When we refurbished the barn and built the guest wing seven years ago, in keeping with all ‘Grand Designs’ – type projects we ended up way over budget. We just about managed to get it finished and roughly furbished, but we didn’t even have enough cash to build decks for the guest rooms let alone spend any money on our personal area. So our space remained pretty much as we found it when we arrived.
We live at the far end of the barn and we always make sure that the door to it from the ‘Insta side’ of things remains firmly closed so that no one can see inside. Part of the problem is a lack of space – no storage and only one bedroom. Embarrassingly when friends have come to stay, they have taken a room at the B&B and paid for the privilege. We have also been super anti -social with no space in which to entertain friends and family. Bruce and I have been together for seventeen years and given that we spent seven years renovating our house in Peckham, we have only spent one year of our time living like ‘grown ups’. We are a bit bored of living like this to be honest.
So about a year ago we sat down with our architect friend John, and started to map out a fairly modest extension to give us a little more space and a generally nicer environment in which to live. There is a strange little patch of ground that separates the barn from the drive (some distance from the guest areas you will be pleased to know) and the challenge was to create a space that made the most of the area.
The result will be quite an unusual building. In the middle will sit a conventional double height volume with a pitched roof and around it angular flat roofed spaces will take the build to the very edge of the plot. Everything will be wrapped in black corrugated iron. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste but we’ve seen a similar finish on John’s home – it looks great!
Before we could start building we had to clear the area including our neighbour’s Leylandii hedge. Having done this it is strangely open and we can more clearly seen how close the barn is to next door (which would have been the farmhouse). Fortunately we have very supportive neighbours and they quite enjoy our builds (well that’s what they tell us anyway).
Once the land is cleared you have to start digging to create the footings, add drainage, insulation etc … That said we hadn’t quite realized just deep we would have to dig as there is quite a difference in height between the drive and the back door. After all the digging it does look more like we are building a swimming pool than a set of footings.
Fortunately the land is very sandy with no clay to worry the builder (the story about never build your house on sand turns out not to be quite true). In fact when you get down a few feet the sand is bright yellow as if it’s straight from the beach. Then once you have spent days digging the hole you start to fill it (in the case of the sand it’s the same sand that we dug up in the first place!).
That’s as far as we have got. ….
The whole build is set to take five to six months – though some of this will be refurbishing the existing barn. If you have any questions or concerns please do just ask!
Whet your appetite
We are so lucky to have many fantastic producers of food in Suffolk. We are also fortunate to have some really great places in which to eat it– whether it’s seafood served from a humble fishing shack, a three course meal at a top gastro pub or a delicious donut from Orford’s famous Pump Street Bakery.
That said, we keenly felt the loss of a couple of our favourite restaurants during the first Covid lockdown – Darsham Nurseries and Mains. They were the ‘go to’ restaurants for both our guests and when we fancied a meal out ourselves.
Much as we happily walk down the road to our brilliant local pub – The Parrot & Punchbowl (or simply ‘The Parrot’) – it’s always good to discover some new places. These are some recent finds:
The Suffolk (www.the_suffolk.co.uk – originally a Covid relocation of Soho’s L’Escargot, The Suffolk is here to stay and is already very much a fixture on Aldeburgh’s high street (and soon to be with rooms – though perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on that- and a rooftop bar). The menu changes but you will always find delicious lobster and oysters on the menu.
Southwold Canteen (www.oldhospitalhub.co.uk) – Darsham Nurseries is dead – long live the Southwold Canteen!. The chef, Nicola Hordern, has bought her amazing flair and creativity, from Darsham Nurseries to this quiet community location set away from the hubbub of Southwold’s High Street. It has the vibe of a neighbourhood eaterie, with a seasonal menu prepared using wonderful ingredients, cooked beautifully served up with super friendly service. Lunch only at the moment – so go easy at breakfast!
Watson and Walpole (www.watsonandwalpole.com) – this has been a regular destination for us and guests over the last year or so. The Watson of the title was the original TV Hotel Inspector and has brought her eye for detail to this buzzing restaurant (though despite her formidable TV persona I hasten to add it is relaxed and informal). It’s in Framlingham – so a bit of a trek – but this regional Italian dishes are definitely well worth the effort. I have to confess I am a little addicted to their zucchini fries, unadventurous as that is. They also have an excellent vegan menu.
