Projects, planting and positive things to share

We posted our last bumper blog post back in 2021 and we’re coming up to our 6 year Bolehill-versary (we took over the reigns in November 2017) so thought it’s apt time for another blog post. We write this blog with the intention of sharing things we’ve been up to on-site, project work, accompanying photos, behind the scenes aspects and some of the joys/challenges of running a site such as Bolehill. Lots of photos to enjoy! We hope it’s an enjoyable read whether you a past, regular or new visitor to the site. As always, our intention is to keep the site moving with the times, in use with a purpose whilst maintaining and hopefully enhancing the traditional feel that many guests enjoy. We work hard to maintain the special feel of the site so Bolehill Farm remains a place people enjoy visiting. Below are some of the lovely winter/autumnal skies we’ve come across on site over the last couple of years.

Magpie Cottage to Hope Cottage

Our winter refurb period of 2022 certainly came around with a crash, bang, wallop! The main bulk of the project centred around the construction of a two storey side extension project to Magpie Cottage with the intention of turning our smallest 4 person cottage into a spacious 6 person cottage and additionally, tweak the existing space based on feedback we’d received over the past 5 years of running the site. The aim was to create a up to 6 person cottage which feels special, in the style of other cottages at Bolehill whilst having space and facilities that customers were asking for.

There was a strong business case for it too. Out of all of our cottages, Magpie Cottage had the lowest occupancy and whilst it had some sparkle, it was hampered by lack of space in the wrong places. For example, the dining table had to be folded in and out if four people were dining. The living/dining aspect felt somewhat cramped. There was only one bathroom. Some of the existing walls were suffering from damp/water ingress. The existing kitchen was functional yet getting on at 15+ years old and so in need of a refresh. The side location of the outdoor space for Magpie meant it was seldom used. Therefore it was the prime space to work on – we worked with planners to ensure it was a design that was in keeping with the site and would blend in to the existing courtyard.

We decided on the new cottage name of Hope after a suggestion from one our regular guests. A nod to the Hope Valley and also as a word, ‘Hope’ is an uplifting word. We decided to change the cottage name to update the cottage identity – changing from a small 4 person cottage to a larger 6 person cottage.

We had to be frank and honest with the space to work with – clearly due to the lay of the land, it would never have the views held by some of our other cottages yet we wanted to make it special in other ways (more about this below). We can honestly say that we put our all in to this project so that it would do justice to the site in general and be a space people would want to book and enjoy. It was important that the space was special, saleable and blend into the existing courtyard.

The digging stage was phenomenal – the size of the hole and the amount of rubble – wow! Due to ground levels as they were, the structure was effectively built into the ground. Credit to the digger drivers. The way they worked up and down the slope was a thing of marvel. It took time yet we didn’t cut any corners, we ensured the structure was correct and that all necessary damp proofing and associated works were completed correctly – our thought along with our builder was to work along the logic of, ‘do it once and do it right’. It is certainly the largest project we envisage doing here for many years and whilst enjoyable in parts, it was also a real challenge.

We were blessed with a relatively dry winter which is something we were dearly hoping we’d have in order to efficiently transport materials to, from and around site. We undertook many trips to the quarry (only a couple of miles from our site) for local limestone used for the construction of the build – the tractor and trailer and our builders JCB held invaluable for such tasks.

We used ground protection mats on and around the Guest Garden which did a sterling job in saving the levels of the lawn. Our main route of access for materials was from the side of Bluebell Cottage (where the new kissing gate now sits to our new Field Walk – more about this later) and from the large gate to the side of the BBQ area. We had the largest tractor to ever grace our fields which made for spectacular viewing! Talking of Bluebell Cottage – it now has an improved view of the Guest Garden as we replaced the handrail up to the cottage door and have done it in a way which makes the very most of the Guest Garden view from its front door. See what you think if you ever decide to stay in Bluebell (great for seeing the copse of Bluebells too at the right time of the year).

Our experience of running building projects over the proceeding years had provided some forewarning of what was to come; working against the weather alongside the sometimes sketchy availability of materials, the need to constantly manage tasks and time whilst managing cashflow and the constant desire of not wanting to let people down (we had pre-existing bookings which required the project to run in an efficient/timely manner). The roof works were case and point to this – you need fair weather to complete the roof, the right type and quantities of slate, temperatures high enough for building materials to set, manage the costs for the scaffold as time dependent, be able protect the internals whilst planning to get in to do the internals as soon as the building became water tight. As no doubt many of you reading may sympathise with, completing building works in the winter period brings along a unique set of challenges yet in order to run the site as a business, closing the site and completing the works during the winter period was a necessity.

