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We Say a Fond Farewell to Boots

Boots lowish resIMG_9845

Boots, who died today 18 Jan 2013

I know in the scheme of things the death of a cat is not very important, but as any pet lover will know, it is very big for the pet’s owners. Today we took Boots, our much-loved-by-many cat, to the vet, and he very kindly and very gently, put her to sleep. She sat there is in her basket, trusting to the end, purring as we stroked her. The vet first gave her a sedative and she soon lay down, sleepily; then he gave her the crucial injection and within a minute or two she was still.

One feels like a murderer, because in herself she was still quite perky (thanks to good attention from the vet). However, she was yowling a lot and seemed to be becoming rather disorientated. Apart from being distressing to us and no doubt to her – but who knows what goes on in a cat’s mind – the vet warned us that as she became more confused she would run the risk of coming to an unpleasant end, either going off and getting lost or allowing herself to be mauled by a dog, or run over by a car.

So we made the difficult decision and at least she did have a very ‘happy’ end. This she completely deserved, as she had given so much happiness to us and to the many she came into contact with over a long number of years in cat terms, and at the very least 16 in ours. She moved up to Derbyshire from Devon with my father in October 1999 when she was already several years old. Ever since Tom’s Barn began in 2000 she has been on the scene, and the arrival of Douglas’s Barn was bliss to her – firstly because this was her true ‘home’ where she had lived with my father until his death in 2004 and secondly because so many lovely Douglas’s Barn guests spoilt her wonderfully. Life with us next door was never so rewarding!

As one of our ‘children’ sums it up. ‘Poor darling Boots, we’ll all miss her such a lot. She brought a lot of joy for a little thing in her time didn’t she?’

Valentine’s Day? Sorry, you’re too late

Your 2013 Lunch for two Gift Voucher

The St. Valentine’s short break/week has been booked in both barns, with no enticement needed, not surprisingly. But fear not! We’re just as keen on mothers as lovers (can and should be one and the same for heaven’s sake). We may have something just as romantic to offer you, for the Mother’s Day (we prefer ‘Mothering Sunday’ which is less commercial) week/weekend.

For £385, the same price as all other March weekends, we have provided an enticing extra for one couple, the first to book the weekend (or week) beginning Friday March 8th. We have bought and have waiting here in our study, a voucher for a 2013 lunch for two at Fischer’s, Baslow Hall, on Saturday 9th March. Fischer’s is the only Michelin starred restaurant in Derbyshire and a meal here is an experience you won’t easily forget: it’s not just the food, which is delicious, it is the service and atmosphere and all that goes with it. Their 2013 Lunch (two course meal) is something else. We know, we’ve done it and loved every moment and every mouthful. If you want a third course, or wine, that is up to you but neither is essential…

Fischer’s, Baslow Hall

And for those who are fighting shy of the mothering part, actually, the day (10th March this year) just marks half way through Lent. Nowadays, if anyone bothers at all, Lent is an occasion for giving up a luxury (or a ‘sin’) but originally it marked a very lean period of the year when there wasn’t much food anyway and Lent marked a 40 day period of seriously ‘doing without’, serious fasting but not total as in Ramadan. Half way through, servant girls were allowed to take a cake – a Simnel cake – home to their mothers. I think this was the only time in the year they were given a day off, so you can see what a special day it was. Traditionally also, Mothering Sunday, midway through Lent, was the day when one could temporarily relax one’s vows.

At school – a few years ago, in a rather high church boarding school run by anglican nuns in what is now Zimbabwe, we slightly lost sight of the principle of giving up (sweets in our case). We simply collected our entire ration each week and ate the lot in one almighty binge on Mothering Sunday! Our nuns were disapproving of such gluttony but seemed powerless to do much about it.

We’re not talking about binging or gluttony now, but about serious enjoyment of delicious food, cooked beautifully and served graciously. To enjoy this as a Mothering Sunday gift from us you need to have booked either barn, either for the weekend Friday 8- Monday 11 March or the week, Friday 8 to Friday 15 March. We have only bought one voucher for two so it really is first come first served.

… And Now Let’s Talk about You!

Where do our guests hail from?

We talk and write endlessly about our cottages, we ooh and ah over photos of dogs and birds and snow and rather a lot recently about dear old Boots (who’s plodding along nicely for the moment, thank you). I suddenly thought that it’s about time we turn to by far the most vital subject of all, people.

For people like John and me who have worked and loved being with people all our lives we couldn’t be doing something we enjoyed more than the life we lead now. What could be better than welcoming guests here, who have chosen to stay, came with eager anticipation and are loving every moment.

