Still here, still smiling
It’s been quite a whilst since we posted a blog, well overdue in our humble opinion.
We’ve always enjoyed writing our blogs as a way to keep in touch, to share what we’ve been up to on-site and provide somewhat of a background to decision making on the more interesting/background things at Bolehill (why and how we go about things). Like with any place or business, much happens behind the scenes that you do not necessarily see and we enjoy sharing this with you, should you wish to read it of course. This is a fair old read yet we hope you enjoy it and please feel free to cherry pick reading what you wish!
Onwards and Upwards
Firstly, the elephant in the room. Onwards and upwards we all go – thank heavens. We look back at our previous blog post from winter 2019 and realise how the world can change beyond recognition to the norms we are all accustomed to. We took over the site in November 2017 and wholeheartedly both agreed it was for the long term. We expected and planned for bumps in the road; a bad day, a bad week or a bad month even. How could anyone foresee what was to come. Clearly, the most serious implications have been on health, families and the like yet from a secondary business perspective, it has been incredibly painful. We note that were open (varying extents) to guests for less than 4 months in 2020. Dark times indeed. Government support has seen us through the worst of it for which we are ever so grateful for. From a personal perspective, we feel very fortunate that we funded and completed the majority of the below works before the pandemic hit. It has meant we are still here, smiling and planning to be here for the long term.
It feels great to be open again and have the site back to its usual buzzy feeling. Hanging baskets are up; flowers are out. Pubs open. Guests back to having a nice, peaceful time at Bolehill. Before moving onto summer, did we mention Dave? Our resident pheasant that we see in the cooler months of the year. You may see or hear Dave out and about – he’s particularly fond of the area around the bird feeder in the Guest Garden.
Improvements & Enhancements Completed Since Last Blog
All works mentioned in our previous blog have now been completed. More about this below along with accompanying photos.
Lathkill has always had a tasteful stone fireplace although no real fire to speak of. Our understanding is that it used to house a small electric fire many years ago although we’ve only known it be an empty space. Therefore, retrospectively fitting a log burning stove into a stone fire surround seemed a clear winner to us.
The burner that we’ve fitted has a wide angle viewing screen and lovely to see logs crackling away during the cold snaps. It has the dual benefit of looking cosy and supplying vast amounts of heat. You’ll notice the flue pipe above the fire is chunky and we specified twin wall pipe so that it’s more family friendly (i.e. not as hot to the touch). The job itself was not easy and we give a great deal of credit to our fire fitter, as retrospectively adding a fire and flue to an old building is a tricky business. It currently sits waiting for the winter season to start.
Shippon, Derwent and Lathkill kitchens
Shippon, Derwent and Lathkill have had new kitchens and flooring installed. We’ve done our best to utilise the space so that storage goes further and have added under unit lighting to provide a warm glow. We’ve added a small extractor fan to Shippon kitchen as previously it has no mechanical ventilation whatsoever. We’ve made sure not to install any kitchen carousels within the units as in our experience, they are prone to go wrong! In our view, the new kitchens give the cottages a real cheery lift, particularly in their colour of Antique White (aka off-white!).
Communal Outdoor Area (top of the Guest Garden)
A new landscaped BBQ/seating/viewpoint area now sits at the top of the Guest Garden. We’re particularly proud of this as it has a wonderful view, two large wooden benches (up to 12 people can sit on each bench), a semicircular stone viewing seat, two BBQ’s as well as a garden arbour with planting to enable you to sit and enjoy the Guest Garden. This area was previously a (falling down!) log store with much overgrown shrubbery. In our mind, the area with the best view on site needed something special so our guests can get together and celebrate the view in style. The project involved an awful lot of digging (more than we anticipated) and much stone and wall building (the long section of wall alone is approximately 26m in length).
We particularity enjoyed the building of the stone bench. The bench is constructed of a walling stone base, with a seat top top cut from local stone in Matlock. Measuring and creating a template for the semicircular stone top was certainly a challenge. We resorted to a pen screwed to a chuck of wood (used as a spacer) and several bits of plywood strapped together. In a nutshell, we used the pen and wood to draw an outline onto the plywood to form a template from which the stone was cut – luckily it fitted well, phew! This area is purely communal and not bookable – all our guests are welcome to enjoy this area from single guests through to groups.
