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Can Work be Happiness…?

Gyles Brandreth revealing "The Seven Secrets of Happiness" after his talk at the Buxton Festival 19 July 2014

The Seven Secrets of Happiness Revealed

As always, our days are very full, and very varied, with part work and part pleasure (and the two are very intertwined).

The ‘work’ is all to do with our two holiday cottages, Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, which very much are at the centre of our lives but we would be hard pushed to identify what aspect of that is work in the accepted sense, as nearly all of it (except accounts and inspections) is pure pleasure as well.

Talking of pleasure, there has been a birthday, and our two Emgland-based ‘young’ have been home for the weekend. And as you may have guessed, with Buxton Festival on, we have been zipping back and forth to Buxton daily. On the other hand I also have attended a full-day workshop on websites, as you know (the delayed second half is on Wednesday) and two days ago I was learning about Search Engine Optimisation and incidentally how Google is running our lives these days, but maybe more about that another day – we’re concentrating on happiness right now…

We went yesterday to a most entertaining Buxton Festival talk by Gyles Brandreth, on ‘The Seven Secrets of Happiness’. He had no props, no notes and he had the full Buxton Opera House audience absolutely riveted. It was by turns very witty, hilarious slapstick and serious; his research to identify the sources of happiness is genuine and serious.

So we all laughed and we learned. It was no surprise to us to learn that one of the seven secret of happiness is to be found in work, and yet another in having a ‘passion’.

There can’t be many people whose ‘work’ happens to be as pleasurable and gratifying as we find ours. Who wouldn’t be happy ‘working’ to ensure we provide an experience which is possibly unique but certainly pretty special for lovely people who really appreciate everything 110%.

And another is that warm sense of being at one with one’s surroundings and companion/s. And by a happy combination of luck – living as we do in such a beautiful area with so much to do and see and enjoy – and the fact that people seem so to appreciate the quality and comfort and setting of the holiday accommodation we provide, we unwittingly provide our guests with at least two source of true happiness, and ourselves with at least three.

That does make us feel genuinely happy!

It’s Not Greed, It’s Culinary Tourism

Lunch at Ballymaloe

We all enjoyed a delicious ‘dynamic vegetarian’ lunch – eating what had been made during the demo

Our blog has been disconcertingly silent while it seems as if we have have happily eaten our way round (parts of) Ireland and North Yorkshire!

It is lovely to find that one’s delight in good local food, is not so much greed but seeking ‘culinary authenticity’…

Culinary Tourism is defined by Wikipedia as ‘the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences’. It is now considered a vital element of travel. Farewell fruitlessly searching foreign shops for fish and chips… (not that most of us ever did) but I remember once, many years ago when we were camping in France being ‘befriended by an English couple whose sole aim was to find what they considered proper food; their greatest triumph was when they knocked at the tent door to say they had tracked down some M&S biscuits!! They were disappointed by our lukewarm response.

We have long noticed that our Tom’s and Douglas’s Barn guests invariably come to enjoy comfort, countryside, walking and good food. We have loved this, sharing their joy and have always felt very grateful that we have so many terrific local pubs and restaurants, farm shops and delis to recommend.There are also two excellent cookery schools locally and we and our Peak District Premier Cottages friends are hoping that we may be able to work together in some exciting way as yet to be defined. Hopefully more later… and any suggestions gratefully received.

The Irish are streets ahead of us in recognising the benefits and attractions of culinary tourism. I am sure one can eat badly there, as in any country, but in ten days we did not have a meal that was anything but delicious, whether in wayside pubs, smart Dublin restaurants or a simple quayside fish restaurant in Co Cork: all serving fresh local produce beautifully cooked and nicely presented.

Dynamic Vegetarian Cookery at Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolBallymaloe Cookery School, in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. Basically a dozen or more of us amateur cooks were sitting in on an element of the serious professional students’ 12-week course.