Greyhound Inn at Pettristree (www.greyhoundpettristree.co.uk) – this pub near Wickham Market has always been on our radar because it had a good reputation, however it changed ownership a few weeks back and word quickly got out that it is well worth a visit. We can confirm that indeed it is! A beautiful Suffolk pub set in a quiet, out of the way village. The food is modern British with everything cooked to perfection. Here is my delicious oxtail ravioli starter.
From the start we wanted a pond – but it takes a Covid lockdown to provide enough time to make one!
The Pond is the first part of a larger Japanese influenced ‘Stroll’ garden – with the aim of creating a peaceful understated space to sit and relax.
Unfortunately before we could start we had to hack back the rampant bamboo that we had allowed to get out of control. People don’t often consider a pickaxe a gardening tool but it is absolutely the right one for the job. You also need to be super vigilant as the smallest piece of root is enough to send a shoot rocketing into the air. I can’t help but think that the shoots look slightly evil!
Once the ground had been cleared of the bamboo and nettles we had to dig the hole. The shape is a traditional Japanese one – apparently originally based on a Chinese character for ‘heart’. Fortunately the soil is very sandy and relatively easy to shovel. It was exhausting nonetheless – it needs to be at least a metre deep in areas to ensure that it never freezes over at the weekend. Several days in and I was wondering why we didn’t use a digger. Ultimately it was good exercise and it did mean that I could keep an eye on the stray bamboo roots. At the some point it did look as though open cast mining had arrived at the Suffolk Coast.
Unfortunately we had to fill the pond with tap water. It’s not ideal – a waste of drinking water – but to try and wait for rain water in Suffolk could take years. It does mean with all that chlorine it was initially a very wildlife – friendly environment. That said, it is amazing how quickly life finds it’s way in. Pond skaters, water boatmen and mosquito larvae (!) moved in pretty quickly. Fortunately for us (less for the mosquitos), after a couple of weeks, our neighbor came round, with an ice cream tub full of smooth newts.
They had been quietly hibernating under a concrete slab. They were a little surprised to be tipped (gently of course) into the pond, but they have settled in. The pond has three pebble beaches and shallow areas to allow creatures to find their way in and out. Next year we will be on the look out for frog spawn to add to our amphibian collection.
A few weeks later, once the pond had settled in and sourced ten Rudd (muddy brown with orange fins) from a friend’s pond and then added in a couple Tench (bottom feeders that I haven’t actually seen – but they are there). They are now swim around in a shoal. We just have to hope that the herons don’t spot them or else it would be short lived. They seem happy enough as the pond is now full of fry.
We have planted plants on the banks with traditional Japanese plants – Japanese holly, that can be clipped into mounds, azalea, hostas, acers, Solomon’s Seal, black Ophiopogon, Liriope and ferns. They are all small plants so they look a little teletubby at the moment but hopefully they will mature in a few years into something respectable.
Five Acre Barn news
Well its almost been a year since the last Five Acre Barn post. I realise that there are probably not many (any) people hanging on our every update…. but if you have a blog then I think that you are supposed to write something on a regular basis.
So here is a quick update.
Summer was incredibly busy – we had at least one guest staying with us every day from mid May to mid September. This was our third summer and it is great to see ourselves getting busier with plenty of guests returning for repeat visits and others being the result of recommendations. We have been lucky enough to get some very generous TripAdvisor and Google reviews which all help give potential guests the confidence to book. We also joined the Alastair Sawday platform with the aim of accessing the seemingly elusive week day market.
As in 2019 we hosted some of the talent from the Latitude Festival. It’s a real novelty for us to meet people in the public eye and it’s even better when they turn out to be so lovely and appreciative. Here is a photo of Colin from Mull Historical Society rehearsing his session with Bernard Butler. How cool is that?
We have also hosted a few photo shoots – for Volvo and for local fashion label Lavenham. Again it’s a real insight into a life that we have never had anything to do with in our past lives (I’m an accountant and Bruce was a Royal Navy Officer!). Unfortunately for the Lavenham team it poured with rain throughout (very un-Suffolk) but they soldiered on. Here they are in a huddle, capturing one of the models on the deck of room five.
