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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!

Comments from a Canine Guest Blogger

Rocky Rimmer 025

Our Canine Guest Blogger

We get many beautiful dogs visiting Tom’s Barn with their owners: many rescue dogs, many mongrels and many very aristocratic pedigrees. We don’t as far as we know have many literate ones, so were very pleased to see that Rocky, an English Springer Spaniel who stayed recently, wrote in our Tom’s Barn Visitors’ book last week. You hear of Guide Dogs, Deaf Dogs but Rocky may be the only Scribe Dog we will come across.

He writes: Take me home – I need a rest! I’m on the go all day. I’ve been to Ashbourne, Matlock and Bakewell; my favourite was the water at Carsington. But best of all was lying in front of the log fire, me and my owners all asleep. They struggle to keep up with me – they’re middle-aged, not like me!! But they haven’t done too badly…A pint at the local, then food at the George and the Devonshire Arms at Beeley. It sounded like they enjoyed it.

The weather has been great for us four-legged friends Thank you for my lovely weekend – I can hardy keep my eyes open!

The Dreaded Inspectors Drop in on Douglas’s Barn

Sausage supper in Douglas’s Barn

The mystery shoppers are at it again, honing in again on Douglas’s Barn, where we last stayed almost a year ago, in November 2011. We get wonderfully appreciative comments from all our guests but there is always the sneaky worry that they are just being polite. And of course, we do just want to make absolutely sure everything is as good as we can make it and there is nothing like the owners’ critical eye.

Are our lovely guests just being polite? we wondered, and having a spare midweek short break without a booking this week we decided this was the signal for another hard-hitting personal inspection.

So in we moved in, from next door (a nicely green ‘car-free’ journey) to see how we would fare, with the aim once again of trying absolutely everything out, from boot dryers to using our brand new TV (wih HD) and Sky (where I quickly became unstuck, ditto the microwave) which is quite sobering. How do our poor guests cope? We have a file with all the manuals, conveniently placed in the drawer beneath the microwave, but apart from needing an advanced degree in Microwave technology and accompanying jargon, a month or two of spare time would help.

Making full use of the kitchen

Note one to ourselves: to make sure we know how to work everything and can produce a short, summarised, easy to follow instruction. We’re already working on it.

We cooked a full meal, using the oven and grill, electric beaters (I’m sure the misshapen cake was my fault), the electronic scales, several saucepans and a cake tin, measuring jug etc etc. So far so good: except the electric beaters looked very tired and smelled a bit hot after a minute or two; the ‘leather’ place mats didn’t pass muster, we discovered under a bright light one of the wine glasses to be slightly chipped so…

Note 2: Compile a (long) shopping list for urgent replacements.

We already knew it was time for our six monthly ‘decor spruce up’ and had arranged with Jason Fowkes, our wonderful decorator, to come on an inspection of walls and paintwork so we could plan what to do. Jason is excellent also as consultant. He has an artistic eye and very high standards, and as he is in close contact with so many really super properties he has a keen idea of what works well.

So he has been hard at work all day and is coming back for another, just making everything as smart and bright as possible. We identified together that the bathroom flooring needs replacing, probably with tiles, and we are hoping our joiner, David Goldstraw, will make us a nice wooden side panel for the bath to replace the original one that came with the bath six years ago.

Phew! We had to shed a few layers…

Note 3: Add to our list of things we need to achieve (we have been waiting six months now for our courtyard to be resurfaced, Shaun needs a reminder…)

Finally, I must admit that we were very warm in Douglas’s Barn, coming as we do from our draughty, old and distinctly coolish house. With the oven going, saucepans on the hob, central heating on with all the radiators full bore, we were soon down to t-shirts and going outside for a quick cool down/breath of fresh air. So now we have learnt, to turn the radiators down to the lowest setting and not to rely on more than one sweater! Modern house insulation is a wonderful thing, and a very novel experience for us… We’ll certainly advise our guests not to have the radiators turned up too high (thank goodness they all have an individual thermostat).

We still have another night, before shortly moving the microscope onto Tom’s Barn. No peace for the wicked.

Funny First Impressions

We all love flowers!

I was reminiscing recently about the coronation and how somehow its importance had been signified to a young girl by being given a bottle of CocaCola at school.

Idly playing with my iPad this morning I decided to see what TripAdvisor had to say about a local hostelry in nearby Biggin. (We are very often asked to recommend suitable places to stay near here if we are already booked or even for people who don’t want self-catering at all, believe it or not…).

Having already noticed how easily influenced a “traveller” can be – one had rated this particular speciality lodging 2/5 because her glass of red wine appeared chilled, I was informed at the bottom of the page that the person reading this review (me) had funnily enough also visited a nearby speciality lodging, Tom’s Barn and Douglas’s Barn… So back I popped, to our page, but fortunately for us, our lovely and warmly grateful guests are not so easily put off – and fortunately for us too, of course, we don’t serve wine at all, chilly red or not, so no risk of a problem there.