What an exciting experience it truly was from the delicious coffee and cakes upon arrival. We were lucky that the session was taken by the great Darina Allen herself and her brother Rory, both were inspirational and entertaining and throughly impressive throughout.

I felt so lucky to be there. They produced during the four hours twenty truly exciting dishes – using organic and ‘unmessed around with’ ingredients – which we all enjoyed for lunch. I came away with all the recipes and couldn’t resist buying some very ‘authentic’ ingredients from their shop.

After lunch we were shown round their extensive organic gardens, while the students went off on a session on wine and local school children were being introduced to gardening and keeping hens.

A week later and I am still bubbling with superlatives! Meanwhile, if any of you have any bright suggestions for some really great culinary experience that we could plan locally here in the Peak District, please let me know!

Preening Peacocks and A Taste of Devon in Derbyshire

The gap since I last wrote is so embarrassingly long there is nothing I can do but gloss over it. I am sorry. We seem to have been rushing over all over the place, very happily and socially most of the time, but it leaves little time for the pleasures of blogging.

Blogging you see, for me, comes under the category of pleasure, not chore, so tends to come last on the list of ‘things to do’ each day…

Percy the Peacock is very vain

I can’t get over how beautiful I am!

Anyway, we spent the inside of this last week in Devon, staying with my brother, which is always a great, relaxing pleasure. He has a lovely garden with the Mardle, a small tributary of the Dart, running alongside it.

Sharing my brother’s garden, using it merely as a necessary backdrop for all his narcisstic preenings, is Percy the Peacock who claimed ownership to it abut ten years ago. My brother tried, hard, to return him to his rightful owners, but Percy knew better and just kept returning. He is amazingly beautiful, and knows it. He also makes the most terrible screeching noise.

We met up with old friends, visited my parents’ grave in Ringmore (overlooking Burgh Island) and had a truly wonderful lunch at the Riverford Field Kitchen which fortunately for all of us is very close to my brother.

Refections on the River Dart in Devon IMG_0422

The waters of the Dart were very clear and peaceful

One afternoon we walked through words along the Dart, hoping to see all the bluebells before they finally vanish and perhaps a kingfisher. The bluebells were definitely on the way out and of a Kingfisher there was never a glimpse but the Dart was looking very beautiful with clear calm waters and no hint of the storms of a month or two ago.

I bought some Devon lamb in Ashburton to bring back and in the lovely little deli in Modbury I bought a kilo (!) of the most heavenly clotted cream to share with everyone, and not least our guests who were arriving on Friday.

Cream tea for Tom’s and Douglas’s Barn guests on Friday[/caption]So instead of a cake yesterday, they had freshly baked scones – harder work than a cake, with all that rubbing in of the butter by hand – oodles of raspberry jam and lashings of clotted cream (to paraphrase Enid Blyton).

Clotted cream tea for our guests! IMG_6978 By coincidence our Douglas’s Barn guests were from Cornwall so the cream tea may have felt more of a ‘coals to Newcastle’ gesture than an exciting novelty but if that were the case they were far too polite to let on. And, fortunately, the way we prefer a cream tea, that is, cream on top of the jam, is the approved Cornish method…

Today, truly back in Derbyshire, we have spent most the day enjoying the Derbyshire Open Arts studios, Ruby Hickmott and Gill Radcliffe in Parwich, and Sue Prince at Beechenhill, near Ilam…

Naughty?? Certainly Very Very Nice

I wished I’d had my photographer with me today when – thanks to some friends who invited m to join them on a ‘business’ lunch – I discovered a quite charming place to eat in Bakewell. It is called Naughty and Nice, and is tucked away in King’s Court just off the one and only roundabout in Bakewell. I am glad to tell you about it because it is hidden away quite discreetly – I must have driven past scores of times without realising what delights lay within.

The sun shone, warmly and we sat outside in the sunshine with pink Montana petals floating lazily down around us. We felt we could have been in a little continental square somewhere – obviously, another time one might not be so lucky but apparently it is quite charming inside as well.

