Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Bed and Breakfast & Holiday Cottage

Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Right Old Knees Up

Christmas has been and gone now and peace is returning to Brook Farm. Burst pipes and frozen drains didn't stop us from scoffing and guzzling ridiculous amounts and having a good old knees up round the joanna. My Dad on the guitar and lead vocals, the beautiful niece perfectly in tune and the rest of us catterwauling along as best we could until the choruses when aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives all came together in perfect harmony and it all sounded fab (I'm lying) Doing the Lambeth Walk, Don't Dilly Dally and Knees Up Mother Brown were the favourites and to finish Oom Pah Pah from Oliver Twist. What a giggle.

All is quiet now, we've had some B&B guests and some Hen House guests come and go and more here now for New Year break. The candles are lit, the log fires burning. And now I have time to catch my breath and start to think about the nice things to come, starting I think with a bare root rose order. Lovely thing to do by the fire on a chilly January evening. Happy New Year to everyone (if anyone?) that reads this!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It all goes quiet and I dolittle

With fewer guests around at this time of year and the garden preparing for its winter sleep, I spend more time playing Dr Dolittle. For me animals bring Brook Farm to life - inside and out. However pleasing a scene is in our garden, if a cat or a chicken saunters into view it becomes even more so. Picture the old orchard on the hill - misshapen old apple and damson trees, a few wildflowers and some grass. A lovely country scene in itself, but add a couple of donkeys watching you quietly as they chew messily on an apple, the juice pouring out of their mouths and it becomes a real delight - well it does to me anyway.

In summer, a walk around the garden will find a scattering of sunbathing cats in various lazy poses, decorating the sunnier spots and looking as good as any expensive piece of sculpture to me.

And heading off into the woods for a walk in the morning wouldn't be the same without the dogs bounding ahead sweetly delighted with the same route every day thanks to the delicious smells laid by various wild creatures overnight.

At the beginning of November I bring the donkeys into the big barn overnight. It means more work for me, but I love having them here next to the house looking all cuddly and cosy in their straw bed. This year for the first time they are having to share with my new chickens. Neither species was particularly pleased about the arrangement for the first couple of days and I nearly had a squashed chicken or two as the donk Queenie chased them around the barn trying to hit them with her front feet. Several barn cats enjoyed the show from the safety of the hayloft - I'm sure they were grinning.

Willy says I'd have the whole menagerie in the house if he wasn't here and he could be right. I still have a childish love of seeing outside animals indoors and didn't rush to shoo out the hens when they came exploring the hall and the sitting room the other day. When I was about twelve I used to ride a neighbour's pony called Snowy. One day, when my parents were out, my friend and I thought it would be a good idea to take Snowy indoors. It was summer so he was quite clean but unfortunately as we took him through the sitting room he lifted his tail and started to produce an enormous poo. Being twelve year old girls we shrieked and giggled and were generally useless and I grabbed the nearest thing I could find in the kitchen which happened to be the cake tin and caught most of the pile of steaming dung in it. The rest of it went on a very pale rug. We obviously thought it was hilarious and I got away with it for years.....well til now actually. Sorry Mum!

So if you fancy snuggling by a roaring fire with or without a furry animal at your feet - whether you want to come and sightsee the area, go for bracing walks or simply Do Little, Brook Farm has a warm welcome, a cup of tea and a nice slice of cake waiting for you. (I have a brand spanking new cake tin honest.)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Look no further than Twitter for a great B&B!

For me running a B&B is made so much more fun by tweeting. There's a lovely community of Lords and Ladies (landlords and landladies) that chat, advise and giggle often early in the morning when normal people are still in bed and I just love being part of it.

