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Waving the Flag for Ashbourne

I wanted to tell you about two things and the local paper, the Ashbourne News Telegraph, known familiarly as ‘the Stunner’, has got in first! Talk about being pipped at the post, but never mind, I can still tell you…

Firstly, Ashbourne has a new library! One keeps hearing of library closures so we feel very lucky to have such a wonderful new one, and right in the centre of things so it will be so much easier to pop in to borrow books and DVDs etc or use the free wi-fi.  The much smaller old one always felt rather out of the way and inconvenient if on was on a hurried shopping visit.

The new one is across the Henmore from Waitrose and here is a pic of John (one doesn’t often see him in a photo these days as he is the photographer and plainly I am not). I will also include another I took inside, of one section. It doesn’t show the bank of computers, all in use, and all the shelves are on castors so can be moved into different permutations as the need suggests.

On our same first visit of the library John spotted an urban moorhen, nesting peacefully below the crowds crossing the bridge above. The sun was shining albeit rather coldly, this being before this lovely sunny Bank Holiday weekend and I was struck by what a lovely little place Ashbourne is (see here for a brief Wikipedia summary to save me doing it!)… It is a town where a moorhen feels quite happy to raise its family.

It does have its numerous estate agents and charity shops where other types of shop used to be but it has always been known for its excellent independently owned shops and also there has been a number of small, new independent shops starting up over recent years, many not on the main streets but tucked away down little snickets: it’s worth exploring. It has everything, I think, a post office, several churches, numerous antique shops, three good butchers, a fishmonger, a couple of hardware shops, a couple of greengrocers, two excellent delis, numerous coffee shops and restaurants, two art galleries, several newsagents, book, dress, shoe and toy shops, Waitrose, M & S and Sainsbury’s and an excellent Majestic. Phew! And I am sure I have missed out several other categories… You’d be far better advised to look at the Visit Ashbourne website which will tell you all you need to know.

To my mind one of the many delights is that it is very old, with plenty of history, and really so small and friendly – and only minutes away from the countryside: not for nothing is it called the Gateway to the Peak District.

Foraging for Free at Fischer’s

Fischer's front door LOer IMG_1203Fischer’s is a wonderful restaurant, and one we are proud to support. It  has a Michelin Star and many other awards – but it definitely is not a place one instinctively associates with food for free…

However, on Wednesday John and I were fortunate enough to attend a foraging day there, led by Dr Patrick Harding, a renowned naturalist, being shown what a wealth of food there is to be found for free in spring. Foraging specimens 21:5:2013

We all know about nature’s wonderful autumn  harvests of damsons, sloes, mushrooms, blackberries and so on but apart from wild garlic and elderflowers we were hard pushed to think what else might be available at this time of year.

Saddle Mushroom IMG_7641Dr Harding is probably best known in his role as a ‘mycologists’ – an expert in the study of mushrooms and his delight was unfeigned when on our foraging ramble  round the beautiful Fischer’s garden we chanced upon an edible but dreadfully poisonous-looking layered saddle mushroom apparently also called Dryad’s saddle and Pheasant’s back… We were prepared to take on trust that this was edible, if slightly tough.

He is also interested in the chemicals present in plants, and the medicinal and other uses these are put to. We however concentrated on the edible, and how one can pep up a salad with chickweed or sweet cicely and brighten it up with dandelion petals. One can make soup from the young leaves of nettles in spring, and pesto from ransoms, i.e. wild garlic leaves…

Foraging Lunch at Fischer's FIMG_7670After an hour’s invigorating and enlightening ramble we returned to the hotel to enjoy a truly wonderful lunch, with every dish containing some of the wild plants we had learnt about. Fischer’s has a Michelin star so you can be sure a meal will always be delicious, attractively presented and what’s more pleasantly served. On Wednesday we all ate at one big table and the conversation and laughter flowed as well as at any successful private lunch party with friends.

Pudding - foraging lunch at Fischer'sMy only regret was that I didn’t take notes. Several wise people did, and I thought it was all so interesting I would remember every word but my confidence was sadly misplaced. Lots of interesting snippets linger tantalisingly in the back of my memory.

John and I both enjoyed it so much we are planning to go to the autumn forage at Fischer’s on October 22nd and this time I will take notes.

Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum

I am writing this in the train, as we hurtle back to Derby from St Pancras so you’ll understand if the style has a certain lurchy, snoopy tendency to it.

Having recently been to Florence we have been hoping to plan a trip to Pompeii some time, and  were most excited to learn about the plans for the Pompeii and Herculaneum  exhibition, which is on until September at the British Museum. John and I are going in June all being well but I was lucky enough – having already planned one of my fairly regular little jaunts down to London – to be able to attend  a private viewing of the exhibition this morning with our daughter Ruth whose official invitation most generously included me!

What a treat! The exhibition is beautifully mounted, with hundreds of wonderful  relics never before seen in this country or even possibly ever outside Italy. I went round it twice, once during the private viewing and then again, with an audio visual thingy afterwards.