The menu looked very interesting and just a bit different – I found it difficult to choose what to have but my ciabatta bacon and brie melt was certainly delicious! There are also all sorts of tempting home made cakes and chocolatey things to be had – it perhaps wouldn’t be the place for a keen dieter to visit but perfect for everyone else.

As well as eating chocolate things, you can also ‘make’ chocolate. Naughty describes itself as ‘cafe bistro and chocolatier’ and their Chocolate Experience event invites you to become a chocolatier for the day which sounds fun and would be a lovely thing to plan, especially if the weather forecast isn’t great (it does happen, occasionally).

So that’s all! I was so impressed i just wanted to share it as soon as possible, while the memory was still fresh. Sorry about no photos – I’ll have to take John with me next time… He’d love it.

Herbert’s very fine Fine English Tea Rooms

Rather late in the day, I spotted on Facebook this morning that Herbert’s Fine English Tea Rooms had opened in Tissington on March 1st. Being both late and slow, it took me a second or two to realise that this was not a new tea rooms at all but the Old Coach House transformed. Never slow to research new food experiences – and how convenient, on a Saturday, with my brother John staying for the weekend…

Off we set almost immediately as soon as we’d finished breakfast. The walk over the hills to Tissington never fails to charm, but it was a rather muddy charm today, and although the weather was dry we did not have the blazing sun we’d all been led to expect.

As soon as we reached Tissington, apart from stopping off to buy a pound of sausages and some black pudding from the butcher’s, we went straight to Herbert’s. Not surprisingly, the actual building doesn’t look any different from how it did in its past life but the minute you go in the feel is very different, with ‘its quirky decor and array of vintage china’, waitress service and a new and most attractive menu.

We were charmingly greeted and served. Anticipating a large dinner tonight we only had a drink each, and a (large) bowl of quite delicious cherry tomato and basil soup, with a very fresh roll and butter. At £4.25 this was cheaper than most places round here, and the soup quite delicious by any standard.

The place was bustling, and one can see why. It is open every day from now until 31st October, from 10.30 to 5. Meals are served from 10.30 to 3 (breakfast 10.30 to 12, lunch from 12 to 3 and presumably afternoon tea doesn’t count as a meal and can be had all day).

We liked the old Coach House, but like this even more and can recommend it thoroughly as a lovely place for friends and guests to go. We shall go a lot, I can see. I rather fancy their breakfast ‘Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Egg Muffin’ and their Sparkling English Cream tea for Two. The latter sounds perfect for our Tom’s and Douglas’s Barn guests!

Lunch at Fischer’s for Lucky Douglas’s Barn Guests

Nick's birthday Lunch at Fischer's IMG_0828

Nick’s birthday Lunch at Fischer’s on January 2nd.

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Fischer’s is the only Michelin starred restaurant in Derbyshire, and by any standards it is pretty special. John and I tend to leap at the slightest chance to treat ourselves to a meal there, most recently for our son Nick’s birthday earlier this week (see image above!). It was a truly lovely occasion, with delicious food and exemplary service.

Where we are particularly lucky is that Fischer’s is still doing their 20.14 Lunch. We have some gaps in Douglas’s Barn this month; we’re not keen on discounts because that smacks somehow of desperation or a lowering of standards (even though obviously it need not) and much prefer the idea of something extra, over and above…

While we were at Fischer’s we suddenly thought what a wonderful idea it would be to offer a 20.14 lunch for two to all Douglas’s Barn guests who book a holiday during the spell Monday 6th to Monday 20th January this year. If you book a week, we’ll give you a three-course lunch, and for a short breaks, two courses. Any extra courses or wine is up to you…and it goes without saying that the offer is not transferable – to be taken by you, while you’re staying with us!

The last (and only other) time we did this, was for Mothering Sunday last year. Tina and Neil were the lucky couple that managed to book first. They were thrilled with the whole experience, and wrote us a lovely card immediately afterwards.