And we have met some such interesting people who have enriched our own lives, for which we are very gratefully aware. We do our best not to intrude, and as you who have stayed here will know, we take our cue from you. If you like to chat and pass the time of day, we like to too! Discretion is the word and we’d never pass on anything personal so if you were hoping for juicy stories I should stop reading now.

This will instead be facts and figures about you/our guests rather than ‘Hello’ type anecdotes so, more boringly, I will try to think of the main questions we so often get asked…

Where do your guests come from? We’re often asked that. The answer is: from all over the United Kingdom, with the majority from England. For some reason – probably because we don’t market ourselves there effectively – we have very few guests from the continent; we have had some lovely guests, but not in significant number, from Australia, Tasmania, Malta, Dubai… This map shows where our guests came from last year. The greens are meant but fail to vary in colour to signify the percentages, the darker meaning the greater number. The picture varies from year to year and most years we have more visitors from both Scotland and Cornwall.

What we are noticing quite strikingly is the increase in very local guests who appreciate the convenience and economy of keeping travel costs and time at the minimum whilst finding here a complete contrast from their corner of Sheffield, Nottingham, Chesterfield or Derby. This is especially helpful for those who may have left their youngish children with grandparents, or indeed be concerned not to be too far from their own elderly parents.

However, we always seem to have a lot of guests from East Anglia and the South East and most of all from London/greater London. These guests are almost always amazed at how quickly they can get here – maybe it’s that north of Watford anxiety, amazingly dispelled… However, anyone using the M1 or M40 can have a problem if there are hold ups so we can’t promise as some do assure us that you’ll invariably get up in 21/2 hours!

How do people know about you? Personal recommendations, returning guests and then it is the internet, these days: Google searches, Alastair Sawday, TripAdvisor, Premier Cottages… unless, occasionally we are lucky enough to be picked out by a journalist and that has a great influence. We are still being contacted by people who read about us in the Guardian five years ago!

What kind of person comes to stay at Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns? Well, not anyone that wants the bright lights, that’s for sure. It’s anyone/everyone else who seeks the very opposite, no matter what age or stage in life they’re at, anyone who wants to stay somewhere restful and relaxing that feels right for them.

Many either love the Peak District or have never been here and are anxious to try somewhere new. Most like to walk, dog owners appreciate Tom’s Barn where they and their dogs feel completely at home. Finally, some of our guests come for a specific reason, to meet up with friends, attend events like the Chatsworth Horse Trials in May or Buxton Festival in July. And lots of you just like coming back to somewhere that feels like a second home. One lovely couple stayed three time last year!

And soon we have a couple returning to celebrate their Silver Wedding: their present to each other is to revisit all the places where they have been particularly happy during their first 25 years of marriage. That maybe says it all.

Ski in Ski Out Douglas’s Barn?

Last possible chance for a January treat for all you snow lovers out there – this coming weekend Friday 25 to Monday 28 in Douglas’s Barn £275. Having just spent midnight hours toiling over our accounts for our tax return I can reiterate that it would be cheaper for us to have it empty than do it for less.

We can guarantee a warm welcome and great comfort and peace; we can’t guarantee that you’d get up the Black Run to Orchard Farm unless you have a 4×4 but we will help you cart your stuff up and it is all part of the fun and adventure of what would be a weekend not to forget.

Actually, to add a word of sobering common sense conditions are forecast improve (it depends on your point of view) by Friday…

I’ll attach some snowy outdoor pics (just wish I’s done 15 to make it neat!). Inside Douglas’s Barn you won’t know/won’t mind what the conditions are like outside.

Self-Catering Web Awards

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barns at Orchard Farm

No! We didn’t even make the short list, sorry! Obviously not everyone can win and we will try and learn from those that did. I must admit I thought the overall winners’ website – Mortons of Pitmilly – is super! I also particularly liked the Welsh winners’ website, East Jordeston Cottages. They’re both very clear and informative and make you want to visit them.

There were 327 entrants apparently, competing in three different categories: agency, owner operated, self-catering portal; also four regional winners from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, and one overall winner. The scoring criteria was content, navigation, design and functionality.

I think the idea was generated by SuperControl who provide an online booking service for a growing number of self-caterers (including us since 2009); however they were not involved in the judging process. It comes from the assumption (clear intention, no doubt as in SuperControl’s case) that more and more self-caterers will incorporate online booking.

Apparently according to a Mintel report (no source provided!) 7/10 holidays were booked online last year.To digress for a moment, I can’t help feeling that this is slightly misleading. If one is booking a package holiday, or a special offer bargain short break where the emphasis is on speed, on bagging the bargain offer… ‘Book now!” “Offer closes at midnight!!” – the priority is on speed; you know what you want, or you don’t really care as long as there’s sun, a bed and a beach or to spend as little as possible. However, when you’re looking for holiday accommodation of a superior quality it’s not about speed, but about careful choice. You may mull for weeks over the perfect spot for your family get-together, that perfect romantic cottage for two. We have many honeymoon couples who don’t take their choice of venue lightly.