We were offered an opportunity to be dressed and photographed in their (very cool) clothes but we decided that that really wouldn’t be a good idea!
We have also been lucky enough to have been featured in a couple of Interiors magazines – Country Living Modern Rustic and more recently House Beautiful. It’s very flattering to think that we are worthy of being included. It’s also fascinating to see how the professional photographers capture a room – hint always use natural light. Unsurprisingly they don’t follow my approach of standing in a corner up against a wall as if I were an estate agent trying to make the room seem as large as possible.
In other news…. we continue to work hard on the garden. The vegetable patch and gravel garden – some of the first areas we created – were wrestled back from the control of nettles and brambles. They had fallen by the way side as our attention went elsewhere. Of course it’s a constant battle but at least they don’t look as embarrassing as they did previously The area in front of the guest bedrooms has been extended further (see our previous post on the stumpery) and planted with grasses. It will need some time to mature as well as some additional planting (one guest with a drone showed us an aerial view of the area and it seemed to be a mass of earthy spaces from the air), but we are happy with the results so far. Here’s a photo from the autumn on a rather dull day.
I think that that is about all our news. Watch this space if I can think of something vaguely interesting to say!
Full Steam ahead
We met Sasha French a few months ago. Sasha has a lovely bed and breakfast in Great Glemham – Crown House (www.crownhousebedandbreakfast.com) – about 20 mins away from us. She has created a beautiful calm place in which to stay – definitely worth checking out!
Sasha has been open for a couple of years – about the same length of time as Five Acre Barn. If that makes her (and us!) a B&B newbie, where she does have a huge amount of experience is staging operas. Her CV is brim full of testimonials – from the likes of Sir Christopher Frayling, Bel Mooney, Jonathan Dimblebly and Sir James Dyson – and has created events at the River Café, Gasholders in Kings Cross and at Dodington Park in Gloucestershire. So it’s not entirely surprising that Sasha is bring her operas to Suffolk and has picked an amazing location on our doorstep – the iconic Long Shop Museum in Leiston. The event will be a fundraiser for this unsung gem. The ‘The Long Shop’ is a very early example of a building designed for assembly-line production. It is now grade II* listed and you can see why – it’s a truly amazing space.
Of course let’s not forget about the music. Sasha is bring in some very talented singers – Linda Richardson (soprano), Jesus Leon (tenor), Susannah Glanville (soprano), Simon Thorpe (baritone) and Steven Maughan on piano. They will be performing scenes from Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, La Traviata and Tosca.
If this has whet your appetite then keep your diary clear Saturday 25th May 2019. Tickets are limited to 120 (seated) stalls tickets @ £35 and 80 @ £10 standing in the gallery. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
It’s the start of February. Most gardeners would have put their tools away in the shed a couple of months of go, settled in front of the fire and patiently waited for spring to arrive. At Five Acre Barn we don’t have that luxury – we have a garden to create.
When we first arrived (about 3 1/2 years ago) we had a large number of towering conifers that just had to go. They were far too tall – we couldn’t see anything – and were downright ugly and well a bit suburban. Bruce – aka ‘man of stihl’ – despatched them pretty quickly.
We managed to get rid of most of the small branches but the bigger pieces proved a bit more of a challenge. Had we thought about it we would have asked our builders to bury them. We didn’t, so we tried to get burn the stumps – but try as we might the buggers wouldn’t burn!! We were therefore left with a number of charred stumps. So what to do….. build a stumpery!
Stumperies are oddities from the nineteenth century gardens which became popular as ferns became fashionable and hundreds of new species arrived in Britain from around the world. The first stumpery was built, at Biddulph Grange with an arguably more famous modern version at Prince Charles’ home at Highgrove House. Apparently Prince Phillip’s verdict when he first saw his son’s effort was “When are you going to set fire to this lot?”. The Duke of Edinburgh would love our effort then!
The largest stumpery is in the US with around 95 separate tree stumps. Ours is on a more modest scale – with five and a couple of trunks that were too heavy to move. Most stumperies are located in shady areas (hence the ferns) – whereas ours in out in the middle of the ornamental grass garden. That’s where we tried to burn them and they are simply too heavy to move. I have to say that I quite like the fact that they are charred but it is doesn’t work out then they will soon be surrounded by grasses!
