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.


Christmas holidays self-catering cottage in superb countryside

We can't guarantee snow I'm afraid.  On the practical side that is a good thing as we are in a little hamlet on the top of a hill and I'd hate our self-catering holiday cottage guests to struggle to reach us.  When it comes to that touch of magic, however, nothing beats being in the 'Staffordshire Alps' when there has been overnight snowfall.  My favourite is when the trees and paths in the woods are dusted with fresh snow, the sun sparkles off the ice crystals on the twigs and you can follow the animal tracks in the fresh powder.

Whilst we can't guarantee snow, we can tempt you with a cosy country cottage with open fires (and reassure you about the proper modern kitchen and a decent shower in the bathroom) and don't foget the lovely views, peace and quiet and fresh air.  There is open countryside to go for walks, and pubs and tea rooms to complete your rambling mission.

Come to the countryside and relax!

Winter off peak weekends are £185 for self-catering with all linen and log fires included (and central heating too).  Self-catering country cottage sleeps 4/5.
High season holiday times, which includes when Alton Towers is open, we offer 3 night breaks for £295 and 7 nights self catering accommodation for £450.

Bookings for the Alton Towers 2010 season are coming in now, so to reserve the dates that you want please email us on or call 01538 703436 for futher information.


Planning your visit to Staffordshire and Alton Towers?

Our holiday cottage is 3 miles to Alton Towers and 3 miles in the other direction to some of the nations favourite beauty spots in the Peak District. 
For a family of 4/5 we offer 3 nights for £295 and 7 nights for £450.  All linen included.
Alton Towers is open for February half term, (13th -21st February 2010) and the main season begins on 20 March 2010.  We currently have availability!  01538 703436.

Nb During the winter months we accommodate walkers for weekend breaks.  Cosy log fire, underfloor heating, full central heating, frosty views, wooded walks etc.  Please email or ring 01538 703436 for prices and availability.

If you are planning a family break in this area then why not check out the deals on offer locally.  A friend of mine has been seriously busy researching what’s on locally and the best way to save your pennies on fun days out.  She is keeping her ear to the ground on Alton Towers and other attractions that would be of interest to our holiday guests.  If you are planning your visit to Staffordshire and  Alton Towers then I suggest you don’t pay for a thing until you’ve checked out her site


Children to Alton Towers

Barks Holiday Cottage self catering accommodation 3 miles from Alton Towers, sleeps 4/5.  3 nights £295 and 7 nights £450.  Winter walking weekends available for £185 until Alton Towers opens again for 2010 season. Call 01538 703436 or email

We went to Alton Towers on Friday afternoon for the final visit of the 2009 season.  It was so busy.  We had to queue everywhere.  Don't ask me why, but we waited for 30 minutes to go on Squirrel Nutty.  When he was three my son thought this was a lovely ride, but now he is six I knew that he and his friend were wasting time.  We moved onto the Dragon which was much more thrilling, but still a horrendous queue.  Then I sent them off on their own into the queue for the swings at Cloud Cuckoo Land, and they waited patiently for a really long time to get one short ride. 

I consulted other local mothers with similar age children about their tolerance for adrenalin rides and most agreed that Runaway Mine is the turning point.  While your children are the age when this ride is still a thrill, a relatively cautious mother is still within her comfort zone to accompany her offspring.  Beyone this age, these mothers have cannily roped in friends or dads to do the accompanying.  After all, someone has to carry bags and sound impressed by all the bravado.

I have made it clear to my son that I shall not be accompanying him onto Oblivion and Rita etc.  He said he thought next time he would be brave enough to go on Submission.  Is there seriously a ride called Submission?  Surely he means Oblivion.  Thank goodness for the height restrictions.

On our way out, soaking wet as a result of an ill-judged ride on a galleon that was being fired on by water cannons, we stopped to enjoy the flame-throwing, juggling entertainer.   I enjoyed his act better than all the rides and, despite the fact that we were shivering with cold, we cheered and clapped as he threw flaming batons into the night sky. 


Day out at Alton Towers

Barks Self Catering Holiday Cottage:

Winter weekend in the country £185 for 2 nights for a family of 4/5 with all bed linen and a real log fire included. Please email or call 01538 703436. Winter weekends and short breaks are on offer from 1st November to 17th December so put your walking boots on and enjoy some fresh air in the Peak District.

