self-catering holiday cottage, holiday rental near Alton Towers and Peak District

Self-catering near Alton Towers and Peak District - Call Barks Holiday Cottage 01538 703436 email or book online.


Seasonal Events

Villages in this area have very distinct characters and many annual events.
A few miles to the north of us we have Ipstones, a village with several pubs and a great village shop and a butcher. Folk there think of their nearest market town as Leek. Ipstones has a couple of great village events during the year - the agricultural show in the summer and lights night on the last Friday of November. We were helping on one of the many charity stands (The Play Pavilion) and were trying to get families to have a go on a tombola to win a cuddly toy. Even though every ticket was a guaranteed win, it felt like a hard sell. Cuddly toys were being offered as prizes by a lot of the stands and our target audience were wheeling push chairs already laden with soft toys. We walked to the church of St Leonards in Ipstones and admired the Christmas trees decorated by local community groups. These village events have a fantastic atmosphere that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

On Friday it is Alton's turn for its pre-Christmas event. A few miles to the south of us, Alton is another thriving village community with two shops, lots of pubs and a butcher. Alton has a classic summer fete with maypole dancing, cake competitions etc and a themed winter event. On Friday there'll be a girl on a donkey led from Alton Castle calling at inn after inn until she is taken to the Round House (a former village lock up). It is tempting indeed to make satirical references to Friday night youth binge culture, but obviously this is a re-enactment of the nativity and Mary on the donkey is turned away by the inns, and the Round House is now a crib scene around which the villagers meet and sing carols. It is all very heart-warming stuff, especially so when drinking Shep's mulled wine. Carols never sounded so sweet.


Winter Warmer Short Breaks - semi-catered, chalet style.

Winter Warmer short breaks at Barks are designed to cram in loads of entertainment and fresh air and minimise the time spent on anything domestic. We are describing this as semi-catered in the style of ski chalets. Weekends are great but can feel so short, so we are doing what we can to help our guests maximise a Friday evening to Sunday afternoon break. All you have to do is bundle the family into the car - which let's face it is a big enough hurdle to get over.

The highlights of our Winter Warmers are:

Friday evening - The heating is on, the fire is lit and there's a meal in the oven waiting for you. The beds are made (and any cots or extra beds are in place too). Memories of the motorway will soon fade, I promise.

Saturday - Various breakfast goods are available for you to help yourselves to a fry up or cereal and toast. For days out, walks, lunch venues and family activities we can recommend some options to suit your party. While you are out we can nip in a straighten the kitchen and lay another fire for the evening. If you want another meal prepared for Saturday night just let us know, or alternatively we can recommend restaurants and pubs meals in the area or help you source local ingredients to cook yourselves a delicious dinner.

Sunday - Make this more than just a packing up day and stay as long as you like. Indulge in breakfast then get some fresh air maybe. There are pubs to hike to, tea rooms to cycle to and a hotel to swim at . . . or newspapers to read, whatever takes your fancy.

For further information on Winter Warmer Weekends please give us a call on 01538 703436 and give us an idea of your requirements.

In the mean time, her are some activities and outings nearby that might appeal:

  • -Alton Towers Splash Landings
  • -Alton Towers Spa
  • -Alton Towers crazy golf
  • -Aerial Xtremes - nearby in Trentham and Buxton
  • -Hikes and walks - we have maps, books and several recommendations
  • -Cycling - Churnet Valley from Oakamoor; Manifold Valley into the Peak District; Buxton to Ashbourne Tissington trail.
  • -Pub Walks - from the doorstep
  • -Lights nights and Christmas shopping evenings in local market towns.
  • -Theatres
  • -Museums
  • -Great undisturbed painting locations
  • -Kayaking or sailing on Carsington Water or Rudyard Lake
  • -Letting the kids clamber around on the fallen tree and taking a flask of coffee and some sweets onto the ridge then coming back and putting your feet up by the open fire with a book and cuppa (until your favourite programme comes on telly).



We took delivery of a hen house on Saturday and some hens yesterday. Not an obvious time of year to start keeping hens, because we'll feed them all winter and as the nights draw in they won't lay so many eggs.

We went to a genuine farm dispersal sale last weekend. It was a fascinating event on so many levels. A reclusive old local farmer had lived on this 90 acre farm in the middle of nowhere all his life and now he has moved to a care home. I can only imagine that he held this fate at bay as long as possible, but seeing the state of the farmhouse I guess another winter was out of the question despite the amazing efforts of Staffordshire Moorlands visiting carers.

Many that turned up to the farm sale did so out of respect for this farmer, as much as to seize a bargain in these tough times. I overheard farmers and labourers with local accents so strong it could be called a dialect. There were a few other women, some children allowed to lark about on the haystack and farm machinery, but this event was noticeably dominated by local farmers; all white, predominantly male. They are a hardy close-knit local bunch, many of whom have been on their farms for generations. As a southern 'incomer' I felt priveleged to have been there, as I would if I'd been camel herding with the Bedouins or driving llamas up a mountain in Tibet.