Acoustic ceilings installed to first floor cottages
We’ve listened to guest feedback since moving in and it was clear we needed to do more to lessen sound transfer for cottages below other cottages. Clearly we are realistic, we understand you can only do so much, particularly when dealing with ceiling heights afforded from old barn conversions. Nevertheless, we conducted a good deal of research. The first measure was to install proofing mat to first floor cottages (sitting beneath carpet underlay). Lathkill already had sound mat installed yet Bluebell did not so that has now been added.
The next measure to put in place was far more invasive and one of those jobs where there is no easy way to do it, you just have to crack on and give it your best. This was to install new acoustic ceilings which provide some separation between ground floor cottage ceilings and the floors above. It involved removing the ground floor cottage ceilings (ceilings in Shippon, Magpie double bedroom and Honeysuckle). Messy, very messy!
Once the plasterboards had been removed, the next step was to lay thick acoustic wool insulation between the joists. After that, install metal resilient rail strips to the underside of the joists. Then, attach special acoustic plasterboards (heavy density plasterboards with a rubber type acoustic backing) to the rails and then finally caulk, skim and paint the ceilings. The important detail with this type of ceiling is to ensure the screws go through the plasterboards and rails and not into the joists above (i.e. defeating the object of separation). A big job and we’re pleased to have finished it! As an aside, this was the best system we could use with the space (height) we had to play with. Clearly, we couldn’t drop the ceilings by much more than a minimal amount due to window and door openings.
We are pleased with the results and we hope that you are too. Do they stop all sound transfer? Absolutely not. Yet now it is more muted, much more muffled. We do not hear voices; footsteps are much more muffled. In our opinion, great for all but the most noise sensitive or light sleepers (as stated in the cottage descriptions on our website).
Wi-fi network simplification
The Wi-Fi network has been refreshed and simplified although this is work in progress and further network updates are planned for our next refurb period (winter 2022) to make it easier to fix should it ever go wrong. Minimising downtime and cottage access is paramount from our point of view so that we disturb you less if things ever go wrong.
Sheepfold stepped entrance
Sheepfold Cottage now has its own stepped entrance and outdoor fence to provide it with a small enclosed area from the front door. Previously, it was accessed by walking across Honeysuckle. Therefore, providing Sheepfold with its own independent entrance made a lot of sense. It’s been built using walling stone and gritstone slabs (steps) so that it blends in with the courtyard. Our poor old Freelander had a tough ride transporting all of this from the stone yard!
New entrance/route to Dog Paddock & Footpath
Originally, there was one route and entrance to the Dog Paddock which was accessed around the back of Sheepfold and Derwent. However, the opposite side of the Dog Paddock backs on to the Car Park. This made us think – if we were to take out a section of the Car Park wall, clear ground and construct a small path and gate, we could make a secondary access to the Dog Paddock. We could only think of benefits to doing this without any downsides and therefore we went ahead. A relatively simple job which has seemed to be well received to date, particularly by guests staying in cottages towards the car park end of the site. Moreover, it’s made a nice little walk by accessing one entrance and out through the other. The old access is still very much in use. We’re so used to seeing it now, it feels like it’s always been there!
The second picture below (on the right) showing blue stiles are also new additions. We’ve added three blue stiles in total; two to the first wall out of the Dog Paddock and one to wall after this. The logic to this was to add an easy route to the footpath for our guests to enjoy, without worrying if field gates are locked off as they sometimes are. Therefore, if you go into the Dog Paddock and then over the first wall-stile and then the second wall-stile, you arrive at finger-post for the footpath. It’s such a terrific footpath too with Sheldon to the left and Over Haddon, Monyash and so forth to the right – excellent for leaving the car parked and having a walk from the door. Pubs and scenery galore.