Alton Towers 2010 season
Barks is 3 miles to Alton Towers and offers self-catering accommodation for family of 4/5.
3 nights for £295 and 7 nights for £450. Bookings require 50% deposit and remainder 4 weeks before arrival.
01538 703436

I am planning our last day at Alton Towers for this season. I have 3 tickets and my 6 year old has had to make some tough choices about who to accompany him. Parents - one, other, both, none - or friends. The friends option is top priority, so much so that finding a friend with a more daring parent is in fact the favourite option. Currently racking my brains to think which parent of my son's friends would enjoy this offer the most!


Adrenalin Week at Alton Towers Nov 2009

Barks Self Catering Holiday Cottage info: We have availability from 1st November at our winter discount rate of £185 for 2 nights for a family of 4/5 with linen and log fire included. email or call 01538 703436.

Half term: Fully booked for half term from now until 1st November, sorry!



Just discovered that the Alton Towers season goes on until 7th November. They've added Adrenalin Week from 2nd - 7th November!
This really has to be the last chance of the year to get your heart racing and escape to the UK's favourite theme park resort. I checked the website and tickets are £10 for 10 rides when booked online or £15 on the day.
These classic Alton Towers pure adrenalin-pumping rides are yours from 10-4pm everyday - Oblivion, Nemesis, Air and seven more.
Not only that, but we have started a winter offer and have availability during that time! Please call us on 01538 703436 or email us.


Railway Walks and ... Trains to Alton Towers

Railway Walks and the idea of taking the train to Alton Towers . . .

(First written in 2009 and updated a little in 2013)
I quite fancy Julia Bradbury's job. I watched Railway Walks, and as I watched her walking along a disused railway track in Scotland I thought of our local Beeching-closed railways in Staffordshire. It was a strange coincidence because during the day I'd noticed that Staffordshire County Council have published information on the stretch of former railway from Oakamoor to Denstone and given it a name: the 'Oakamoor to Denstone Greenway'.

The rail theme continued this morning. I picked up the local paper and the lead article is about a stretch of local railway that might be reopened. Cauldon Lowe through Froghall and off to Leek and Stoke has been acquired and may re-open for freight and passenger services. Wow! I've blogged before that the only traffic on the A52 (a dangerous road with some serious hills and bends) is mostly used by tractors and quarry lorries. It seems a crazy decision to start transporting the Lafarge lime and WBB (now Sibelco) silica sand via lorries along the A52 when it used to be transported more cleanly and safely by rail, and canal. Today's article suggests that Lafarge is seriously engaged in trying to use rail transportation again, which should be encouraged, and the result may be just 18 months away. (originally written in 2009, this has not yet happened by March 2013)

The newspaper article also raised the idea of being able to take the train to Alton Towers. Oh really . . .?! Further sections of the railway from Froghall to Oakamoor and Oakamoor to Alton Towers might, apparently, one day be re-opened to ease Alton Towers traffic. Surely this is our great local paper getting a bit sensationalist, or is it?

Rail access to Alton Towers logically needs to connect with existing rail links and probably add park and ride facilities. My mind always turned south to Uttoxeter for possible solutions. This story presents a northern option, which changes the possibilites dramatically. This option potentially opens the tracks to rail traffic from Stoke via Froghall . Interesting; I just don't believe this is even close to being seriously negotiated, let alone imminent.

There is good condition track in place from Froghall to Oakamoor and occasionally a steam train puffs along it. The end of the line is near Oakamoor at the river where there's no longer a rail bridge. Across the river, into the village, there is a long-closed tunnel, home to some lovely bats, I hear.  Needless to say, residents of Oakamoor are not convinced by the relevance of having the line re-opened for the pleasure of Alton Towers tourists, knowing that it will barely impact the level of traffic that speeds daily through the village when the theme park is open.

But things are changing round here by the day, regardless of the protests of local residents. Our gorgeous rural backwater has become earmarked as a 'Churnet Valley Leisure Corridor'. Oakamoor, a hidden gem and not currently a leisure destination in its own right, could find its status dramatically changed with the addition of 650 tourist lodges.

Nearby Moneystone Quarry (WBB/Sibelco), along this stretch of rail track, has now ceased operations (2012). The site has a restoration order on it but meanwhile new owners, Laver Leisure, are applying for an enormous leisure development, not just of the quarried land but of the adjoining farmland as well. Plans revealed to date (2013) show this to be disproportionate to the area, almost linking the villages of Oakamoor and Whiston with all these lodges. Further consultations with local residents are planned so we will see what transpires.