So I was pleased that we scooped the coop for a reasonable sum. A local farmer brought it back for us in his trailer and then dropped off a couple of pullets for us yesterday. The coop is in the orchard in front of Barks, so visiting children will be able to collect eggs and catch hens. My 5 year old son is delighted by it all.

So to the business of marketing Barks self-catering holiday cottage now that we have welcomed our two chickens, and thinking up legitimate new straplines that might grab the search engines' attention:

Farm stays - self catering
Alton towers - dogs welcome - feed the hens
Stay on a farm with 2 chickens, 10 sheep, 3 dogs and some fruit trees.
I'll keep working on this . . .


Feeding the birds

I just tripped over an initiative of the RSPB encouraging us to feed the birds in our gardens - National Feed the Birds day 25th October.

We have regular woodpecker families who love the peanut feeder which we keep topped all year round. They are top of the pecking order to all the tits and nuthatches. Our resident crows, nicknamed Square and Squawk, seem to do OK foraging in the compost heap. The kestrel sits on the phone wire and dives into the field if it spots something moving. The buzzards screech overhead, and have a favourite perch in a nearby oak tree, but they do fine for food without our help. I could do without the magpies attacking our bin bags on collection day (we are too off the beaten track for the Wheelie Bin dustcart to visit). It is the resident robin that I would like to do more for, and have just saved our sunflower heads for winter.

I regularly see birdwatchers in the village so we must be doing something right! Suppost I ought to thrust our Staffordshire Moorlands holiday cottage info at the next birdwatching group so that they can catch the dawn chorus . . .

anyway, here are the RSPB's tips on what to feed garden birds:

GOOD kitchen scraps:

  • Uncooked porridge oats
  • Cake crumbs
  • Potatoes – baked, roast and even mashed
  • Grated cheese
  • Windfall, soft or over-ripe fruits

BAD for birds:

  • Bread – it has very low nutritional content and is essentially a filler
  • Salted foods such as bacon or peanuts (Barks does unsalted nuts only!)
  • Polyunsaturated fats or vegetable oils – these can smear birds’ feathers making them less waterproof
  • Milk – birds’ stomachs are not designed to digest milk
  • Desiccated coconut – this may swell up inside a bird causing it to die.

Locally-reared meat

It is normally so quiet that a clattering in the field caught my attention. I peered out of the window and saw local farmer, Chris, bolting the tailgate on his trailer and a small flock of very nervous sheep sizing up their new environment, our fields. Black ones this time.

The summer residents have moved on: the ewes to a different pasture and the grown lambs have gone 'to market'. This is clearly a euphemism for the fact that they have now entered our food chain. They had a great life in our fields graduating from skipping, suckling lambs to enormous great brutes that enjoyed a stand-off with our terrier. I hope Chris fetched a good price for them this year.

We are lucky in this part of the country that we have local abattoirs that supply local independent butchers. I am not sure that enough local consumers really appreciate our local supply chain, with the lowest food miles possible.

'Foodies' and cooks wanting local meat, or any local or organic produce are encouraged to discuss requirements with us. To really enjoy every aspect that the Staffordshire Moorlands has to offer, you need to include its produce.


TV and WiFi

Dek the aerial man was pretty upset with us last week. He had been expecting a simple digital aerial installation but we turned out to be customers with exacting requirements that did not want more holes drilled through our walls. Poor Dek! He left the aerial wire wrapped in a coil hanging off the chimney and drove off just slightly grumpy. Now we await the arrival of Richard, the electrician, who is coming back to explain the mysteries of the aerial wires that he put in place earlier in the year when we had Barks renovated.

Since our holiday cottage is so good for families with pre-teen children it seems only fair to offer decent TV. Children who have hiked or cycled most of the day deserve to chill out, and those that have had adrenalin rushes all day at Alton Towers maybe need to sit down for medical reasons. Reception on all TV channels is great - at night we can look across the Trent Valley and just see the distant aerials around Birmingham glittering red against the horizon.

Broadband Wifi access is already available to guests. So hurry up Richard, we need the digital TV sorted out before some 9 year old boys come to stay during the bank holiday week.

Bilberry Season

In June 2008 I read an article in The Guardian newspaper about the Bilberry, aka Winberry or Blueberry, and its northern roots. link:,,2284528,00.html#article_continue

Apparently this superfruit is sold in Morrisons in its northerly outlets; I wonder how much for. Curiously, readers of this Guardian article were advised that the season is August and September - maybe that is so in the north. Here in the Midlands, however, it is prime bilberry season in early July.

Favourite uses in our household are bilberry and strawberry jelly and freshly collected bilberries on our breakfast cereal.  I trek into the woods first thing to gather them for breakfast (double health benefits from this).

Personally I am not keen on them when they become over-ripe.  There is something about the smell of processed bilberries that can be off-putting, especially in cartons of juice and bottled squash.  They have to be fresh from the woods for us.

Bilberry Tourism to Churnet Valley

From Walking the Moorlands - Walks around Barks Holiday Cottage
There are some woods and moorlands around our holiday cottage that are full of bilberry bushes.  In the spring the woods are buzzing with bees visiting the bilberry flowers (pictured above).