“We just wanted to thank you very much for the voucher to have lunch at Fischer’s Baslow Hall. It’s somewhere we have always wanted to try and it really lived up to our expectations. We had a fabulous meal, the flavours were exceptional, making it a meal to remember. The attentive staff made sure we were very well looked after from the moment we arrived.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our extended stay in Tom’s Barn and very much look forward to returning next year.”

So, possibly it is your chance now… the offer is on the table!

‘A Truly Wonderful Week of Walking, Reading and Rest!’

John and I are enjoying a very brief little holiday of our own, staying with my brother in Devon. We always have a lovely time staying with him, but this time good weather has not been part of the mix. It is WET! So it it in Derbyshire we’re told, and if it’s any comfort, it’s apparently wet everywhere!

So it seems a good opportunity to warm us all up with an enthusiastic ‘guest blog’ copied word for word from an entry in the Tom’s Barn visitors’ book. We do love it when guests tell us what they have done and enjoyed during their stay; we try to keep up to date ourselves so we can make helpful recommendations to our guests but if we ate continually at pubs and did long walks daily we might not get much else done, ever, fun as it might be in the short term!

So here goes…

Everything is so accessible from this truly delightful base.

“A truly wonderful week of walking, reading and rest! Dove dale to Alstonefield by far the best (walk), breaking off at the excellent George for good food, wine and service.4 hours needed.

Other walks undertaken: Alstonefield to Mildale and back to the George! (2 hours) and Parwich to Tissington (3 hours). Iam Country Park well worth visiting, if for no other reason than to sample their excellent coffee and fresh pastries.

Ashbourne and Bakewell good for a stroll around if you want a break from walking, and a mooch around the shops.

The 8 1/2 mile round Carsington Water is a challenge (not as pretty as the Dovedale walk) but the coffee at the Visitors’ Centre is also excellent. By the way, views from the Ilam Park grounds are superb.

John and Marion excellent hosts.

No rational human being could fail to have a beautiful experience here.

M and N August 2013

Kill Your Darlings, Lord Marple…

Sine of the bottled beers brewed in Bakewell by Thornbridge

Beer Brewed in Bakewell

Three guesses?

Beer afficionados may know what I am talking about but this time twelve hours ago I would have been as perplexed as anyone. Now, having just been on a visit to Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell, I can tell you with great confidence that Lord marples is a Classic British Bitter 4.0%, ‘surprisingly smooth with light toffee and caramel characters, a mixture of floral and spicy hop notes and a bitter finish’.

‘Kill Your Darlings’ on the other hand, is a Vienna style lager 5.0% ‘characterised by a malty aroma and slight malt sweetness.’ And these are just two of a myriad of ‘craft’ beers with delicious tastes and fancy names – and a semi-naked lady on the label – being brewed very seriously in Bakewell.

Thornbridge -fluorescent jackets

Setting off purposefully to see where the beer is made

There is no limit to what goes on in Derbyshire, and even those of us who live here don’t know the half of it. Last month you may remember, we went on a tour of Renishaw Hall, home of the Sitwell family, where we learnt all about the excellent wine made there, from grapes grown on the site. Today we discovered a thriving local beer brewing industry, located on the Riverside Industrial Estate in Bakewell, yards from where I used to work in blissful ignorance of its existence, for over ten years…

One small section showing the casks piled up

The casks of beer waiting to be distributed

The tour was arranged by Visit Peak District, who arrange a series of interesting visits for accommodation and attractions providers.

Far from being a reward at the end of a talk and tour, we started off with the beer. Then Jim Harrison, who with his wife Emma owns Thornbridge Hall where the brewery started (and where the part of it still continues) gave a very helpful talk about the Thornbridge beer and the ethos of the brewery.

Then we all donned our fluorescent yellow jackets and strode off very purposefully as you can see from the photograph, to be taken in groups round the brewery, all gleaming stainless steel and electronic wizardry masterminded by enthusiastic humans.