We certainly have had more online than ‘admin’ bookings over the last three years, but not significantly so. Herein may lie the weakness of my argument and maybe why we didn’t even make the short list!

Is it because our website is not clear, because the design is faulty or unattractive, or difficult to navigate? We’d appreciate some honest responses, if anyone is kind enough!

However, a surprising number of guests do like to have a chat first, just for reassurance. They may go on and book online as had been their intention, but often will ask us to do it for them while we’re chatting. It’s all about building a two-way trustful relationship.

To return to the competition, it is disappointing not even to make the short list and even more disappointing that we will never know why as I think it is only the short-listed entries that get feedback. I have had a quick look at the winners‘ websites and will try to see what we could learn from them. One thing strikes me, is that they are quite all big outfits, not small and more personal ones like ours whose needs may be slightly different.

Our website is constantly evolving as John, Jeremy Brough our web designer, and I try to think how we can improve its usefulness and fun all the time. But one thing remains constant: our website is for you our guests. It is a unique online relationship with you, just as we feel we have with you when you stay here ‘on the ground’! It’s for us, not necessarily to win competitions!

A Facelift for Orchard Farm

What a transformation! And all in the day although no doubt things will quickly start to settle down and soon look a little less pristine. However tempted, I can’t imagine John and I will be out every morning with brooms, rakes and hoses but we have been wondering whether we should manhandle the old garden roller back out of retirement.

We have been waiting ages for this day, but it was worth the wait! Shaun, our hardworking and talented builder who can turn his hand to most things spent all day, working solidly, by hand and with his digger and wacker. What a star! We worried about our guests being disturbed but actually the whole procedure was relatively quiet, and fortunately the chippings were delivered yesterday, mid-afternoon. That was noisy, for a brief while.

We have felt embarrassed at the state of the courtyard and drive for some time, but it is only now that we realise quite just how bad it had become and feel even more shame-faced. John took a batch of photos which I thought would load in chronological order but no! The mass upload has come out in totally random order so we’ll have to leave you to puzzle out the start to finish order!

Last Minute Availability Offer

…How quickly can you move for a treat?
There’s been a lot going on recently, churning out marmalade, buying lots of new bits and bobs – radio/CD player/iPod dock in Tom’s Barn, electric handmixer in Douglas’s barns, the 2013 guides Good Food, Good Pubs, Good Beers, for both cottages, new ironing board in Tom’s Barn and so on, not to mention the tax return which keeps getting shelved until the last minute, as each year…

‘Orchard Farm Marm’ made with Riverford organic Seville Oranges

Also, at last, having waited for genuinely ages, we are having the ‘yard’ redone. A huge (but is it huge enough?) mound of chippings was delivered today; Shaun our builder starts work tomorrow.

So you can sort of understand that we have been a bit slow to realise, and even slower to act upon, the fact that Tom’s Barn has a midweek gap on Monday, and Douglas’s Barn a ten day gap on the 18th. We hate to see them empty, when for so much of the year we are turning away disappointed souls all the time.

We have decided that, for the available gaps in January, we will offer any available short breaks at £275 (plus of course £25 per dog in Tom’s Barn). It would be cheaper for us to have them empty than do it for less. Any available weeks we’ll offer for £415.

Over to you, wherever you are! Book online or give us a ring on 01335 390519

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt: a clever title and a clever cover. I’m not quite sure how clever – rather than simply entertaining – the book itself is and after our annual husbands-invited Christmas book club evening I feel none the wiser.

Truth be told, I started off at a disadvantage. Everyone else present had heard of the book which had apparently been talked of exclusively in the literary press throughout 2011, and was short-kisted for the Man Booker prize! Where was I when all this was going on?

Last Saturday night over a quite delicious meal and a taxi ordered for the six Parwich folk so no worries about sticking to soda water we discovered that everybody had enjoyed it, which is quite a triumph when twelve people of assorted reading tastes get together to discuss a book. We have had some disasters in the past, which actually makes for far livelier – if uncomfortable – discussions than when we are all basically in agreement as we were on Saturday.