So many things struck me, it’s hard to know what to begin with, but perhaps it is the human element. You feel you are almost intruding on the lives of people going about their daily chores and pleasures  one moment and and in the next  destroyed by the erupting Vesuvius.

Their  ghastly tragedy is our great fortune, because, thanks to the ferocity and nature of the eruption so much was preserved for us to view now, over two thousand years later.

An interesting fact which i had not appreciated is that the two cities were affected in very different ways, and at different times, although equally devastating. Pompeii was covered by several feet of ash and afterwards was revisited by people returning to rescue items and presumably by looters and many centuries later was much easier for archeologists to explore.. Herculaneum was buried much deeper, and hit by a hotter wall burning gas which meant that everything was instantly carbonised, and preserved, but was harder to retrieve.

Another very striking thing I found was how civilised their society was; this is before Christ, when one suspects that in this country people were lagging behind more than somewhat. There was widespread if not mass literacy, slaves were frequently given their freedom, woman had (more or less) equal rights although they were not allowed to vote, trades flourished, houses were and elegant sophisticated and well furnished – apart from their toilet arrangements: apparenty these were normally situated in the kitchen so that human and catering waste could be dealt with simultaneously. They loved their gardens, feasting and entertaining; they had boundary disputes between neighbours, and so on… It all felt quite incredibly ‘normal’.

Which of course makes the tragedy that befell them all the more heart rending. Ironically, in one of the scenes depicting a banquet there is a notice imploring the guests to eat and drink as much as they could , because ‘tomorrow we die’. Little did they know.

More things to do while you’re staying at Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

Happy side car safariists IMG_6536

Alicia and Stephen, off to explore the White Peak in a sidecar from Russia

There are so many things to do while you’re staying in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns that even the the choice of ‘usual’ things can be overwhelming. There’s which walk to go on? Where to go? Shall we visit Chatsworth, Haddon, Hardwick, Keddleston, Lyme Park or Sudbury? Or perhaps Tissington (the Well Dressings are on as I write (May 9-15 2013)… Then again, there’s the World Heritage site at Cromford, or Buxton Opera House or even Alton Towers or the various caverns. You can hang glide or make chocolate.

I’m only just getting going – haven’t mentioned the wonderful pubs and Farmers’ Markets, Chatsworth Farm Shop or the Cheese Shop but before I bore you rigid if I haven’t already, there’s one activity that wouldn’t necessarily come immediately to mind.

And that is Bill Purvis’s Sidecar Safari. We knew of it, and indeed knew that Bill offered Peak District Premier Cottages guests a half price discount but we hadn’t actually seen it in action. It took (as so often) our guests to introduce us to what’s available locally. Alicia and Stephen were staying for their honeymoon in Tom’s Barn last week. They packed as much as possible into their stay, including a trip in the Safari Sidecar, planned for after lunch on Tuesday.

Great was the excitement. At 2 o’clock Alicia and Stephen were waiting in their outdoor kit (Bill provides proper motor cycle gear), John had his camera at the ready while I fussed around excitedly as we waited for the sound of a motor bike.

Greater still was the excitement when we could hear it coming up our hill and turning in the gate, gleaming in its Russian khaki beauty. Helmets and jackets were donned and off they went, to Biggin, Hartington, the Manifold Valley, Wetton, Stanshope and Tissington and back through the ford (twice apparently!).

They returned about 3 hours later, glowing with fun and achievement, and Bill looked as if he had throughly enjoyed it too. Alicia and Stephen say it was the highlight of their stay: they’d had a wonderful sightseeing trip passing through some beautiful scenery, with lots of friendly waves from everyone they passed. And they were so grateful for the half price discount Bill gives all our guests (we’re wondering now if John and I will qualify too..?).

An Offer You Can’t Refuse?

£475 for Tom’s Barn, Friday 17 to Friday 24 May (i.e. this coming week)

We are not used to Tom’s Barn having an empty week, especially considering I spend so much time writing emails explaining to disappointed enquirers that we are full when they want to come.

And now we have a week, without a single enquirer, not even someone who wants to book and  bring along Aunt Myrtle and three teenage kids (I’m serious – we do get requests like that but we always take them seriously and redirect them to friends and colleagues who are better placed than we to accommodate large family groups).

Anyway, rather than leave it empty we decided we would let Tom’s Barn, just this one week in glorious May, at the mid-winter rate of £475 (no lower winter rates for dogs unfortunately – they still will cost £25 each, extra.

If you haven’t been before and want to check out what other people think, have a glance at some of our TripAdvisor reviews.

Even if it’s no good to you, please do spread the word.

 

We’ll let you into a Welsh Secret

We can’t wait to let you know about a lovely holiday cottage we stayed in last week.

Obviously, we hope that if ever you want a holiday in the Peak District you will look no further than our Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns. However, we do understand that the time may arise when you feel like going Welsh, and with our holiday cottages being firmly rooted in the Peak National Park we can’t help you with that.