At a workshop the other day we were all told that apparently it takes everyone – is it three seconds, or five – to gain a lasting impression about other people or a place, which is a seriously scary thought. But facing me now is an even scarier thought: impressions gleaned by some mechanical algorithmic process, in this case a TripAdvisor robot scanning our reviews.

Under the section: What TripAdvisor travellers say about this ‘Speciality Lodging’ it picks out as the main points:
“Fresh flowers” (9)
“Short drive” (4)
“Personal touch” (3)
“Very warm welcome” (3)
“Lovely place” (3)

All lovely observations, if short on detail – and I am quite surprised it hasn’t picked up all the appreciative cake comments which keep cropping up – but that is beside the point. What intrigues me, is the “short drive” which comes second from the top. Is the Orchard Farm drive embarrassingly brief or in fact is this seen as a good thing? Or perhaps it’s only a short drive to Chatsworth? Or from home, be it Lincoln, Taunton, Aberdeen or even Derby (yes, we’ve several guests from as short a drive away as Derby, Chesterfield and Sheffield). I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, but that’s another example of a possibly quite unhelpful if not completely misleading first impression.

Homemade cake or biscuits for you

Still, there’s no use agonising over this. We’ll continue to care for you/all our guests as well as we possibly can, in spite of the short drive. It is such a pleasure to welcome here so many truly nice, interesting, different, fun people. We try hard to make our barns as lovely for you as we possibly can and we can be pretty sure you will love them. The rest we can take no credit for: it’s down to our great good fortune to be in a quiet, friendly village in such a beautiful setting with wonderful walking and in fact only a short drive to so many interesting places.

How Did You Enjoy Your Time in Douglas’s Barn?

Daffodils amid the waning snowdrops

It had been such a long time since I last collected some comments that they have had to come in two instalments. This is the second Douglas’s barn one and Tom’s Barn’s will follow in due time.

“Lovely stay! You have thought of everything to meet our every need.”: October 2011

“Thank you John and Marion for making our Pearl Anniversary so special! Our 2nd visit and just as excellent as ever.” October 2011

“Dearest John and Marion, what a joy to meet you both and stay in Douglas’s Barn! We have had such a wonderful time: the barn is so beautiful, we felt like the first ever visitors here! The love and care you have taken makes this a place we truly do not want to leave! Thank you so much for everything.” December 2011

“What a beautiful place to stay. We enjoyed it so much we barely left during our visit! A brilliant setting for A’s 30th and for getting into the Christmas spirit.” Dec 2011

“What a wonderful place to relax and take it easy. I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time doing nothing…apart from walking, running, jigsaws, knitting, reading and…relaxing.” Christmas 2011

“Thank you so much for a wonderful week. The cottage had everything we could possibly need and was incredibly cosy. We loved the local walks, and lots of eating too. Great local food.” January 2012

“Wonderful barns, hosts and village. We have completely recharged our batteries. We will be back!” February 2012

There is just one thing I really feel must be said: if we were to write a Guests’ Report we would be pretty gushing. We are most very fortunate in that we have such genuinely lovely, interesting  people staying here. It makes it so easy and pleasant for us. In fact, as I write this, inspiration has struck: I think my next blog post must be a Report on our Guests – so wait for it!

Your Stay in Douglas’s Barn – What is Your Verdict?

Douglas's Barn

In a strange way, we always feel a bit awkward quoting extracts from the Visitors’ Books. Sometimes the comments are quite personal and I am sure guests don’t think of them as likely to be hitting the airwaves but on the other hand we all love to see what other people have said, done liked and what they maybe didn’t like. Also of course it all helps paint the picture, which is vital for possible/potential guests.

For example, glancing through these comments it would soon become obvious that if you wanted fast food outlets or daily cinema trips booking a holiday in Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns, Parwich is definitely not the answer, nor is it for clubbing enthusiasts or anyone nervous of dark dark lanes at night with very few street lights and no bustling crowds. (I’m quite serious, someone once asked me ‘How can you bear to live somewhere so far from civilisation?’ I thought they had completely missed the point, they felt convinced I had completely lost the plot. If you want comfort and ease (not glamour), if you love walking in beautiful countryside (whether gentle rambles or vigorous hikes), country pubs and good food, then maybe you really are on the right track. Read on…

I knew it was a while but am ashamed to see it is six months since we last did this, gathering up some guests’ comments to help give you a flavour of the kind of holiday you can expect if you stay in either Tom’s or Douglas’s barns. Skimming through, picking some out almost at random here to start with are some unexpurgated comments from the Douglas’s Barn guests. (All can be seen in the Visitors’ Book.)