I predict that the deal-breaker or deal-maker for any serious rail development along the Churnet Valley will be the section from Oakamoor to Denstone, alongside Alton Towers (to the left of the picture); the stretch recently named the Churnet Way. Let's see what happens . . .

There is no denying the negative impact of Alton Towers traffic for miles around. Sadly, however, no obvious solution has yet been proposed. New roads through ancient woodland and private estates have not proved feasible for many reasons, despite a financial commitment from Alton Towers. The solutions voiced to date are worse than the problem, in my opinion.  And, for the record, the problem is serious.

Everyone is keeping tabs on the seriousness of this rail proposal and all the development proposals. Staffordshire Moorlands District Council are preparing a Masterplan, but for some time they have been keeping us, and the hopeful developers, in suspense. Interesting times!


Alton Towers in the Dark - Scarefest

Barks Holiday Cottage availability:

HALF TERM ALTON TOWERS - Sorry, we are fully booked from 20th – 31st October.

SCAREFEST - We have a few short breaks available during the remaining Alton Towers season, Scarefest starts 17th October. Please ring 01538 703436 or email to check.

WINTER BREAKS - Alton Towers closes 1st November but we remain open for cosy weekends by the open fire, countryside walking weekends and as a base for various outdoor activities – including pub walks!


Alton Towers in the Dark

On Friday night I went to Cloud Cuckoo Land – and yes I have come back, but there was a moment when I started to wonder if I was going to live in Cloud Cuckoo Land forever. My son and I went because we were invited to a local fundraiser.

All my sons mates were there and they had the run-around of this one section, Cloud Cuckoo Land. It was really great fun for the under 7s and adults-in-charge. There was the Alton Towers Driving Challenge, Froghopper, the Carousel, soft play bouncy castle area, Cuckoo Tree swings and Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Everything at Alton Towers has height restrictions and there were no exceptions granted, even for a private party. Parents were dragged onto rides where an accompanying adult was required. Nine year olds burst into tears because they were too tall to go driving. Little ones sobbed that they weren’t allowed to be propelled into the night sky on the Cuckoo Tree swings. Fair enough.

My son started quietly on the Driving Challenge – serious look of concentration and unnecessary stopping at red lights. “it’s the law mummy”, one little girl was heard saying. We moved on to the Carousel –“it’s for the little ones”, announced my son as he carefully checked his safety harness. He graduated to the Froghopper and his grin rivalled that of any wide mouth frog. “Again”, they all shouted and ran to the entrance gate and boarded straight away. There were no queues because we were all VIPs on this occasion. Half an hour from closing, pitch dark and we thought we’d exhausted available options, being too tall for Soft Play. It was at this point that a brave decision was made to try the Cuckoo Tree swings.

“Flap your arms, it will make you go faster” advised the voice in charge of the ride. My palms were sweating just watching my 6 year old flying through the air, high up in the night sky, in a chair on the end of chain. Why was I concerned? He flapped all the way round, even when others had decided holding on was sensible. My friend said “it would be better if he sat back a bit.” I flapped, in a mother hen way. He stayed on this ride continuously for half an hour.

It was well past the published close time and you’d think that the Alton Towers staff would be keen to get away but they called to children to have a last, long turn at the Driving School. Parents were wanting to leave. It became slightly surreal as the voice over the Tannoy directed the children where to go and what to do and I began to suspect that we had entered a world from which we would never be allowed to return. I imagined them saying, “And now children, you belong to us, here at Alton Towers Cloud Cuckoo Land.”

I can see why Alton Towers is staying open until 9pm during Scarefest. We all made ghost noises while we passed beneath the haunted castle and crossed the dark park next to the lake.


Alton Towers Scarefest until 1st November

17th Oct to 1 Nov is Alton Towers Scarefest
Barks holiday cottage is only 3 miles to Alton Towers
Availability in October for 3 night (for £295) and for a weeks self catering holiday (£450) for family of 4/5
9th October - for 3 nights self catering £295
16th October - for 3 nights self catering £295 or full week for £450
Fully booked 23rd October - 1st November, sorry.
After 1st November we will be taking bookings for walking weekends - please call 01538 703436 or email to check availability and prices.
Scarefest season
Alton Towers is quite tempting at this time of year, even for me who wimps out of any kind of scary ride. The children are back at school so there are no queues, the weather is sunny and warm and the gardens look amazing.
It is nearly Alton Towers Scarefest time! At aged 3 my son was terrified by the painted faces and witches hats, now a few years on he'd probably love it!
We still prefer Splash Landings and the thrills of the waterpark, which reminds me that I am on a promise to take him there after school one day.