It is also a brilliant way of finding places you just have to go and stay in. I started tweeting in March this year egged on by my friend Karen ( and by the beginning of April had a "Must Stay" list as long as my donkeys' ears, so using the excuse of our 15th wedding anniversary we planned a lovely TwitterTrail starting at the Grand Designs favourite Peel Castle (, then on to the beautiful country house Austwick Hall (, then some sea air at "The Best B&B in the NorthWest" ( and finally the elegant Ashton in Lancaster (

A better selection of modern B&Bs would be hard to find and we had an amazing time. Each one was different, though all had the highest standards, and that is what is so lovely about British B&Bs : they are so different, being as they are, creations and perhaps even extensions of the owner's personality. And what food! Quality local food cooked perfectly every time.

Thinking of our 'little' farmhouse B&B, we felt like the poor relations in these enormous rooms and stylish surroundings. But of course our 'nice little place' is different again and though when I arrived back, with guests arriving that evening, I felt inadequate in comparison, the guests when they arrived did the same sort of ooohing and ahhing that we had been doing all week.

So there is obviously a place for "New Country" which is how I like to think of my own B&B alongside "Boutique" and "Luxury" and - er- "Castle" in the B&B world. What a great choice we have in this country. Thank goodness for that.
Ah Autumn - mellow fruitfulness for some; chainsaws and wellies for us. We've got fruit too - a few sloes, pears, autumn raspberries, loads of damsons and enough apples to feed the world. If the world has long enough arms to pick them. Our old orchard is planted on a bank and the trees are about 40 years old and big 'uns so we have to wait for windfalls to be able to appreciate their fruit.

This suits me "Leave it for the birds" I say, but Willy is different. He likes to strip a tree or bush of all its fruit and stash it in the freezer in the misguided belief that I will one day turn them into something delicious. He still does this every year despite the fact that I barely ever get around to doing so - a strategy that has worked well (finally) as he has taken to preserving and pickling things himself this year. He is in fact right now decanting damson vodka which is much loved by our guests. Hopefully soon he will move on to making pies and crumbles. I'll make the custard.

There are times when I can put on a good performance in the kitchen (hopefully most mornings as I run a B&B) but I would very much rather be in the garden than baking cakes and making jam, and autumn to me is the beginning of the gardening year. Although it is looking much as I feel at the end of a busy summer, it is now that I can start its makeover for a new look next year. Not a completely new look, but an improved look - Plants get moved from one place to another (Why on earth didn't I put them there in the first place?) Things get lifted and divided to give me more of the plants I love (Yay - free plants!) and a lot of stuff gets put on The Naughty Step.

The Naughty Step is a bank around the back of one of our barns where we put the thugs who would take over the garden if they had their way: a boring Lysimachia, Alchemilla mollis and masses of wild strawberries. There was a time when we were desperate for something to fill the acres of space we had and we were grateful for them so rather than compost them, we allow them this space to do their worst. It will probably end up being the best bit of the garden.

And with autumn, the chainsaw comes out again. Big old trees, weighed down with the rain on their leaves finally give in and fall. There was an ash at the far end that had been getting lower and lower over the seven years we've been here. It was a bit like living with an aged grandparent, he'd had a great life - what heights he'd reached - and we knew the end was coming, but it was still sad when he fell.

But what a great supply of wood for the fires this year. I love lighting the fires of an evening - that and a few candles make for a lovely welcome. Let's start getting cosy: the nights are drawing in.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

This is a PS except it appears to be at the beginning and won't move down.
This is Sue's lovely painting mentioned below and I forgot to give you all a link to her art and her B&B both of which you are all going to want to see :

Sue (pictured here with lovely husband Terry) and I were agreeing that so many visitors to our B&Bs and holiday cottages say they wish they'd come for longer - people snatch a couple of days here and there and try to "squeeze in" a rest. Yes, we agreed people really should take the time to seriously slow down and enjoy the new area they've discovered : Take it easy, breath in the country air, read some books on a picnic blanket or just sit and stare. They shouldn't screech into the driveway, unpack, screech out again, tick off the sights, tear back, shower, whizz down to the pub - it's all too like their normal lives.

But I didn't have time to linger and chat because we had only booked to stay two nights and there was much to do.