“Had a fantastic time, what fabulous accommodation! Can recommend Lathkill Dale, with pub in village with brilliant views. The cottage exceeded our expectations, thanks!!” August 2011

“Our first visit but definitely not the last. Everything perfect, beautiful cottage, every detail and more thought of.” August 2011

“A very special cottage which makes you feel at home even when it’s raining…Loved Haddon Hall and the wild flowers at Dovedale.” September 2011

“Lovely cottage in stunning countryside; only used the car once, walks from the door – marvellous!” September 2011

“Fantastic cottages with great walking and cycling on the doorstep. Can recommend the pub in Brassington and the Thai restaurant in Ashbourne. Thank you, John and Marion, for all the little extras.” September 2011

Some Guests’ Comments from Dog-Friendly Tom’s Barn

Orchard Farm suntrap

Basking in the sunshine outside Tom's & Douglas's Barns

You don’t have to have a dog to enjoy a wonderful holiday in Tom’s Barn. Many but by no means all of our Tom’s Barn guests do come with a dog, or two, but we do our very best to ensure, especially for non- dog owners that you wouldn’t ever guess that we did accept dogs. That is why we charge a bit extra for dogs because it takes real effort, time and dedication (ask Janet!) to erase all doggy traces however well behaved and well-groomed the dog, however careful the owners…

“The best equipped, stocked and presented cottage we have ever stayed in, thank you! So many great walks, both from Parwich and also within easy reach – the walks folder was so helpful. Great food and atmosphere at the George, Alstonefield; Chatsworth lives up to its reputation. So much more to see and do – we hope to return some time.” Aug 2011

“Thank you, both, we had a lovely holiday and what lovely weather we had: sunshine every day! Tom’s Barn is so relaxing, everything is perfect. I loved the flowers and Simon the jam and coconut tart and the marmalade. Great location for visiting all the lovely villages… Ashbourne Park great for the dog – it was Samson’s favourite place.” Aug 2011

“2nd visit and just as lovely as the first! Nice to relax in a wonderful barn after long walks with Benny. So many people return year after year which says volumes for how lovely it really is. We too will come back for another great holiday.” Aug 2011

“ The best equipped, stocked and presented cottage we have ever stayed in, thank you! So many great walks, both from Parwich and also within easy reach – the walks folder was so helpful. Great food and atmosphere at the George, Alstonefield; Chatsworth lives up to its reputation. So much more to see and do – we hope to return some time.” Aug 2011

“Thank you, both, we had a lovely holiday and what lovely weather we had: sunshine every day! Tom’s Barn is so relaxing, everything is perfect. I loved the flowers and Simon the jam and coconut tart and the marmalade. Great location for visiting all the lovely villages… Ashbourne Park great for the dog – it was Samson’s favourite place.” Aug 2011

‘We loved every minute – a week with no rain, too. Not our first visit, nor will it be our last.’ July 2011

Shimmy visited recently

Many thanks, Marion and John, for a lovely stay. The cake was a lovely treat on arrival, and you have thought of everything to make our stay as comfortable as possible! We can recommend a lovely dog-friendly pub – the Packhorse in Crowdecote – great food and ale and a very warm welcome. Thank you again!’ July 2011

“Another lovely stay at Tom’s Barn. We visited in December when everything was covered in snow – lovely to see here in summertime. Chatsworth is a great place to visit – dog friendly, excellent walks. Relaxing and very comfortable and peaceful as ever. Thank you.’ July 2011

‘As usual, we didn’t want to leave.’ June 2011

Rachel and Greg's Poppy

Finally, as far as the dog-friendly business goes, we are so lucky in the village because there is a lovely young woman called Delia Pegg who for a fee which will depend on the dog/s and what you want doing. She will dog sit/walk/groom which can be very convenient if you want a dog-free spell for any reason. Phone her on 01335 390 758 or 07773 487 882 – she is very busy so you’d need to give her lots of warning.


Did You Have a Good Time?

Contemporary comfort in Douglas's BarnHere are some of the latest excerpts from comments left in the Douglas’s Barn Visitor’s Book. Occasionally (but we haven’t here) we might add a comment made in an email. We put the date but not the name but all comments are quite genuine and can be seen here. We do not sit it here making them up!