Tour of Britain cycles the moorlands

Barks Holiday Cottage, self-catering accommodation near Alton Towers and Peak District


Tour of Britain cycles the Moorlands

James made a deliberate visit to King of the Mountain – Wootton Hill and was given a flag to wave encouragingly at these keen cyclists as they powered up the hill to the ‘finish line’ (although there was no finish in the sense of them stopping). Three riders were clearly leading the pack, as announced by a van with loud speaker courtesy of ITV, heavily escorted by motorbikes. A few minutes later the peloton arrived, whizzed through en masse and that was it.

I caught the Tour of Britain inadvertently as I returned from a meeting in Matlock along the A52 between Ashbourne and Stoke. At the highest point of the ridge, with a grand view of most of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, I became stuck in a traffic jam. A traffic jam that is not causally linked to Alton Towers is such a rare occurrence it is almost worth blogging in its own right. I figured out it was the Tour of Britain when the motorbikes, 40 or more, roared past with lights flashing. Meanwhile the A52 in both directions gently filled with quarry lorries, the main traffic on this stretch of road. Then the pack of riders, tightly packed together and seemingly not in a rush to my inexperienced eye, breezed over the ridge and off in the direction of Blackbrook Zoo. The view and zoo would not have registered with the riders who were head down and intent on their mission. Before the quarry lorries and I could resume our journeys, there was the amusing spectacle of the 50 or so support vehicles with the cycles on the top. More cycles were visible on the top of 4x4s than in the peloton.

It’s quiet in these rural parts, can you tell?


Walking routine

Holiday Cottage - £295 for 3 nights and £450 for a week

Alton Towers 3 miles; walking in the moorlands, woods and valleys is on the doorstep



I hadn’t walked through Carr Wood since the last day of term when we picked the raspberries.  Seven weeks of summer holiday have passed and we have had a lovely time and met some interesting people and lovely families who stayed in our cottage, Barks, for a self-catering holiday.  All but one group of guests went to Alton Towers, and some stayed longer and took in some extra local attractions. 


During this time I didn’t do much walking.  My old dog Echo was pleased about this but the young dogs wanted more.  So the young ones were pleased by the resumption of our school routine this morning, and I am sure Echo joined us in spirit.  Raspberries have been replaced by blackberries but we didn’t stop this morning.  It is time to shed some calories and get marching up that hill again. 


The walking is so wonderful around here that I am disappointed that more guests don’t pack their walking boots.  Having said that, with Alton Towers Skyride out of action I would recommend walking boots for the miles you need to walk when you go for the day.


August Bank Holiday

Barks Holiday Cottage
3 nights for £295
7 nights for £450
For booking enquiries please call 01538 703436 or email


How time flies; August Bank Holiday already and although it's warm weather and the sun is shining there are hints of autumn in the air. Our self catering guests are on their way from London.

We have had a flurry of booking activity for the holiday cottage. Other families must be sharing my feeling that the summer holidays are nearly over and it is time to spring into action before you miss the moment. A couple of bookings are from families organising some last minute fun with a 3 night break for a trip to Alton Towers. Others are getting organised now and are planning half term breaks and . . . . Christmas.

Surely not time to be thinking of Christmas . . . .!? Well actually, we have received our first booking enquiry from a family wanting a cosy holiday cottage with open fire and Christmas tree etc. We can't promise snow, but we have had a few romantic flakes fall on us at Christmas in the last few years.

In the mean time, let's keep fingers crossed that we all enjoy a sunny and warm August Bank Holiday.


Family Holidays

Barks Holiday Cottage: - for booking enquiries please call 01538 703436 or email

3 nights £295

7 nights £450


We've had a couple of lovely families come to stay at the holiday cottage last week. A family with two young children took in Cariba Creek water park one day and a day at Alton Towers theme park the next. I am pleased that the sun shone on their stay because they had a couple of days exploring the local area after that and took in Blackbrook Zoo (pictured), Trentham Gardens and Waterworld. We enjoyed a lovely game of cricket with them in the garden, which particularly pleased my son. Their children enjoyed feeding the hens and playing with our dogs. The hens mobbed me this morning, clearly disappointed that this family and all their treats had finished their family holiday and returned home to Cardiff.