Discrete cottage enhancements
All cottages now have new 18/10 stainless cutlery and one our farming friends is secretly a dab handed artist and so he’s kindly designed new (hardy) cottage placemats for us. The word ‘hardy’ was added with intent and emphasis – it was always sad to see how many placemats we used to plough through (liquid seems to ruin them) yet are confident we will not have the same problem with these new super farmer-hardy mats! They are bright and cheery and we do hope that you enjoy using them.
Honeysuckle and Shippon outdoor areas
Externally, we’ve added a small picket fence and gate (the classic green) to Honeysuckle to provide it with a small enclosed space. This job turned out well yet the angle of the gate section caused my dad and I with somewhat of a headache and drilling/anchoring through some of the older, softer sections of stone was challenging to say the least – we always enjoy a challenge providing there are many cups of tea on the go. Since installing, it has been well received, particularly by dog owners and guests enjoying that extra element of privacy/separation which we feel it brings to Honeysuckle.
As an aside on the mention of outdoor spaces, we’ve also spent some time on Shippons outdoor space. We’ve taken up the old (not particularly nice) concrete floor slabs and replaced with a more pleasing to the eye pea-gravel with additional planting.
Talking of site landscaping works, those of you who have visited before may recall a shrubbed area around the edge of the car park (sandwiched between the car park and Dove). We’ve often wondered what to do with it. Leave as it is and trim. Extend the car park. Remove the current shrubs and replant with something more meaningful. We decided on the latter and one thing we had over the course of 2020 is time.
We decided on digging out the existing (not particularly nice) shrubs and planting fruit trees to create a fruit tree area to be enjoyed by all. In summary, 10 fruit trees have been planted comprising of: 1 crab apple, 3 eating apple, 2 pear, 2 plum and 2 cherry. We purchased these from a fruit tree nursery in Scotland and many of the trees are on the more exotic side (okay, so not quite coconuts, I’m not sure how they would get on in Derbyshire!). Put another way, we’ve tried to find varieties you will not find in supermarkets. For example, one of the apples we’ve planted is called ‘Devonshire Quarrenden’ which was an extremely popular apple during the Victorian period yet like many other varieties, has since fallen out of favour due to it not conforming to modern growing techniques required for commercial mass growing. Another example is a rare Scottish pear called ‘Grey Benvie’ or a Welsh cherry called ‘Cariad’. That said, some of the trees are more common for good reason, after all, who can resist a Victoria plum. All trees were planted as bare root trees during January/February of this year and so far, all except one (a cherry), appear to be doing well (we have green leaves hooray). We’re thinking of replacing the wilted cherry with a Greengage tree, a timeless fruit. Will be interesting to see how it gets on in our climate.
To provide the area with a decorative finish, we’ve overlaid around the trees with bark chippings and placed a miniature picket fence around the perimeter (not green, quite enough fence staining already thank you very much). It is accessed through a central metal arch. Fay’s planted climbing roses to go up and around the arch which have made a tremendous job of creeping upwards to date. That is, a metal arch with a good coating of Hammerite may we add.
Clearly, the trees will take many years to become fruitful yet in the meantime, we hope that our guests will enjoy its visual and natural impact especially as you enter the car park. Please do feel free to walk in and enjoy – all we ask is please access by going through the metal arch as it’s all too easy to clip your foot on the small fence if climbing over (as we know all to well!).
Bluebells, Bluebells, Bluebells
Along a similar theme, we’ve done much along the lines of ‘cutting back’, whether pruning trees or clearing/trimming down woodland edges along the sides of the Guest Garden.
We have an old Bolehill Farm brochure from the early 1990’s which states that when in season, you can see a copse of Bluebells from you’ve guessed it, Bluebell Cottage! We’ve never witnessed a copse of Bluebells to which the brochure alludes to but then again, there is much additional growth which has compounded over the years; we’ve only known this area to be a cluttered woodland strip. With this in mind, we spent a good couple of days thinning the area, clearing out the dead growth and tidying. Tractor, trailer and many pairs of hands! It went really well and low and behold this year, we’ve had a lovely smattering of blue and white bluebells over the spring period. Additionally, we think it’s given the existing trees a lift as they’re now getting more light and have more space to bask in.