From pretty little Ilam - which looks like a model village but bigger (er, so a village I guess) you drive up over the moor towards Beechenhill Farm. Driving along you can spot the house away up on a hill and immediately know you are going to get great views once you're there - and indeed there are great views on the way there and in fact all around: it is a truly beautiful place, The Peak District.

I needed rest. For weeks I had been becoming more and more jealous of my own guests and I wanted someone to look after me for a change! You remember when you were in your teens and you were always being told off for "Treating This House Like A Hotel" - I think that is what a good B&B should feel like: Somewhere you will feel immediately cosy and welcome, where someone will cook for you and do the washing up and tidy your room, but with the added bonus that you don't actually have to have a conversation with them if you don't want to. This is precisely how it feels at Beechenhill Farm.

In fact we did have several conversations with Sue and her family - mostly because they are very interesting, funny and kind people.

We had chosen to stay at Beechenhill Farm partly because we wanted to visit The Peaks, but also because Sue and I had been chatting on Twitter and I had mentioned an old saying that inspired Sue to paint one of her lovely swedish style folk paintings. I was very keen to see the painting and even hopeful that we might be able to buy it at her exhibition that week. And while we were staying we were able to see more of these gorgeous paintings and learn all about their history and how Sue is using the style to tell stories of the countryside and engage people in thinking about food production, farming and the environment. The pictures tell complex stories in a simple way and are especially a hit with schoolchildren visiting the exhibition. Hopefully they will hang on to the messages long into their adult lives.

So we did a little bit of sight seeing and a little bit of reading and quite a bit of sleeping and an awful lot of "Wow that's so beautiful"ing. And then it was time to go. Too soon. Should've stayed longer. We are so right about that Sue.

Monday, 2 August 2010

I love close in hills and trees but I also love a feeling of space
I like hedges but I don't like 'rooms'
I love straight lines and symmetry but I want a natural feel
I like clever ideas but I also love simplicity
This is why I like the garden at Veddw, but you might not
In which case the owners would probably rather have a conversation with you than me

Do visit this amazing garden in person or virtually at

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

It's usually about now every year that I realise that my charmingly chaotic garden is actually an alarmingly shambolic garden and instead of floating around thinking "Ah nature is doing a wonderful job all on her own", I'm muttering things like "Oh do stand up dear" to a laden floribunda rose and "Hmm you're not supposed to be there" to an enormous crocosmia falling across a tiny path and "Please don't strangle poor Miss Wilmott" to the dreaded bindweed. It is time to get my scissors out and start Tidying Up.

I will only Tidy Up twice a year - the first time lasts from January to April which is quite enough tidying in one year really, so this time it is a quick frenzy of beheading and deadheading, ruthless trimming and maybe even a touch of strimming because it is also a busy time of year for my B&B and holiday cottage business.

I emerge from a hedge backwards secateurs in hand to greet guests, make tea and present cake with small twigs and nettles stuck in my hair and then head straight back to the garden, briefly groaning as I pass a mirror and realise how frightening I look.

And after a couple of days everything is looking much much better ...much tidier ...very pleasing...except there are gaps now, which is not pleasing at all and in fact I appear to have tidied away a lot of the flowers along with the mess. If I was a proper gardener I would have several summer flowering bulbs or annuals in pots ready to slip into the blank spaces, but I'm not, so I haven't and a trip to the garden centre is the only answer.

The garden centre knows I'm coming and has all its best plants flowering their hearts out, totally distracting me from my pledge to only buy things on my list. And they have a lovely garden to look around too, which makes me feel even more of a failure, so I have to go to their coffee shop and have some cake and then a quick visit to their salvage yard and a longer and expensive visit to their interiors shop too which makes me feel better briefly before I realise what I just spent on a pretty bowl could have bought three more plants.

And so back to the garden and slotting in the sparkling new plants into my rowdy borders and now I'm feeling sorry for them as they look so prim and proper in their new home, like sober newcomers at a drunken party.