This is a popular area with walkers as it is, but in the July bilberry season we become a tourist destination for bilberry fans. Some stop for a chat and seek permission to pick these super-fruits.  Walkers are such polite people.  Really keen pickers come with those comb-like bilberry pickers that really speed up the fiddle of the picking.  I slightly regret not buying a bilberry picker when I saw one during our holiday in Norway.  But on the other hand it doesn't take long to pick a breakfast worth.  Some local friends make wine - I have yet to try it.

Two thoughts for eager, younger pickers: don't eat too many when out picking or you'll get purple poo (!) and please could you mind the walls with your purple fingers when you get back to our holiday cottage!?

Apart from that, enjoy foraging for these fruits of the forest and connecting with the spirit of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Bilberries are very therapeutic for so many reasons - physical and spiritual.


Dogs and Barks

Pets welcome at Barks holiday cottage. Dogs especially . . .

It is great dog-walking country and we are dog owners who know the joy of taking your pet dog with you on your well-earned break. Barks has a lot of merits as a dog-friendly destination: plenty of off-the-lead walking in the woods for well-behaved dogs, and lovely safe tracks that avoid lambs/sheep and ground-nesting birds etc. Another plus point is that we, the owners, are only a stones-throw away; fellow dog-owners with two young neutered bitches and a very old girl.

If you want dog-sitting or dog-walking services, while you are out at Alton Towers with the children or loading up with fine china in Stoke-on-Trent, then we can try to help out if we can.
Dogs to Alton Towers? Please, please do not be tempted to leave your dog in your car while you go to Alton Towers, because there is no shade and the car parks and rides are miles apart. Barks guests can book in advance for a 'dog sitting' session when we will check your pet is not distressed at the cottage and can take it out on the lead if required.

Most dogs are pretty friendly towards others and ours love having dog-visitors in the holiday cottage. We'd like to point out that our dogs are often loose in the area, and that Barks does not have a secure fenced-in garden. There is a field opposite for late night walkies - and spades to clear up field and garden as required.
If you are looking for a destination that is equally child and dog-friendly, this has to be it! If you are interested in bringing other pets, please contact us to discuss suitability.
Please call Catherine and James on 01538 703436 to discuss arrangements for bringing your dog to our rural pet-friendly holiday cottage.


Walking the Moorlands

This is a lovely spot for a picnic with views on all sides across the Staffordshire Moorlands and over the wooded Churnet Valley.

It is easily reached from Barks, even by quite young children. There are no roads to cross on the way, and there is normally plenty to look at in the woods on the way up.

This part of the ridge does have sheep and lambs grazing, so dogs need to be reliable and under close control.

Parents might like to point out the 'bear scratches' on these rocks: claw marks made in the rock during ancient times, or maybe the bears are still around waiting to have their picnic, who knows . . ?


Cycling holidays

Staffordshire County Council have produced a clear map on the many cycling and walking opportunities across the county. Please note that some of the best are available on our doorstep.

I cycled with my 4 year old on our tow-along bike from Moneystone to Denstone last weekend. The descent into Oakamoor needs brakes that work (ours aren't up to the job), but the disused railway track is an easy, quiet track which was lined with bluebells. There is a gorgeous farm shop in Denstone which has a cafe and sells yummy ice cream - we thought after 5 miles cycling we deserved to treat ourselves. I confess that we did get a lift back, but we had just played tennis in Denstone. This track is also a great dog walking spot.

There are many quiet picnic spots along the Oakamoor to Denstone disused railway. My favourites are the Oakamoor picnic ground and park area, Dimmings Dale (where there is a great tea room with gardens), and a lovely spot beyond Alton where you can either sit on a footbridge or paddle in the river. Guests can ask for more details on any of these if they want to make a day of walking or cycling in the area.

Other nearby cycle routes nearby are Manifold Valley, an easy trail from Waterhouses going into the heart of the White Peak, and the Tissington Trail, which has great views of the Peak District all along its route from Ashbourne Buxton. Both of these trails have local cycle hire.

The link to Staffordshire County Council maps is and I recommend the Staffordshire Moorlands map and the Key.


lambs on the hillside

The guests who came last weekend walked onto the ridge to show their children the young lambs. They had been misled about the wind conditions, because Barks is sheltered by the ridge and the woods. Last weekend there was an unusually bitter, cold, northeast wind. Up on the ridge, our London guests enjoyed more fresh air than they bargained for. They left on Sunday night thinking that we inhabit the frozen north, but on Monday the sun came out, spring returned and the new lambs danced with joy in the hot sunshine.


Alton Towers

Went to Alton Towers to get literature for the holiday cottage and was reminded about the smart way to book tickets for the theme park. The best deals come via offers and promotions from retailers - Woolworths have/had an offer so look out for similar deals. Next best is to check the website and the most crazy, expensive way is to poll up on the day when you have to pay approx £24 per adult.

Alton Towers theme park is a good family day out. And Splash Landings is a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon.


The season has started

We had our first guests last weekend. Cathy & Brian, and their children Louis and Hugo. A family we know from London who had stayed with us before. They narrowly missed the picturesque dusting of snow that made the Staffordshire Moorlands look so beautiful, and presented a great tobogganing opportunity . . .