Unfortunately when we started we first had to remove the nettles that had settled in over the last couple of years. Ouch. We also had to excavate considerable amounts of building rubble – not the best basis for planting.
That’s now gone and the first few plants have been added. Many are traditional – hellebores, hostas and (sun-loving) ferns – but also the less obvious acanthus, hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) and even edelweiss. We will let you know how we get on……
Do it yourself
The Suffolk countryside seems to be full of talented artists. It’s staggering just how many beautiful things are produced close by and how easy it is to track them down – there are lots of makers markets (particularly around Christmas time) and open studios.
There are also opportunities to learn how to make too. You might not become as immediately skilled as the professionals – but it is great fun giving it a go. Two of our favourites are husband and wife team Ed and Jane Mitchell Finch, who live about twenty minutes away in Brampton (check them out at www.mitchell-finch.online).
Ed is a master of the letter press – working with old metal and wood type to product his bold, witty designs on a vintage printing press. Ed runs letterpress printing experience days, so that you can go along for a day to learn about printing.
Jane produces exquisitely embroidered brooches and pictures. Although I don’t really need brooches other than as presents, I find them mesmerising- so detailed, delicate and capturing the likeness of her subject.
I was so fascinated I went on one of Jane’s machine embroidery one day workshops. Unfortunately I didn’t get very far as my sewing machine decided to play up. Jane’s very quick diagnosis was a lack of housekeeping on my part (it was full of lint from months of upholstery and curtain making). So whilst I had to throw in the towel on that occasion, I am definitely up for a rematch! Doubly keen having seen the amazing efforts of the other people on the course.
We have also just come across a ‘new kid on the block’ – a recently established studio in the glorious, tranquil Sudbourne Park Estate. Having lived in Suffolk for many years, Chris has set up the Bluebird Pottery Shed (www.bluebirdpotteryshed.co.uk) in one of the out buildings in the estate (complete with beautiful brick floors) with three professional potting wheels. The shed offers scheduled courses for all levels of ability each month with a maximum class size of four. You can also arrange bespoke courses if you contact Chris. We have yet to go on a course – watch this space – but couldn’t thing of a better place to learn.
Honesty is the best policy
Some of our favourite hotels and B&Bs, run honesty bars – you fix yourself a drink as if you were at home, jot it down and settle up when you check out. Very ‘grown up’ and civilised we think.
However before we could put the honesty bar in place we needed to secure a premise license (Bruce already has a personal license). This turned out to be a little more convoluted – some might say archaic – than you might imagine. We needed to display notices at the end of the drive using light blue paper (not too light it turns out – we were asked to go a shade or too darker) and advertise in a local paper within ten days of submitting the application. Fortunately the ladies of Suffolk Coastal’s licensing team were gems and made sure we hit every mark.
The real fun began once we received our license – stocking the bar!! Wherever possible we have ‘gone local’ – there are so many great producers in Suffolk, it would be crazy not to.
In the summer we visited the amazing Flint Vineyard (www.flintvineyard.com) just outside Bungay on the Norfolk border (about 40 mins away in the car). It’s hard to believe that they have only been going a few years and what they don’t know about wine isn’t worth knowing. It is no surprise that they have already won prizes. Although they have limited amounts at the moment we hope to stock their red, white and fizz. We will also be adding some other interesting (reasonably priced) wines based on some tastings from local wine merchants.
Choosing a beer was pretty straightforward as our next door neighbour has just started a micro brewery in Leiston (which you can tour if you wish) and one of their limited edition beers even has hops from their garden. Can you get more local than that?. We currently have four different types and all have been brewed in a German style. As they conform to the German purity law (‘Reinheitsgebot’ in case you are wondering) it means that they shouldn’t leave you with a hangover – unless you really go hell for leather of course.
We also hope to add vodka and gin from Suffolk distillers Flint & Hardings (www.flintandhardings.co.uk).
We haven’t forgotten the non drinkers too and hope to stock LA Brewery’s Kombucha (as well as all the usual soft drink suspects). This naturally effervescent living tea full of friendly bacteria might be a tradition of Korea but it is brewed right here in Suffolk.