Once the external works completed, we moved on to the internals of the build and whilst this was a pivotal moment in the project, as an aside, we were sad to lose our building site brew room! (the old Magpie kitchen). We moved our brew room in to Dove Cottage shortly after which was an ideal place for a warm brew and biscuit. It was also a big relief now working internally as bad weather had become less of a threat.

We were happy with how things progressed – we managed to incorporate a log burning stove in to the living room and adapt the existing twin bedroom to include an en-suite bathroom. Regrettably, we had to lose the twin bedroom window yet there was no way of keeping this as the new stairwell up to the new king size bedroom now sat behind it. To be honest, now it’s gone we don’t really notice and the countryside/courtyard views from the other bedroom windows make up for it.

Whilst it is a fresh cottage, we have tried to incorporate some of the old Magpie into the design, from the inclusion of antique pine, the old beautiful timber work, through to planting of a pyracantha bush which was a dominant feature to the old gable end. If you’ve stayed in the old Magpie before, you can use the old kitchen window as guide to find your bearings of how it’s been extended (this used to be at the end of old kitchen and now sits by the dining table). The existing staircase has been untilised and adapted to run in to the new section of the building.

Whilst the site was closed for several months and we had the people, machinery and will power – we rebuilt/repaired some wall and paths around site as well as other enhancement/repair works such as to the cottage outdoor areas and made some additions to the dog paddock (more about this later). We repaired many of the walls, dry stone walls and paths around site. We modified/repaired the steps outside of Honeysuckle Cottage meaning they are no longer immediately outside of Honeysuckle kitchen window (makes it much more pleasant from inside Honeysuckle and easier to navigate up the steps). We’ve fittingly planted a Honeysuckle plant outside of Honeysuckle Cottage which has been doing just fine and is shooting up the wooden trellis as intended. If you visit in the warmer months, spot it on the right hand side as you head up the steps and the smell in the evening as you walk up the steps can be delightful.

Due to the prolonged closure of the site for the above, it was an ideal time for us to get other bits and bobs sorted, an example of which was the pool table in the Games Room which we had recovered – a skill that seems is extremely hard to come by (we found it to be one of the hardest trades to source from the many trades we’ve worked with). In fairness, the chap who came out to us did a brilliant job in recovering the pool table and it now has a fresh, soft green cloth which should match the test of time.

Another point of note, we repainted the interior walls of all cottages in a soft, natural green colour which we feel has provided the cottages with a fresh, warm feel. New mattresses for all cottages too – many biscuit calories burnt maneuvering them around site, around the courtyard, up and down steps! We certainly felt it that day.

All in all, we’re delighted with how the project turned out and how the muddy tracks have now turned back in to grassland. We’re now proud to have Hope Cottage to offer to our guests: a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom cottage with a spacious downstairs area complete with log burning stove and our first bedroom with a king sized bed. We think it has a lovely cosy, countryside feel. Spacious yet cosy as hard as this is to describe! It has seating for 8 people around the dining table in case families/friends choose to book two cottages and wish to dine together. Two ovens and a large fridge/freezer. Downlights throughout the downstairs and proper sofa seating for 6 people. It has an enclosed outdoor area accessible from the cottage which faces out on to the Guest Garden which was well received during the warmer months. We feel that the extension now blends into the courtyard and you’d only notice the ‘join’ if you looked extremely closely yet it is now fading in (credit to our builders who did a fantastic job).

The extension has also provided us with a new planting border to the front elevation of Hope where we’ve planted a mix of annual plants and two climbing Jasmine plants (one summer flowering and one winter flowering) which we trust will provide some blossom and foliage to the front elevation wall once they’re established.

We hope that Hope Cottage will be enjoyed by guests for years to come.

Field Walk and Dog Paddock additions

Briefly mentioned above – these are two new additions on site since our last blog post. Both simple ideas which were borne from guest feedback since taking over.

The first being the new Field Walk. We received multiple comments over the years regarding the want of additional things to do on site and more areas which guests can explore the site crucially, without cattle and stiles. This idea devised around the large field which wraps around the Guest Garden that is know to us as ‘The Promise Land’. A brief story to the name is as follows – land which was not originally a Bolehill field had subsequently been promised to be sold to the previous owner and hence the name.