The Sisters Brothers is essentially a cowboy story: Charlie and Eli Sisters are paid assassins and the fear of the west, at the time of the California Gold Rush in the 1850s. Charlie, the elder, is a damaged soul who shows no reluctance to kill to order, even for the flimsiest of reasons. Eli, the younger, is a much gentler and more likeable soul who begins to question what they are doing and harbours dreams of setting up a clothes store! However, he worships his older brother and continues to follow in his shadow until eventually Charlie rather significantly loses his right hand – his shooting hand – after they try to search for gold using a patent but lethal ‘mixture’ which highlights the gold but corrodes animal or human flesh at the same time.

The story unfolds as a series of adventures, told in little bite-sized chunks (ideal for reading late at night when the concentration is going). Gradually the roles of the two brothers are reversed as Eli, the gentle, self-analytical one who is frightened of spiders (and witches) and worries about his horse grows up, becoming more self-confident and the binge drinking and shallow cruelty of Charlie – and the loss of his right hand – takes him down to second place. So, not your usual cowboy story by any means and in fact it slowly emerges as more an anti-cowboy, anti-hero story about failed dreams, the relationship of two brothers and the destructive power of greed.

So, an intriguing, most unusual and thoroughly readable tongue-in-cheek cowboy story, described very aptly by one reviewer as ‘a quirky and stylish revisionist western’ – ‘so good, so funny and so sad’.

How Long is a Piece of (Luxury Holiday Accommodation) String?

It’s that funny time of year. Christmas and New Year have come and gone and we are all still here in spite of seriously gloomy Mayan prognostications.

So what to do? How do we keep up the sense of excitement and euphoria? To avoid inertia we’ve got to have a purpose, we’ve got to see a way ahead… Everywhere you turn there are predictions and announcements about the year ahead, what will and won’t happen, what will be the latest fashion and what will not, who will be in and who out.

The travel industry is as keen as any to enthuse potential customers into future activity. I read somewhere that Thomson’s Holidays is braced for a massive number of bookings and enquiries on Sunday (Jan 6th) which is apparently THE key day for forward planning in the post-Christmas spell of apparent gloom. So, the message they want you to hear is, if you want to book a Thomson’s holiday, get in quick! It will be amusing to see what happens to our bookings. (We’ll let you know…)

TripAdvisor recently commissioned a review of 5,600 people, and announced with a roll of drums which echoed round Facebook and travel blogs, that 25% of those questioned intended to spend more on their holidays this year. No one seemed to have read further on to see that in fact far more – 42% – intended to spend the same and indeed nearly one third intended to reduce their expenditure.

But even though this seems less optimistic figures like these are meaningless. If last year you went on a round the world cruise, you surely would expect to be spending less this year unless you were going to repeat the exercise, but you might still be spending a lot of money by ‘normal’ standards. Or someone else might be pushing the boat out by by spending two nights in a budget hostel rather than one.

Visit Britain is planning a big ‘staycation’ campaign to encourage people to holiday at home. This suits us, of course, and holiday cottages would not be so popular if no one holidayed at home anyway! Funnily enough earlier today we were talking to our guests who were leaving after their New Year week here. They were saying they used to go abroad but planned now to keep exploring Britain and to avoid the frustrations and stress of airport travel.

They were marvelling over the variety of scenery our small island has to offer, and how standards have risen including the quality of food. We agreed whole-heartedly with that. In the thirteen years since Tom’s Barn was ‘born’ our own expectations have risen, and those of our guests. We have always aimed, right from the start, to provide top quality five star service but the quality of this top quality service has increased…

So how do you measure quality? How do you define ‘value for money’? How long is a piece of string? Just occasionally someone will ring up to enquire about booking a week in high summer, or perhaps at Christmas, and when we mention the price (£655 is the top rate now) we will be told with a horrified gasp that they can easily get a week for under half that. No doubt you can, somewhere, but is the price fully inclusive? Will you perhaps arrive and find the cottages damp, dark and unloved without even a comforting teabag awaiting you? Do you have to pay for extra firewood, or electricity? (We once stayed in a holiday cottage where I rather disappointingly spent the first day cleaning, simply enough to make it hygienic and throughout the holiday the children had to sit on their anoraks on the seriously greasy/grubby/damp sofa. We were freezing cold because we didn’t learn how to work the electricity meter until the last day and just as well, the rate it gobbled up our £1 coins. That holiday and that cottage has gone down in family history as one of mother’s very worst family ‘treats’!)

It was a useful first lesson in what we, as a fairly ‘normal’ family without particularly demanding high standards, would try hard to avoid in future and what we would look for instead: care, comfort, cleanliness and good quality throughout. So, my moral is, if you want a bargain basement discount cheapie don’t look here! If you don’t mind paying more for the best quality and service we can provide for you, we might be the place you’re dreaming of. You might even feel it was a bargain at the price…


LATEST NEWS

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  • Time for a short pre Christmas break

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  • 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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