We’re looking forward to planting additional bulbs around this area later in the year to add further colour as well as news bulbs to compliment the snow drops at the bottom of the driveway. Something else nice to look forward to for a fresh year.
The Bolehill birds seem to be returning in force. 2021 has marked the installation of our second bird feeding station. Our first feeder had a solid two year innings yet the winter whipping winds saw it sheer (at the base). Our last feeder comprised of a traditional steel central pole with attached feeders. This time we wanted to try something different – something that the birds would enjoy, looks relatively twee whilst being substantial enough to battle against ‘top of the hill’ winter wind gusts. As an experiment, we’ve used a strong timber post concreted into the ground along with a post cap and decorative hanger feeders. This feeder (along with the all-important sunflower hearts) seems to have gone down a real treat with our bird population; the bird song we experienced during the spring was phenomenal. High hopes we will encounter a repeat next year. Will our latest feeder last longer than the previous feeder? We’ll have to wait and see but we are hopeful.
We’re planning to take a couple of short videos of our birds enjoying the feeder and food (particularly at popular eating times) and will upload to our YouTube channel soon when time allows.
We’re grateful to be in heading into a busy season. The site and cottages will certainly be keeping us busy for the months ahead yet we always make an effort to leave site for at least an afternoon a week to enjoy all that the Peak District has to offer. Recent trips include a visit to Renishaw Hall Gardens (very relaxing with an excellent walk around a lake) and Quarry Bank Mill (again, an excellent visit which is just under an hours drive from us). The weather treated us well on both visits. We’re looking forward to visiting Thornbridge Gardens (only a 10 minute drive from us) sometime during the coming weeks.
The seismic undertones of ‘you know what’ has meant that we’ve had to work in a different way and some of which is for the better yet it does have implications. We understand and appreciate that moving our cottage check-in time to 4pm is a change that is not ideal and please be assured we did not take this decision lightly. Furthermore, the same can be said with us removing the option to check-in early or check-out late. However, for us the maintain our standard of cleanliness, maintenance and personal accountability, these were necessary changes for us. We take our legal and personal accountability seriously and we want to ensure we get things right for you. Therefore, these changes are here to stay for the foreseeable future. On a similar note, in the day and age of ‘contactless check-ins’, we reiterate that you are always welcome at Reception or to call/text us on mobile phones if you have any questions, would like to chat or even just to say hello. For as long as we’re here, we never want Bolehill to become a faceless entity that is more in line with a cooperate than a small family business.
Things continue to look positive for the months ahead. At the time of writing this, we note that Chatsworth Christmas Market and Bakewell Christmas Market have been organised to proceed in November. Yes, we appreciate you should live in the moment and not wish the year away but we cannot hide the fact we’re looking forward to putting up Christmas lights already! Last year they were only enjoyed by guests for four days so are doubly keen for them to be enjoyed this year.
Ahh the Christmas lights, It’s a ladder intensive job it is but it’s one of those jobs where you form a rhythm and it is achievable to complete in one day, providing the weather is fair. Talking of fair weather and ladders, taking the large decorative spoke wheels down from the front elevation of Shippon was an interesting job. In order to repair, fill, preserve and stain we had to bring them down to ground level. Getting the wheels up and down was an experience and a half – involving a tractor, long ladders and some winning spirit.
Exciting Plans for 2022
We have an exciting Bolehill project planned for the months of January/February/March next year (to commence straight away in the New Year). The biggest project we have undertaken here to date and probably the biggest undertaking at Bolehill since the 1980’s. Excited yet also a little nervous too if we are honest (we’ll be fine once we get started!). Lets hope that sourcing building materials becomes easier than it is at the time of writing. As always, we aim to maintain the pleasant, traditional feel of the site and this plan will not change this. We plan to write another blog post this coming winter (before Christmas) to share further details.
In finishing this blog post, whether you’re a guest of past or present, we would like to thank you for your support, particularly over the last year. Patience, kindness and good wishes really do make a difference to us. Wishing all our guests a fantastic summer ahead and we hope to see you soon.
Dan & Fay Opala