The field walk is accessed from the kissing gate to the side of Guest Garden – it is a short, circular loop that is stile and cattle free. We periodically mow the walking path using a tractor and agricultural topper during the warmer months to keep the path defined. It takes approximately 10-15 minutes to walk around the loop. Many of our guests (and dogs!) now enjoy this loop – a gentle way to enjoy the countryside, an easy going stroll and why not enjoy the far-reaching views at the top of the loop. Nice to have something else that can be enjoyed on-site, without the need for a car.

We like to look after the many dogs who choose Bolehill Farm as their place to holiday! Since our last blog post, we have created two additional dog paddocks – one large and one small which means we now have a total of 3 dog paddocks which all connect to one another. The new large dog paddock adjoins the original dog paddock and links via a farm gate yet the two paddocks are independent from each other. This new paddock is of similar size to the original dog paddock yet is blessed with ‘better’ stone walls than the original paddock in the sense they stand slightly taller. It also has less long grasses than our original paddock. Talking of grasses, we mow the new dog paddock with a tractor and agricultural topper periodically during the warmer months. That said, we would still recommend wellies/walking boots in our dog paddocks as the grasses are likely to be longer than the average garden.

The last and smallest dog paddock has been appropriately named as ‘Little Legs Dog Paddock’. It is somewhere specifically designed for smaller dogs – we mow this small space with a ride on mower as opposed to a tractor which means we can keep the grasses shorter. To prepare this space, we used a tiller to smooth the ground level, adding soil as appropriate and then finally grass seed to finish – now a pleasing grassed area. We hope it will be a small yet effective and enjoyable space for small dogs or can even be used by larger dogs who have more of a nervous disposition where perhaps a larger paddock would not be suitable. Lastly, additional dog bins have been added to make that side of things easier for our guests.

Site planting

We’ve continued with planting on-site: planting hedgerow, young trees, bulbs, amongst other plants. One particular area of mention is the bottom of our drive. Our view is that it is an area our guests and general public pass regularly and our ‘shop window’. Therefore, we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to add some colour and year round interest. With this aim in mind, we’ve planted a variety of spring flowering bulbs, added a new flower trough planter as well as the planting of multiple young trees either side of the drive. Our aim is to add some colour and interest throughout the year. Something nice to pass whether you are driving in to, out of or past Bolehill. Our take is ‘plant it in the ground and see what happens!’. Tree wise, we’ve planted a variety of young trees including a cotoneaster, rowan, purple beach, cherry blossom, acer, crab apple and holly amongst others. How to water them was a classic Bolehill challenge – we opted for dunking watering cans into the nearest cattle water trough – simple yet effective.

Some planting photos below to enjoy of plants which have been plated around site over the last couple of years.

2023 refurb period

Our last winter refurb period saw our attention focused primarily on Honeysuckle Cottage.

One of the challenges which we inherited when taking over the site was ‘problem walls’ – some of the cottage walls were damp/wet to the touch, particularly during the winter months. Cold external walls. Classic old building issues – not always easy to resolve and from our experience, all you can do is take advice on such matters, think things through, try your best and keep at it. Past efforts before our time at Bolehill includes the use of an insulated wallpaper yet this had proved only partially effective and is not the most sighlty material.

This was a particular issue with the external facing walls in Honeysuckle. We decided on starting again and as such, we have now fully tanked and insulated these walls and so far, the problem walls in Honeysuckle appear to have been eradicated and the walls are now warmer to the touch. There is still some condensation during the autumn/winter yet it is certainly less than before. We can but try and will keep at it.

Furthermore, we installed a new kitchen and flooring to Honeysuckle providing a new section of hard floor in the kitchen area. A new sofa too. The main consideration with working on Honeysuckle was needing to be clever with space – anyone who has been in Honeysuckle knows it is a very cosy space and when you are adding insulation and consequently redesigning the kitchen, it takes a great deal of planning to make the most of the space. 20mm here and 10mm there makes all the difference. Another comment to add is that that the old kitchen did not have any sort of mechanical ventilation so after a bit of problem solving, we’ve added a hob hood extractor fan to help with extracting moisture/cooking smells etc, hopefully making for a more pleasing guest experience.