For those spirits that require us to go further afield we have sought some advice and bought a varied selection of single malt and blended whiskies, rum, sherry and port. We are pretty open to adding in some other drinks so that everyone will find their favourite tipple…. within reason. We quite like the idea of a ‘cocktail of day’ – we will see if we have any takers.
Stephen Lawrence prize
When we were working with our architect we wanted something different that would stand out and hopefully intrigue potential guests. The fact that the building has gone on to win a national RIBA award was a lovely, unexpected bonus. We had thought that the journey ended there but then we were nominated for the Stephen Lawrence Prize…..
To be honest we hadn’t heard of the Stephen Lawrence prize – though as our architect was extremely excited we knew that it was something special. We hadn’t known that Stephen wanted to become an architect before he was murdered in a racist attack. The prize, now in its 21st year, honours projects that cost less than £1m to complete and is intended to encourage fresh architectural talent. I have to admit when I told my parents they laughed. I think that they were amused that someone should be honoured building a house for less than £1m!! I reassured them that we didn’t spend anywhere near that much!
The judges came to visit earlier in the summer and included Stephen’s mother – Baroness Lawrence. In the great tradition of judging panels they were pretty inscrutable so had no idea what they thought. We were one of seven projects on the shortlist so the odds seemed reasonable. You can see the shortlist here
The winner was to be announced in October at the same event as the Stirling Prize – at the Roundhouse in London. The only slight problem was the price – £400 a ticket! Way too much for B&B owners. Fortunately RIBA let us go in the cheap seats with the architecture students for only £50 ahead. Now that was more like it.
It was a great night – a brief window on a world of which neither of us are a part. Funnily enough as we bumped into a number of our previous guests (we have a lot of architects staying) we actually felt quite at home.
Unfortunately….. we didn’t win, with the award deservedly going to ‘Old Shed New House’ by Tonkin Liu Architects. It looks amazing. Our architect Greg was a little disappointed – I think that they had rather cruelly sat him right next to the stage. He very generously bought a couple of bottles of champagne which was as much compensation as we needed!
It was a fun ride while it lasted and we look forward to see the winners in future years.
Out on the prairie
We have some grand ambitions for the garden bordering by the guest sundecks – which will eventually become a deep sea of ornamental grasses. Inspired by the prairie planting of Piet Oudolf, we want the grasses to provide both gentle movement, a relaxing rustle and of course beauty – with their delicate seed heads offering winter interest after everything else has faded (the video shows the curly head of Miscanthus Nepalensis in case you are wondering). On a more practical note they should provide screening for the sundecks – from each other and the rest of the garden.
Much as I enjoy gardening I can’t pretend that I know a great deal about grasses so I am learning a new grass lexicon – eragrostis, briza, caerula, molinia, miscanthus, calamagrostis, pennisetum, panicum, deschampsia, stipa – they don’t exactly roll off the tongue do they? The variety is incredible – from delicate annuals to graceful arching masses to impenetrable almost bamboo like clumps and everything in between. If only I could remember which one was which (especially when the guests ask).
We will also use perennials and bulbs to provide a pop of colour – fennel, gaura, echninops, verbena bonariensis, aliums daffodils, artichokes etc. None of them are wild flowers as such but they give that vibe. They also have to be pretty tough sitting in sandy soil in full sunshine.
It’s fair to say that we have a way to go. We planted a few grasses in 2016 but until the sundecks were built (earlier this year) we couldn’t really finish the job. Funnily enough in early photos the weeds were so prolific and healthy it looked incredibly sophisticated from a distance. Only a closer inspection revealed that it was mostly comprised of thistle, ragwort, fat hen and couch grass! The guests didn’t mind as long as there were birds and butterflies – and there were. A few more months of abandonment the weeds were replaced by something a bit more substantial – a five foot hedge of tree lupins. From seed to bush in six months is quite an achievement though a few hours with a pickaxe and they were gone……
With the decks in place and some recent planting it is beginning to come together – which I hope the above photos show. In the interests of full disclosure there is a menacing ocean of nettles only 20ft from the decks. Over the autumn it will be dug over and mulched ready for spring planting. I have made a start and in fact right now my hands are throbbing from those pesky nettle stings.
We are taking it slowly though just to make sure none of our resident slow worms come to any harm….