‘What a super, relaxing week. Lovely walks, stunning countryside – and a smashing place to stay with a warm welcome…The best Premier Cottage we’ve stayed in!! Thank you.’ Aug 2011

‘As ever, a lovely stay, with all the little extras. Weather was glorious so what more could we ask… Thanks again!’ H&G

‘Thank you for all the comforts provided in this lovely cottage and especially thank you…for your welcome and all the little extras provided, and fresh flowers, marmalade, good reading and the photo opportunity! We have thoroughly enjoyed this week in Parwich.’ July 2011

‘We have had an excellent stay. Even though we were well informed about what we would find at Douglas’s Barn, it still manages to exceed all of our expectations. We will be back (hopefully to also enjoy some more sunshine). Thank you very much.’ July 2011

‘Idyllic third visit. 10 walks from the barn, plus one at Ilam. Such a perfect place to relax.’ July 2011

‘Absolutely brilliant! From the moment we walked in, we loved it! So well equipped and tastefully decorated. An absolute delight. Thank you so much. Can’t wait to come back soon!’ July 2011

‘We booked our first stay in Douglas’s Barn a year ago – a long time to wait but it has far exceeded all our expectations. From the moment we were greeted by Marion and John everything has been more than perfect (including the weather!). So many extra touches – we both really loved our Bakewell tart – we will return for that alone! The week has gone far too quickly and it will be sad to leave this gorgeous cottage in the most idyllic surroundings, but we will return.’ June 2011

‘Our second stay at Douglas’s Barn and it’s still as wonderful as ever. It has been a thoroughly relaxing and welcome break.’ June 2011

Douglas’s Barn: Our Guests’ Thoughts this Spring

Douglas's Barn sitting roomDouglas’s Barn’s turn now – once again, I will put those with specific recommendations in a separate post. But first I am going to slip in an emailed comment from a lovely couple who stayed with us in April and who have agreed that we can publish their (private) message to us. All the other comments are from the Vistors’ Book.

“Just a quick note to thank you again for a wonderful stay at Douglas’ Barn. We were absolutely thrilled with the location and the fabulous facilities. The barn itself was just perfect. There were  so many thoughtful little extras that made our stay truly special. It really felt like our home for the week! The delicious Bakewell tart deserves a special mention too – one of the many personal touches that made Douglas’ Barn the 5 star experience it was. We would thoroughly recommend either of the barns to people. We wanted for absolutely nothing during our stay & we felt so welcome.

We hope, very much, to stay with you again. It was just the most relaxing, peaceful & restful holiday we have had in years! With grateful thanks & our very best wishes…”

”Perfect 10/10 second visit, not the last we hope!”  May 2011

“Our second visit to this fabulous cottage! We’ve had another fantastic holiday – very relaxing and we couldn’t have wished for better weather! The lemon drizzle cake was delicious!” May 2011

“Wow! What a beautiful place, in so many ways. We knew it would be good but Douglas’s Barn still exceeded our expectations! Thank you for making it so special, amazing and relaxing! (Got engaged on Wed 27th on a hillside overlooking Dovedale!!!)” April 2011

“We really had an amazing week in Douglas’s Barn and will definitely be recommending to all our friends. The most relaxing and soothing holiday in years!!” April 2011

“Thoroughly enjoyed our stay – can’t wait to return. Clean, comfortable, cosy, so well-equipped, with such attention to detail. Thank you.” March 2011

“Now we’ve both had a week back at work we realise what a haven of relaxation Douglas Barn is!” March 2011

Tom’s Barn: Spring 2011 Extracts from the Guest Book

Tom's Barn sitting room: an unusual viewBelow are some comments that our guests have left. I have already listed and posted separately  several with useful suggestions and recommendations about  where they’ve been – always helpful for others who may be looking for ideas. There is so much to do locally, no one should be short of ideas but choices have to be made and recommendations can be such a help.

Anyway, here is a selection of comments from Tom’s Barn – all can be seen and verified if anyone should ever wonder whether we sit here and dream them up!

“Yet another wonderful stay at Tom’s Barn – a warning to all – ‘Book early to avoid disappointment!’ This is a real gem and we are always sorry to leave. Even managed several smiles from the landlord at Brassington. Thanks so much, Marion and John.” May 2011

“Well, we might not have won the lottery – but we did pick up a cancellation at Tom’s Barn for Easter week and possibly the sunniest most glorious Easter in the history of the world. So, how lucky are we?!!! Thank you Marion and John for a wonderful haven. You know how much we have loved it, as we will be back in November and June 2012. Can’t wait!!” April 2011

“Many thanks, Marion and John. We have had a wonderful week, from the welcome treats when we arrived, to the lovely walks, to the peaceful surroundings. Just what we both needed.” April 2011

“We have enjoyed the beautiful landscapes here on our many walks. Thank you, Marion and John for providing such a clean, cosy and comfortable cottage. We have had a lovely holiday.” April 2011

‘We love it here! All you could want and more. Not our first visit nor will it be our last. Thank you, Marion and John.” March 2011

“With a welcome like no other (thank you, Marion and John) our stay has been very special – a real bolt hole from the issues and pressures of life. We go home refreshed and batteries truly recharged. Our thanks and gratitude.” March 2011

“What a treat! A delightful cottage in stunning surroundings. A wonderful first holiday for (baby) Ieuan and lots of precious memories for us. Thank you xxx.” March 2011


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