One small win for us was the bedroom window sill – a lovely piece of timber that had previously been painted. After a good amount of sanding and churning through multiple sanding pads(!), it finally revealed the original wood. We’ve simply applied oil so the beauty of the timber can be enjoyed. Also, if you’ve stayed before in Honeysuckle, notice the surprise for the kitchen window sill, see if you notice a difference!

We think Honeysuckle is a fantastic space for a break away and even more so now – it is ideal if you are looking for a cost effective base to enjoy the Peak District for up to two people who do not require oodles of space. Perfect for a solo traveller too. It has a fully contained kitchen with dishwasher and full size single oven, a comfy 2 person sofa, an oak dining table with chairs, a proper size double bed and a sizeable walk in shower. Yes it is our smallest cottage but if you are wanting to keep costs down when enjoying a break away and do not require a great deal of space, then it’s a brilliant option to consider. It still has ‘jack and jill’ style seating outside along with enclosed fencing which remains popular with our guests.

The two downstairs bedrooms in Sheepfold Cottage were also on our radar. The damp/cold wall issue as experienced in Honeysuckle reared it’s ugly head in these rooms. Therefore, we have now tanked and insulated these external facing walls and as of time of writing, the damp/wet wall issue seems to be eradicated and the walls are warmer to the touch. We have also refreshed the flooring to Sheepfold kitchen/diner area.

We’ve made some final planned alterations to our guest car park – removing old concrete edges, unused planters and maximising the space on offer to be able to park more cars. We’re pleased to be able to finally say we’ve finished such works and it now means we have a car park which is easier to navigate with less obstacles and more capacity to comfortably park cars.

A dual benefit with doing this job was that it meant we’ve finally seen the back of the final bits of pea gravel from site – whilst a small detail, it used to be a background menace on-site; it got in your shoes and consequently in cottages, damaged hard floors and we’ve lost count of the number of vacuum cleaners it’s damaged over the years. Frustrating stuff. We still use loose gravel on site but at a size/grading it is less likely to carry around in your shoes. Small wins!

We’ve continued with further behind the scene jobs such as various tree surgery works around site, aerating lawns, insulating various loft spaces as well as refreshing the old wellglass courtyard lighting (rubber seals started to perish and began to let in water). We completed all our usual (and ever increasing) annual testing/survey/regulatory work during this period which a site like ours is required to complete. The more onerous side of running such a business yet we understand, necessary.

Another worthy note is that all cottage crockery has been replaced with classic Derbyshire, Denby crockery which we hope will be durable. Unfortunately for us, the original set of cottage crockery we purchased in 2017 was susceptible to chips on the rims and we did want this to happen again hence opting for Denby, we keep our fingers crossed – it certainly looks the part and feels tough. Lets see how it goes.

Moving ahead

We’re getting ready for the winter ahead! We’ve been planting lots of winter flowers and are equipped with a new salt spreader to set free around site. In our personal lives, we were blessed with the arrival of little Max Opala (just turned a year old at the time of writing this blog). He’s boisterous, cheeky and trying to crawl everywhere and anywhere! Kitchen cupboards have never been so appealing. Now walking using a walker and no doubt on his feet and mobile soon. He’s becoming a little laundry pro and already has his own toy cleaning set, toy hoover and tools.

We’re currently updating our ‘Walks from the Door’ guide to ensure all routes remain up-to-date and we’re also planning to introduce a similar ‘Cycles from the Door’ guide in 2024. The feedback from our ‘Walks from the Door’ has been overwhelmingly positive – the newly signed footpath access will be added to the update and the blue painted stiles connecting to the footpath have had a fresh lick of paint to keep them visible from the Bolehill fields.

Back up the ladder again…our Christmas courtyard lights have just gone up to coincide with the start of Chatsworth Christmas market – can it really be that time of year again? How time flies. The way the lights illuminate the grey limestone of the courtyard is very appealing and it’s great to see the courtyard glowing once again. Our courtyard Christmas lights are now 6 years on and we’re pleased to say working as well as they were from day one (if only more products were like this). We’re looking forward to the forthcoming festive period and all the cheer it brings.

Next winter refurb period is approaching and begins once our New Years guests have departed. The plan is to mainly focus on Bluebell Cottage next year and complete similar works to what we completed in Honeysuckle this year so for any guests staying in Bluebell next year, please look forward to your next stay and game of ‘spot the difference’.

Our best wishes and thank you for your interest and continued custom.

Dan and Fay

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