The next family had teenage children who energetically pumped up the tyres on our old bicycles. I warned them that cycling from the holiday cottage is either freewheeling downhill or pushing uphill, without much pedalling required. They still seemed to have energy for a good day out at Alton Towers followed by a vigorous game of giant frisbee.
It is great that families enjoy their holidays here, but now my son wants a giant frisbee and the hens won't be satisfied with layers pellets.


Total peace and quiet

We have had a planned power outage today. We had a letter reminding us to fill thermos flasks if we have a coffee addiction, find alternative power sources for vital health-related equipment, and find somewhere else to get online to get on with work. Helpful letter, if any of us could retain such information in our minds or had included it in the diary. I remembered too late when there was a final-sounding click as equipment powered down. Coffee-less and unable to get on with my day job I sat in the garden and enjoyed the sunshine in total peace and quiet.

The hens clucked cheerfully, the birds fluttered past and I even wondered if I could hear butterfly wings against the warm air. Possibly lack of coffee was starting to make me fanciful. After a while I thought I ought to get on with some domestic chores and personal jobs. There is a pile of holiday cottage sheets that need ironing, there are booking enquiries that need an email response and I've been meaning to transfer photos onto a memory stick for printing. I remembered I was powerless.

Eventually the postman broke the peace and my brain returned to normality. My addiction needed to be fed. Coffee or no coffee, I simply had to get online.


Alton Towers in the rain

It is truly lashing down with rain right now. Our last holiday cottage guests told me that the Skyride is still closed following a fire. It is quite a hike from one ride to the next. Everyone at Alton Towers must be drenched. British summers . . .

Holiday Cottage near Alton Towers - we are in the next  village just 2.6 miles to the gate.
We offer 3 night and 7 night self catering breaks, sleeps 4 or family of 5.
Enquiries and reservations 01538 703436


Wild raspberries in the woods

I love to forage and wild raspberries are one of my favourites. We have just picked a good pot full from the woods. All year during our hikes to school I have been keeping an eye on these fruit stems, wondering if they would produce any wild raspberries. On literally the last day of term we went picking.

Picking pots can be provided to all our holiday cottage guests, although they are not much use to those that limit their pleasure to Alton Towers.


Country Walking Magazine recommends Churnet Valley walks

I have just placed an advert in Country Walking Magazine and while chatting to Natasha about the booking was simultaneously checking their website for information on our area. There I was trying to persuade them to think about some editorial to raise the profile of the Churnet Valley, a hidden gem for walkers, and to my surprise walks available from our doorstep are featured in their ‘recommended routes’. So Natasha is hopefully going to speak to the editor about planning a Churnet Valley feature for the printed magazine. It’s time!

Check what they say online about the Churnet Valley at


The Yew Tree, Cauldon

As featured in The Guardian's guide to pubs this weekend, The Yew Tree is one of our locals. I mentioned in another blog about 'interesting' pubs near to our self-catering holiday cottage; it was this establishment to which I referred. Chain pubs try really hard to create character, but The Yew Tree in Cauldon proves that only years of neglect and a passion for collecting really odd stuff can achieve the right feel. Gotta love it!


Dimmingsdale and the Ramblers Retreat

I wanted a place to walk on flat ground today. I met Clare by chance in Oakamoor and together we walked along the disused railway track from Oakamoor to Dimmingsdale. The rhododendrons are beautiful around the lake at the moment. We resisted the temptation to stop for coffee on this occasion. There is a lot to do today to get ready for weekend holiday cottage guests.
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Walking weekends

Book a 3 night weekend at Barks self catering and enjoy a relaxing and possibly invigorating walking weekend.

Barks is a rural self-catering holiday cottage with fantastic unspoilt, varied countryside where you can walk for miles direct from the front door..

The Staffordshire Moorlands is renowned as an excellent area for walking. Situated on the southern fringes of the Peak District you'll find everything from gentle strolls to energetic hill walks. Some demanding footpaths can be found among the rugged crags of The Roaches or along ancient packhorse trails. Long distance walkers can enjoy the scenic pleasures of the Staffordshire Way, Gritstone Trail and Limestone Way. If you prefer short circular walks there are plenty locally around the wooded valleys of the Churnet Valley - accessed from the front door of Barks holiday cottage.