Never mind, like new kids at school they'll be joining in with the gang next year and I'll be pleading with them to behave like a worn out schoolteacher and being ignored and it will all start all over again... I love gardening.

Monday, 21 June 2010

A Blog of Roses

Midsummer's Day at Brook Farm and what a beauty! Everything is looking healthy and bursting with life. Lots of roses are out and there are thousands more buds promising a lovely long flowering season.
This garden is now around six years old and is making us very happy. It is a garden made without a proper design or a planting plan, full of the things we love and tells a tale of our love of this place and the ongoing business of making a garden that is right for the land it sits in, right for him and right for me. It is a garden of compromises!

These pictures are some I have taken, but this week we were very lucky to have professional garden photographer, Julia Stanley, come and take some proper ones. I can't wait to see what she has done and see the garden through someone else's eyes. I have already seen a lovely shot she has taken of the old wreck of a 1950s caravan we have been meaning to remove for years. Now I think we might simply sow wild flowers in front of it and make it a bit of a homage to hippies!

Is our garden a work of art? I don't think so. It was not planned to be a work of art, it has no proper design, but I do often say to people that I paint with plants because I cannot draw, so I suppose I hope there is some artistic merit in it somewhere. What I am trying to do is create a feeling more than a look. One day I'd like to persuade the garden critic Anne Wareham to come and tell me what she thinks. In the meantime we shall continue to argue about it, enjoy it and share it with friends and guests as we have during the making of it these last six years and hope for lovely long sunny summer days as beautiful as this.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

So what happened was the neighbouring village (about ten houses) wanted to start up its horticultural show again after not having had one for several years, and the committee wrote a nice little letter to the residents of the neighbouring hamlets (about another ten houses between them) asking us to support the event.

Having only grown vegetables for the first time that year I said I really didn't think I was competent enough to take part when I met one of the organisers in the village shop. "It's just a bit of fun" she reassured me and so I agreed to take part. It would be a shame after all if their first show had a poor turnout.

So the day came and I chose my five straightest slimmest most slinky looking runner beans, two really quite beautiful lettuces - one red, one green - and three of my roundest juiciest looking tan skinned onions which I tied with a pretty piece of raffia. I displayed them all in pretty little wicker baskets lined with gingham napkins.

We all then went to the pub while the judging took place and I can't truly say that we sat nervously with our beers while we awaited the outcome, but it was a nice gathering of local veg growing folk and in fact some of us were quite late back to the village hall to see what prizes were being handed out.

I am probably never going to be allowed to forget that my beautiful onions had won second prize - in a class where I was the only entry.

Just a bit of fun indeed - humpphh.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

I used to grit my teeth when my sister-in-law regularly declared the Cotswolds "Designer Countryside". I loved where we lived near Chipping Norton and our country life, our farming neighbours and friends and the lovely community feeling that centred around our 'local' The Tite Inn at Chadlington. Having lived in the area for most of my adult life I didn't really know what she was talking about - it was just countryside.

Maybe it was the day we first spotted our neighbour hoovering his drive that we realised things were changing. The old folk started moving out and younger 'London Folk' started moving in. Many of the new folk became - and still are - great friends, but some started complaining about the mud on the road from the tractors, the smell of pigs, the noises - of farm machinery and even cockerels for goodness sake!

So we came out to 'The other side of Worcestershire'. Really rural - not wild like the depths of Wales and Scotland - but just good old fashioned rural - lots of tractors, lots of smells, lots of mud. We love it. In the summer there is no place better to be. It is exactly as most people imagine 'The English Countryside' to be.

And now I understand what my sister in law was saying. The Cotswolds are beautiful and are made even more beautiful by the wealth brought by its more recent inhabitants. The perfect dry stone walling, layered hedges and post and rail fencing couldn't be achieved without them.