The brewers' control

The brewer can view and control the whole process

We tasted ‘chocolate’ malt, smelt hops, peered into barrels and gawped at rather attractive computer screens. What came across more than anything was the enthusiasm of the experts, who obviously take enormous pride in being part of a small, select and very forward thinking brewery. One suddenly saw beer in a very different light, as a specialist drink that could be created and enjoyed by connoisseurs, rather than one to be quaffed thoughtlessly, for its thirst-quenching or alcoholic content.

Tours are arranged every Wednesday. To book yourselves onto a tour you need to email info@thornbridgebrewery.co.uk. To buy beer online go to their website.

More Fine Dining Recommendations from Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns

We’ve been very preoccupied during the last few days working on ideas for the newly rebranded Tom’s Barn website. Do hope it will be worth waiting for. It’s still some way off so meanwhile there is nothing other than my excuses to show for my silence on the blog.

However, we have not been so preoccupied that we could not find the time to accept our friends Gill and David’s suggestion that we have dinner with them a few evenings ago at the Duncombe Arms. The Duncombe Arms describe themselves very accurately as ‘a charming country pub with great food and drink’ and we’d been meaning to check them out for some time so were delighted to have the opportunity.

And on the strength of one delicious meal, with friendly service, we can certainly endorse that and happily recommend it to you all. It is at Ellastone, the other side of Ashbourne, on the road towards Uttoxeter so not exactly on the doorstep but a very relaxed 25 minute drive, and well worth it.

They are open every day for lunch and then dinner, although on Sundays and Bank Holidays you’d have to dine earlyish as they stop serving at 8pm. I should imagine it is always wise to book, but you might be all right for lunch – although it would always be better to give them a ring on 01335 324275 to check.

For all our guests it would be well worth considering, perhaps especially if you’re planning a day in Ashbourne, or going over to Staffordshire to explore the charming market town and antique centre of Leek (speaking as a website expert (!) the website is rather startlingly bright but nonetheless pretty informative at the same time!).

Top Tips from Tom’s Barn Guests: How to have a Truly Wonderful Week of Walking, Reading, (Eating) and Rest

A dozen subjects for blog posts is queuing up in my inactive brain, but – right to the top of the queue – I must stand aside for Mark and Nikki, who left Tom’s Barn today having written a wonderfully helpful resume of their week in the Visitors’ Book.

Mark and Nikki, like all our guests, were amazed by the wealth of things they found there was to do while they were here, and mostly right on the doorstep; they echoed Sue and Nick who left Douglas’s Barn last week after a packed fortnight without using their car at all. In fact Sue and Nick were so impressed by how much more they still wanted to do that – apparently most uncharacteristically – they plan to return. They usually prefer to try pastures new each time they go away, feeling they have exhausted local possibilities.

Mark and Nikki’s report will be so helpful to other guests wondering what to do, so I am repeating it more or less word for word, other than censoring one or two personal comments which modesty does not permit…

“A truly wonderful week of walking, reading and rest! (The walk from) Dovedale to Alstonefield by far the best, breaking off at the excellent George for good food, wine and service – four hours needed. Other walks undertaken: Alstonefield to Milldale and back to the George! (2 hours) and Parwich to Tissington and back (3 hours).

Ilam Country Park well worth visiting, if for no other reason than to sample their excellent coffee and fresh pastries. Ashbourne and Bakewell good for a stroll around if you want a break from walking and to have a mooch round the shops.

Everything is accessible from this truly delightful base! The 8 1/2 mile walk round Carsington Water is a challenge (not as pretty as the Dovedale walk) but the coffee at the Visitor Centre is also excellent unlike the horrible stuff they served us at Tissington, strangely enough. (Editor’s note: I hasten to say that everything at the Tissington Tearoom is usually delicious, in our experience…!

By the way, the views from Ilam grounds were superb. John and Marion excellent hosts.

No rational human being could fail to have a beautiful experience here. PS In case we forgot to mention it, do go to the George!


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