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 email@example.com 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….
Stage and Screen
Aldeburgh really punches above it’s weight in so many ways. Two great illustrations of this are High Tide (11-16 September) and the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival (2-4 November).
High Tide has been called the theatre world’s Sundance Film Festival (apparently!), providing a platform for new, innovative and challenging work. This year it includes five new pieces from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Productions take place in a number of places across Aldeburgh including the Jubilee Hall, Pumphouse, Aldeburgh Cinema, Aldeburgh Beach Lookout and even a pub – Ye Old Cross Keys.
We love High Tide and try and see a couple of things each year. This is absolutely not Am Dram and the standard is consistently high – as anything as good as you would see in London, Glasgow or Leeds. We have seen comedy as well as top notch drama covering some pretty tough areas – the tragedies of immigration in Lampadusa and the desperation of a group of friends abducted by Boko Haram.
This year we are keeping it light with a couple of nights of comedy – we are particularly looking forward to Dr Adam Kay, author of the hilarious (and at the same time rather depressing) ‘This is going to hurt’.
The 22nd Aldeburgh Documentary Festival is a distinctive combination of world-class documentaries, discussion and debates, that has grown significantly over the last few years. The 2018 programme is varied – from US politics to Jazz to Joanna Lumley. We have to confess that we have yet to go (as it’s not brilliantly signposted) but guests staying last year that highly recommended it. The programme is best viewed at the moment through The Suffolk Coast website (a great place for information on the area) which can be found here.
Aldeburgh is fortunate in being one of the few towns that has managed to continue its carnival tradition when so many others have been forced to stop.
It has been around for 170 years old albeit under different guises over the years – if you were around in 1835, you would have known it as Ye Old Marine Regatta!
The Carnival is spread over three days – in 2018 it is Saturday 18th, Sunday 19th and Monday 20th August.
· Saturday is all about music with various acts performing across different venues in Aldeburgh’s town centre.
· Sunday is sports day – from egg and spoon to a 10k Mini Marathon taking runners through the beautiful Suffolk countryside.
· Monday is the culmination of the three days with the Carnival Procession down the High Street. If you fancy a dance then be sure to catch the Suffolk School of Samba. More inclined to a good military march – then we have a military band to keep you happy. Finally at the end of the day everyone moves through the town, lit by beautiful Chinese lanterns, and watches the spectacular firework display on the seafront opposite the White Lion Hotel.
Of course you can pick and choose what you want to see. Simply turn up and enjoy. If you want to stay close by (and yet still enjoy the Suffolk peace and quiet) come and stay at Five Acre Barn (as of today we have availability)!
Now we don’t pretend that the North Sea Coast owes much to the Mediterranean of Ibiza or the Greek Islands …. but that’s not to say that it isn’t a great place to hang out and with the Suffolk Coast’s Area of Outstanding Beauty as a backdrop – it can be staggeringly beautiful. Here are some of our favourites:
- Aldeburgh – a long expanse of shingle and take the obligatory photo by Maggi Hambling’s fabulous Scallop. No access for dogs in the summer months
- Sizewell – yes it’s next to a nuclear power station but it’s beautiful and dog friendly all year round. Here’s Bruce with Ruby and next door’s border terrier Seve (yes as in the golfer).
- Shingle Street – remote like Dungeness but with huge pebble dunes. Beautiful and desolate!
- Southwold – a gentile seaside town. Apparently some of the candy coloured seaside beach huts can sell for up to £100k. Crazy!
- Walberswick – shallow and shandy and they like dogs! You can also go crab fishing in the inland shallows – probably not enough for a sandwich these are just tiddlers after a piece of bacon.
- Covehithe – a bit off the beaten track and no tourist facilities but the Times rated this amongst its top 30 secret beaches – a quiet, sandy beach running alongside a bird reserve.
Most people wouldn’t associate our neck of the woods with contemporary music – for most its all about the classical music of the Aldeburgh Festival. For four days – Suffolk 13th – 15th July 2018 – of the year Suffolk brings in the talent. This year the headliners range from The Killers, Solange and Alt J – with everything in between. There is a lot more than music though – poetry, stand up and even spa treatments (no wonder it also has the reputation of being one of the most ‘middle class’ of festivals). Set in the grounds of Henham Park, part of the attraction must be that it is just such a beautiful place – grassy open areas and shady woodland. No Glastonbury quagmires here.
Although it’s a bit late this year – tickets sell out pretty quickly – if you do want to check out Latitude next year but don’t fancy a tent then stay at Five Acre Barn. We are only 20 mins away and can help get you there and away.