Only, actually, and this is our secret…we can! Our soon to be revealed secret is only 50 yards or so into Wales but 50 yards is all it takes… Corisande and Angus, two of our daughter Ruthie’s greatest friends, have been converting an old mill cottage overlooking the Wye (near Hay-on-Wye). Both of them know and love our two cottages and we have been only too glad to share all that we have learned  over the years.

They have  given everything a great deal of careful thought and have bounced many ideas back and forth with us. Our final privilege was to stay in their cottage last weekend, to sample it and feed back our thoughts. And what a pleasure it was to do that; because they have done everything so beautifully we found ourselves coming away with a few tips ourselves. It is always good to find oneself on the receiving end because it can feel very different. As owners one can feel sure one knows what will be nice for guests but only a guest can truly know.

There is still a lot to be finalised: the name, for example. Just as we used to fondly but unimaginatively  refer to Tom’s Barn as ‘the barn’ until we were told that there were at that stage already 17 cottages called  ‘the Barn’ in the Peak District, so they realistically call their cottage ‘mill cottage’. When we looked up Mill Cottage in Wales there were dozens so they are wondering now whether to change the name before it is too late, making it more identifiable.

Because they really do have a unique property, and one they don’t want get muddled up with scores of run of the mill (sorry – couldn’t resist that!) cottages. They are still awaiting a grading inspection so have not started advertising yet and of course there is masses of behind the scenes paper work one has to provide – access policies, risk assessments, Terms & Conditions – horribly tedious but essential.

When they do we will be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, you will be needing to have the basic facts. It sleeps two, in what is a very spacious cottage. Everything is brand new and excellent quality, and we were extremely comfortable. The 6′ bed was very superb, and the bedlinen crisp white 400 thread count cotton. All the curtains and cushion covers have been specially made, from beautiful Welsh tweed. The kitchen was very well equipped; the sitting room – with log burner – very welcoming. There was no mobile signal, so like us they have provided a landline and wi-fi.

There’s fishing (by arrangement), walking – including Offa’s Dyke, Hay on Wye with its famous bookshops and other lovely shops as well and of course the famous Hay Festival.

The big lack at the moment is a website but that is in progress. We’ll be sure to let you know the minute they go live and meanwhile, will be delighted to direct any enquiries to Angus and Corisande. And my big lack is not having at the moment any photos of the interior; these are all mine and I was so taken with the breathtaking views. John has some of the interior which i shall ask him for, meanwhile as well as the river here is Corisande showing John how to get down to the water.

Another Ghostly Silence

 

John and Colin, very competent landlubbers/seamen

The skippers, viewed from the galley

We have been away for eight days and I must admit, have had a wonderfully relaxing and fun time, helped no end by uninterrupted sunshine and warmth and blissfully peaceful stretches of water where there seemed to be no one else but John and me and our two very good friends Erica and Colin on our boat and some wonderful views and birds.

Hopeful plans that I might sit on the deck of our Norfolk Broads gin palace composing one enticing blog post after another were soon dashed by the fact there was not at any stage the slightest whisper of any  internet connection or mobile phone network.

The outcome was that I had an even more relaxing time on the ‘ocean’ wave than i had expected and that we returned home to 396 emails to deal with and not a single word of a blog post composed!

Sorry. I’ll try to make up for it. The silly thing is I love doing the blog, it’s not that I find it a hardship at all. But after such a long silence  the first thing I must do before regaling you with tales of Norfolk is bring you up to date with any news. All I can really think of is that David our lovely joiner made and fitted a new bath panel for the Douglas’s Barn bath while we were away. Janet reports that it looks really good, but we have yet to see it…

We also before we went away, decided – somewhat on impulse – lured by a most enticing offer from the local Honda dealers – to trade in our purple low mileage 2009 model for a shiny khaki 2013 version with 10 miles on the clock. We picked it up yesterday, and since then have lived in terror of at the least scratching it on the narrow lanes, or at worst meeting a tractor head on round a bend. So far, after 24 hours, all is well and unscathed.

A fairly major minor drama arose when we discovered that my key to the old car was unaccountably missing, nowhere to be found. When we were told by Honda that to replace it would cost £250 we realised the enormity of the loss. They gave us until today as the deadline, when they would have to order a replacement… We spent two days hunting and rehunting, lifting cushions, going through pockets, even looking in the washing machine. Almost literally at the 11th hour I found it in a coat pocket, that John and I had both previously checked, but what a relief!

We are also in the process of  updating our  holiday cottage payment process, eventually transferring from our current static card machine downstairs to a ‘virtual terminal’ which we can access wherever we are. It hasn’t happened yet so we may find all sorts of disadvantages but are hoping that it will make everyone’s lives easier. At present, if someone wants to pay by bank card while we are away we have to wait until we get home again to process it…

So that sort of brings you up to date. Tomorrow, or during the weekend, I will tell you more about our actually trip on the Norfolk Broads, and then our little detour home via Wales.


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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