Please check our online availability or email for the latest information. The countryside here looks magnificent at all times of year. So pack your boots and book your stay today!


Alton Towers encourages families

Alton Towers has just issued a press release about its expansion plans. There is much talk of the employment opportunities and spin off to local accommodation providers. Good, good, we like that. The detail of the many statistics, however, didn’t mention how many of the employees at the hotels and theme park are actually from Staffordshire, I suspect considerably more are from seasonal workers from places like eastern europe. Stop me now! I am trying to stick to the the good news . . .

In the report in our local paper, The Sentinal,( for full report) Liz Greenwood, Alton Towers communications manager is quoted as saying that they are wanting to move from a teen attraction to a family-friendly destination. Let’s hope they are successful at that. Ms Greenwood said:

"We are trying to reposition ourselves from a teenage market to cater for families. In trying to encourage families to stay for longer, there is a need to provide further accommodation of some kind."

Ms Greenwood said the resort would seek to do more than just erect "world class" roller-coasters – such as the Corkscrew's replacement for 2010, "Secret Weapon Six" – to entice thrill-seekers from all over the UK. She said: "In 2008, we worked extremely hard to attract families and we were very successful – growing in this sector from 35 per cent to 50 per cent of our total volume.

"Now, 75 per cent of our rides and attractions are suitable for children under 10."

Trouble is, that it’s impossible just to stick to this glimmer of good news when there is detail buried in these statistics. Ms Greenwood added that only 10% of the visitors stay at the on site hotels. I shall add to that my guestimate that another 10% stay locally. That means that 80% of the 2.5m visitors are travelling to and from the resort as day trippers (although that isn’t the thrust of the story). That’s a lot of traffic on our country roads, but let’s not start the bypass debate right now! This is another reason why I am focussing on the positive of marketing to families coming for more than one day. I shan’t miss the scary driving habits of the day-tripping twenty-somethings playing hooky off work who, in their eagerness, are pumping their accelerators. Nor shall I rue encountering those enormous coaches of day-trippers that I now associate with the possibility of having dodgy brakes. I shall herald their replacements – I am imagining a stream of well driven family Prius-type cars . . .

So to end on a positive. . . .! I am delighted that more families are being encouraged to come to Alton Towers because many will stay over longer and discover that there is so much more to this area than a theme park. I am confident these families will have a holiday to remember. We will make you welcome. Families of 4 or 5 report that they love it at our holiday cottage, Barks.


Alton Towers Weekend?

Self catering holiday cottage accommodation less than 3 miles from Alton Towers. We offer from 3 nights to a week self catering, with
Alton Towers just minutes away by car.

Enjoy yourselves at Alton Towers for a long weekend. But after a busy day of screams and icecreams, get away from the crowds and have a civilised time in your own space. Put your feet up and enjoy the fine views.

There is plenty for children to do in the area besides going to Alton Towers. There are children-friendly places to visit such as a zoo, a steam railway and canal trips only 5 mins away. Enjoy freedom in the countryside and get some fresh air - climb trees in the woods, go for a picnic or a cycle. There are tea rooms galore, really unusual country pubs, farm shops, and award-winning restaurants. Do Alton Towers for a day or two and stay on longer to explore.

All enquiries to 01538 703436 or email 50% payable on booking, remainder 4 weeks before arrival - please ask for our full Terms & Conditions.


Seaworld at Alton Towers

It's really lovely!

I thought the Sharkbait Reef Sea Life section at Alton Towers was going to be just one room with a token shark, but then we went round a corner, and another and it goes on for ages.

I felt rather seasick looking through the magnified and curved glass tanks, but became used to it eventually. I was suprised how much I enjoyed spending a bit of time watching the Sea Life creatures and talking to the Alton Towers staff about the Sharkbait Reef exhibits. It's great that the staff are so knowledgeable and keen on what they are doing. They keep the place pristine clean, which is perfect.

Beware the Cleaner Shrimps! You are invited to stick your hand into the tank so that these shrimps can clean off any dead skin. With kids they make for the finger nails but with adults they seemed to love a knuckle or rough thumb. I had a tiny gardening cut on my finger and they very quickly 'cleaned' the wound and left it open again - not great for the following weekend's gardening.

