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.
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.
We would like to thank….
Our architect Greg Blee (www.bleehalligan.co.uk) asked whether we wanted to be entered into the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) East 2018 awards earlier in the year. We thought ‘why not?’ and then didn’t give it much thought. We were surprised and excited to find out that we had been shortlisted in March and the judges came round to visit in April. As we had already committed to go on holiday (a rare event!) we could only guess from the snippets of feedback we received from Greg and our B&B sitting friend James, whether or not Five Acre Barn had impressed the judges…..
Bruce and I then went off – with some trepidation – to the awards ceremony on 24th May just outside Cambridge. The long and the short of it was that we were an award winner and also received an additional gong for ‘Best small project’ (not that it felt very small to us, but it is in relation to university libraries, social housing estates etc.).
It was a very interesting event and a rare chance for people like us to hear about the incredible projects being undertaken in the area. Each shortlisted project was featured and the judges provided insight about how the project had been conceived and executed. Unfortunately we missed most of the feedback from the judges about our own build as we were busy gurning for the cameras with our awards – but we were really pleased that as well as celebrating the great work of Greg and Josh, our architects, they also acknowledged the excellence of our builder Paul Rolph. We have come to realise that builders are frequently the ‘unsung heroes’ and it was great to see him get some well deserved credit!
The awards are currently in the loo in the Barn – isn’t that what you are supposed to do with them?? We will contact Adele for some advice….
We like to say to guests welcome to ‘sunny Suffolk’. For the most part this is true, as Suffolk is one of the driest, sunniest counties in the UK. Unfortunately I have to admit it’s been a bit of a stretch for most of Spring so far. At the risk of tempting fate it does feel like we have turned a corner and the garden is finally coming alive (though unfortunately that applies as much to weeds as it does to plants). We can also hear the boom of the bittern as they settle down to raise their brood and an extremely loud cuckoo has set up shop in our woods. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that there have been any takers for our many bird boxes…
Spring has arrived in the countryside too. As we have mentioned before, we are on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Beauty – miles of heather, silver birch, broom and gorse. Many guests walk out to Thorpeness from the public footpath that runs at the end of the garden. In only forty five minutes, the meandering route takes them through farmland, woodland, heath and fen – before arriving at the beach. It’s stunning at any time of year but we love the spring – not least because of the incredible coconut fragrance of gorse blossom.
The only challenge in such a flat landscape is finding your way around with so few reference points to help guide you. We do supply detailed guidance for the walk to Thorpeness (and lots of maps and guidebooks if you are feeling adventurous).
Spring wouldn’t be spring without bluebells. At the moment we don’t have many in ours (we will get there eventually) so we have to venture a little further afield – about a twenty minute drive to Foxburrow woods at Farnham. In May these ancient woods are a truly breath-taking carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. Although this wood is private, it is open to the public as long as you promise to stay on the path – which seems a pretty fair deal.
Thanks to our friend – and photographer extraordinaire – Richard Wilson for this wonderful photograph of last year’s show.
Happy Birthday Five Acre Barn
It’s hard to believe that our first guests checked in exactly twelve months ago – 8 April 2017 (even harder to believe that we had thought we would be ready by the previous November – apologies to the people whose bookings sadly we had to cancel).
It had been a big build up to opening – first the long search for a suitable site and then fourteen months of building and renovating – and we weren’t even 100% sure that we would enjoy the experience. Fortunately it turns out that – perhaps bathroom cleaning aside – that it is really a lot of fun.
That it has been so enjoyable has mainly been down to our wonderful guests. We have been extremely lucky, meeting so many interesting, enthusiastic, positive and supportive people (possibly more architects in 12 months than in the rest of our entire lives). As B&B newbies, we have particularly appreciated all the lovely things that our guests have said – it has really lifted our spirits and helped reassure us that we are on the right track. We have equally valued the more critical feedback along the way – all helpful pointers how we might further improve our ‘offering’. Sometimes we are asked ‘have you had anyone awful to stay’ and we can honestly say that we haven’t. Long may that continue!
We have also been really lucky to have had some great exposure in the press and online – on the beautiful interiors blog www.designhunter.co.uk, the amazing www.Outthere.travel magazine and www.zafiri.com (the intersection of style and endurance!). Not forgetting Emily Mathieson’s Guardian feature which really put us on the map and filled the bookings diary (and continues to do so)!
Here’s a few random things we have learned in the last year:
Tumblefluff – we designed the rooms (concrete and ply floors) so they were easy to clean…… however you will always miss a bit of fluff floating ready to settle once you have left the room. Sorry about that – we do our best.
Dogs can open doors – Murphy (the Great Dane) taught us this valuable lesson in January, who set off in search of his owners who had just gone out for a cross country run. It seems that doors with lever handles are a doddle for dogs the size of a Shetland pony.
Weeds can be beautiful – we kind of lost the battle against the weeds last year – especially the tree lupins that eventually formed an impenetrable hedge along the guest rooms. However we realised that our guests weren’t bothered what the birds and butterflies were visiting as long as they could watch them from their rooms.
It’s surprisingly hard to get out of the garden – whilst we do have a large garden we were surprised to have a few people struggle to find their way out (no names) – so we will be investing in some paths shortly to help with the navigation.
Gluten-Free doesn’t mean taste-free – quite a few of our guests have had dietary requirements and we have always done our best to accommodate them. It’s amazing to see how many great recipes there are out there that are dairy or gluten free or Vegan. Our greatest challenge was vegan, gluten and nut free. Thank goodness for coconut!!
People love lemon drizzle cake – maybe that wasn’t such a surprise….
So that was our mini review of our first years – fingers crossed for the next twelve months. If you have visited before then it would be lovely to have you back and if you are thinking of coming to visit the Suffolk Coast then please do come and try us out!