend of my sister which felt refreshingly if briefly holiday-like.

Not so the question mark, the permanent blot perhaps, on my security status. “Did you pack your bags yourself?” “Could anyone have tampered with your luggage?” I answered confidently. “Could you please step this way, madam?” Off I stepped, puzzled.

The security man lowered his voice, “We have identified a knife in your bag.” I expressed horrified disbelief and then remembered my darling husband had packed one of his special picnics for me to eat in the train to London. He is well known for his delicious picnics, always with a surprise or two, never dull.

I had eaten most of it in the train but not the last few foil-wrapped things which I had imagined enjoying at Heathrow. The explanation was obvious. My hand flew to my mouth as I realised the significance of my confiding to the official about the picnic with unknown surprises packed into my bag for me by my husband…

Sure enough: there was a table knife, and a small foiled wrapped avocado (grenade?). He tested the blade for sharpness. It was fortunately blunt. He tested it for length. It was longer than is acceptable. So the knife was confiscated, and the avo/grenade, and my bag and its contents taken away for specialist checks. Fortunately no explosives were identified; it was soon returned and I was allowed to move on.

I did feel very foolish. Locking back on it, it was very reassuring that the knife was spotted, and how the situation was dealt with. The young security man was charming – courteous and polite throughout – he probably thought I was some poor old soul who shouldn’t be allowed out on my own but he couldn’t have dealt with the situation more pleasantly.

And now I am back again, hopefully with my security status unblemished. It is good to be back; it always is however much one has enjoyed being away and I have loved being with my sister and seeing my brother-in-law and some old friends.

It is good to be back. Everything seems to have run seamlessly in my absence, John, Janet and co proving me reassuringly dispensable. The air is sweet and everything always seems so peaceful, particularly after the hustle and bustle of air travel and airports these days. (Dubai airport at 3am was crowded with thousands of travellers rushing to their flight, eating exotic meals in the numerous restaurants or shopping in the amazingly glitzy shops… What meal is it, at 3 in the morning?)

Whatever it is, I shall do a personal security check on my next JFS picnic.

Interior Design Dilemmas

People often very kindly compliment us on the colour and furnishing and fittings in both barns, and it is easy to thank them graciously, brushing it off with a, ‘Well we had a lot of fun choosing everything”. Which is true up to a point, and mainly in retrospect. At the time one agonises.

And we have been agonising again – this time over quilt covers. We had been thinking, Janet, John, Carol and I that Tom’s Barn bedlinen was about due for a revamp, and when I was in London recently I found myself with a few hours to kill, in the Bedding section of John Lewis, in Oxford Street.

Whether it was my state of mind or the current fashion in bedding, but – well, for a start the most lovely ones were hundreds of pounds – designer designs – so out of the question. The next stage down, in standing if not in quality, everything seemed charmingly, if subtly, tasteful with very muted patterns and colours; ever practical I couldn’t help but suspect that very soon subtle might turn into faded and over-washed and just plain dull.

I did actually buy a very pretty plain – no subtlety here – duck egg blue set, in a lovely cotton; having previously bought a rather fun Emma Bridgewater (yes, I too thought she was just china and tea-towels) duvet cover with swallows, which as you can imagine met with John’s approval. While I was in J. Lewis I found a lovely dark blue sheet and pillow cases to go with it – so far so very restrained and good.

Common sense began to fade; I found I kept returning to the most vivid (lurid?) and exciting quilt cover, only to retreat once again as common sense briefly rallied. Time began running short and in desperation I blurted to the assistant, ‘Yes, I’ll have that rather vivid one after all’ and the die was cast. Back home, doubts returned twofold but I knew that if all was lost, John and I could keep the offending duvet cover for ourselves. Before launching it at our hapless guests I decided the only solution was to ask Facebook friends – this was surely consulting the market place.

The cover was displayed on our Tom’s Barn and Douglas’s Barn page and my doubts revealed. Responses were varied but tended towards the positive so it will be on the Tom’s Barn bed next Friday… Watch this space!


LATEST NEWS

  • What a great place to spend Christmas!

    There is still time to book a last minute Christmas get away in Douglas’s Barn. The weather may be cold but the barn is very warm and cosy. Why not treat yourselves to a get away from it all break. You can order all your supplies from one of the supermarkets, get it delivered and […]

  • Time for a short pre Christmas break

    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 […]

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