When we first moved here I admit I did smile at the variety of materials that could be classed as fencing. Now I have joined in with the rest of the ordinary country folk and will happily tie a few pallets together with some bailer twine and name it a perfectly good fence. I think it may be a small step towards my becoming a local - rather than merely 'Cotswold Overflow'.

Broadway is a lovely old town on the cotswold side of Worcestershire and it is where I often meet my sister as it's half way between me in Berrington and her family in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. We normally meet in the car park there so we can pile in her children's many bags of luggage when they are coming to stay with me. The last time we met I spluttered into the car park in our ancient Peugeot and noticed that this time all the cars parked there were new: Porsches, BMWs, Range Rovers and the like, all beautifully clean and shiny (not a single scrap of straw sticking out of the boots!) It seemed like a different world - almost unreal - and I marvelled how one county can be so different from one side to the other.

I love the Cotswolds, in fact I have always wanted to spend Christmas at one of the beautiful hotels there. Now that I don't actually live there it doesn't seem such a silly idea either. But for day to day simple country living I think I am in just the right place for me - on the wild side of Worcestershire.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The past has been catching up with us these last few weeks or at least catching up with Brook Farm. We've often said one day we'll get round to finding out about the history of the place, but it looks like if we just sit still the story will unfold before us.

It started with the children of some previous owners contacting us for a trip down memory lane. They were thrilled it's now a Bed & Breakfast and were able to come and stay in their old bedrooms. Their parents had retired here in the 70s and they had spent many a weekend and holiday at Brook Farm lending a hand with planting trees and DIY repairs to the house.

There's a long tradition of making do and mending here - the evidence is everywhere. Strange random bits of wood or iron pushed in to support a window or a door; no door, window or fireplace the same in the whole house. It's lovely to think of previous occupants doing exactly what we do - wait for a salvage bargain, some reclaimed bits and pieces or even a freebie from a friend.

Then I had a booking from a lady who was born here in 1933. She's coming all the way from Australia to see her old home! (OK she might be doing other stuff too.) She remembers it as a mixed farm and says she used to help with the potato harvest and the milking. She recalls her mother spent hours in the dairy making butter. The dairy is our utility room and the coldest room in the house - not somewhere you'd want to spend hours even now.

And then last week I was contacted by a family detective looking at who lived here in 1891, but the name she gave didn't ring a bell so I fished out a letter from a lovely gentleman from the local historical society, in which he tells me an entirely different family lived here then. So a bit of a puzzle to work out there, possibly something to do with the fact that it may originally have been three farmworkers cottages, not just the one house.

According to the history society in the 1891 census James Lowe (38) and his wife Harriet (35) lived here with their children Tom (6) and Harriet (2). They had a farm servant Joseph Green (18) and a domestic servant Susan Acton (16). Servants at Brook Farm! If only!

Then again, would I swap my central heating, running hot water and roaring woodburning stoves for some servants? It would make my life a lot easier but I do like my house to be a nice cosy place to stay and guests always love the woodburners. Besides doing all the work myself is a good way of keeping fit and warm! Speaking of which... time I was off.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Last night a beautiful gentian blue hot air balloon landed in the field opposite the kitchen. A man jumped out and came running over shouting "Is it all right if we land here?" Nice of him to ask but they were already down and it's not our land anyway.

The residents of Berrington came out to see what was going on. It wasn't a crowd: two farmers (father and son); my husband and our neighbour with his three children, socks wet from running out without any shoes.

There is also the farmer's wife, the farmer's daughter, the neighbour's wife and a quiet gentleman who lives alone on the corner. And me.

We wave as we pass in the lane, we occasionally help catch each others free-ranging animals, we ask the occasional favour and once in a while we find we have come together at the right moment and we share a beer and a gossip and a laugh.

A hot air balloon seemed an acceptable sort of interruption to a quiet Sunday evening in Berrington: Gently floating in as if trying not to disturb the peace. The rich can keep their helipads - I'm all for guests arriving quietly by balloon. It's a quiet life here in Berrington and that is exactly the way I like it.