When my better half booked a horsey course in Mapperley, Derbyshire (as opposed to Mapperley, Nottingham) and invited me to come along for the week, little did she know that a great deal of my formative years were spent in Derbyshire, one way and another.
When I was a teen, my family loved nothing better than a Sunday drive to Buxton, Matlock, Matlock Bath (beloved of bikers) and throughout the scenic delights of the Peak District, buying original puddings in the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop along the way. Later on, I did my first degree in Nottingham and then filled 6 months before the start of a course by working in the glorious old manor house, Hartington Hall Youth Hostel. Result? This is an area I love with a passion, tied up with memories. No way was I going to miss this opportunity.
She went for accommodation to the current destination of choice for competitive self-catering breaks, AirBnB, from where I have previously chosen delightful places to stay in Iceland, Kings Lynn, and recently Bristol.
Time was when we used B&B directories to find our accommodation, then the sites to which such places subscribed, review sites like TripAdvisor, but there’s no doubt that the gig economy and the liberating rise of sites like AirBnB opened out the market so anyone could offer space, even a spare bedroom, for a bit of extra cash, for a fee that probably works out less than more traditional routes for advertising their services. However, most of the AirBnBs I’ve stayed in are dedicated facilities, for which the website and its increasing popularity are merely the most appropriate vehicle to gain business. Whether you gain repeat business depends on how good you are in the first place and how well your clients review you.
This is certainly true of the good ratings applied to Long Barn at Court House Farm, just outside the small town of Duffield, up the road from Belper and an easily doable drive from the finest locations of Derbyshire – but first you have to get there, and this is not a location you would merely chance upon.
After negotiating speed humps, you drive on a windy single-track road past the Chevin golf clubhouse, across the golf course, through a narrow gate and up a steep cobbled courtyard. A golf ball through the window is thankfully unlikely! Driving (car, not golf shot) is far and away the best way to get there, though even ramblers might find the cobbles tricky going. They did not agree with my ankle, post-op, so I parked as close as possible to the barn and used my cane for support. Please note: this venue is not accessible by wheelchair.
Once you’ve found your way in, a couple of facts are readily apparent: The views are stunning, and well deserving of this over-used word. All you can see is rolling countryside, wooded hollows and perfect sunsets – so long as it isn’t pouring down.
Best of all, the old farm buildings have been beautifully made over. The refurbishment of the old barn is charming, homely, sympathetic (lots of beams), user-friendly (providing you remember to duck the beams), functional and high quality. Were it not for the glorious countryside, you might feel you’re in a New York loft apartment.
The quality of the refurb is worthy of further exploration, since this is what differentiates an OK place with one worthy of good word of mouth, as anyone in the hospitality industry will tell you.
The finish, including good wooden flooring, demonstrates this is not a job done on the cheap. Everything feels solid and well-constructed. All the furniture seems of excellent standard, including a substantial bed with a good, thick mattress reminiscent of mine (there are two double bedrooms, though the other possible guest did not come in the end) and fine linen.
Fixtures include a washing machine, slimline dishwasher, two fridges, a bath with jacuzzi-style jets, a separate shower, a decent oven and hob, in fact everything you could reasonably expect, then some. I used a reasonable selection of pans and casseroles to make palatable dishes for Em to come back to from her exhausting course and have no complaints about any. Yes, before you ask, there is an ironing board and iron, a hair dryer (more her than me)!
On the entertainment front, there is a flatscreen TV with a Freeview box and separate DVD, though the single SCART socket on the TV means you have to unplug one to plug in the other. In the absence of instructions, we did need a little help to get the TV working at all, though that was soon cured, thanks to David next door.
There is also WiFi, though finding out the password may tax your imagination in the absence of a welcome manual. Rather than giving the game away, can I suggest you have a word with Anita upon arrival and she will point you to where the details are recorded.
Thoughtfully, we were provided with complementary bread, milk, coffee, tea and a few other essentials to get us going, in spite of having had our own delivered in case we were left without. In the same way, we debated whether or not to bring towels but were met with good fluffy towels and did not steal them!
In fact my exhaustive search found nothing essential missing, other than a peeler/corer. We even bought dishwasher tablets, only to find a box in the well-stocked cleaning product cupboard. Our hostess Anita was one up on us there.
We did have a couple of issues, but even these demonstrate the excellent and attentive nature of Anita’s hosting since she was on holiday in Spain at the time. The first concerned a malfunctioning fridge/freezer, which was replaced within about two hours, I kid you not. The second concerned hot water for the bath and shower, both of which were malfunctioning. In this case the resident expert Harvey was there within a few hours, and while he could not fix the problems did give us a workaround to facilitate respectably warm baths and showers, for which small mercy we were very grateful.
I did eventually meet Anita and found her to be as warm and hospitable as these examples would indicate – and this is, after all, a service industry. What she will be most pleased to hear is that Em and I found the Long Barn to be a perfect base for our week in Derbyshire and would be very glad to return, circumstances permitting. Not the cheapest AirBnB, but unquestionably you get what you pay for – peace of mind, facilities worthy of a decent hotel, but the personal touch of a B&B. OK, so you make your own breakfast but that suits a foodie like me!