I enjoyed our special visit to Sharkbait Reef Sea Life at Alton Towers and anyone planning a trip should definitely navigate their way to it.


Les Oakes on Gardeners' World

Staffordshire rarely makes it onto TV so I was pretty stunned to see our local Cheadle ‘architectural reclamation’ yard Les Oakes featured on Gardeners’ World. I loved David Oakes’ wheeler dealer TV appearance. Les Oakes have some great stuff lurking in heaps around the yard. We have bought all sorts from there.

I have to say I preferred the original colour scheme of the reclaimed doors and wouldn’t be able to live with the giant wendy house look that the Gardeners’ World team created. I need a shed though!


Alton Towers opens

An increase in enquiries and the hawthorn leaves appearing are both proof of the arrival of spring. Alton Towers opened this weekend, which possibly explains the surge of booking enquiries that we received. Either that or the improvement in the weather. In the last week alone people have contacted us from UK and Ireland with a variety of requirements - with/without children, with/without dogs, weekend walking breaks, accommodation near Alton Towers, and a business stay that requires WiFi. All are welcome at Barks.

Perfect walking weather

I walked for miles this weekend. Our friends Lucy & Paul were staying with their wire-haired vizsla so we went out as a pack. First we had to do a short 20 minute circuit for the benefit of my 17 year old lurcher Echo. It served as a hearty appetiser because it is uphill through the woods, has a fresh wind on the ridge and then a couple of fields coming back down where the younger members of the pack can really stretch their legs. The old girl senses we are past the half way mark and trots ahead a little bit until I need to carry her over the stile.

Echo went reluctantly to her basket and we carried on for the main event; down into Oakamoor’s Carr Wood and then back up past Orchard Farm and into the woods. We were out for a couple of hours and enjoyed the best of the weather. I had put too many layers on and ended up with sweater and heavy coat tied around my waist for all serious uphill stretches. Paul had a hip replacement only nine months ago and I was somewhat alarmed when there was a plaintive cry for help at the back and he was lying in the rut of the path. It is soft peaty ground, so luckily he was enjoying the drama of it.

On Sunday the plan was to meet Karen and Megan the spaniel and go for a 1 ½ hour walk in Cotton Dell, but the clock change meant that it was just Lucy and me and the dogs. My whippety-lurcher races up the track likes she’s been let out of a trap, my terrier checks all rabbit holes and the vizsla jumps straight into the river and all further muddy pools of water. This is a fluffy vizsla and a muck magnet, who must have wondered why we were so keen to throw sticks for her into the deeper parts of the brook. The sun shone, the birds were singing and the temperature was perfect for a long walk up hill and down vale.

Later, while I was gardening, a man walked past with his dog and checked directions with me. His wife had dropped him in Alton and he was hiking back to Ipstones – approx 8 miles. We agreed it is perfect walking weather.

Following the walking and gardening, my legs feel quite stiff this morning, so instead of the hour long return walk down to school I confess we went by car, taking all of 3 mins each way. Not the same at all!


Book self catering accommodation near Alton Towers and the Peak District

I just drove past the gates of Alton Towers, some 3 miles away, and all was quiet. It felt strange because normally on a bright, sunny day I see a stream of oncoming traffic going into Alton Towers theme park. But Alton Towers is not open yet . . .

Now is a great time to walk in the Churnet Valley and really appreciate the peace and uninterrupted birdsong. The paths and woodland around Alton Towers, Alton Castle (pictured) and Dimmingsdale are a treat right now.

Now is also a great time to start booking your summer visit to Barks self catering holiday accommodation near Alton Towers and the Peak District. Ring 01538 703436 or email for 2009 rates and availability.

Children and pets welcome at Barks holiday cottage.


In praise of the Staffordshire Oatcake

Guardian article on Staffordshire Oatcakes that appeared in Saturday's leader columns:

Our area was described in the article as 'the beautiful surrounding "lost land" of North Staffordshire'. Fair description, I'd say.

On the hunt for Staffordshire Oatcakes? Simple answer, come and stay in our holiday cottage and order our breakfast hamper. We always include them, and we almost always receive queries about how to deal with them.

My neighbour makes his own Staffordshire Oatcakes. I would like to give the impression that I go to the famous, soon to be demolished, hole-in-the-wall outlet in the Potteries but I buy them at the local supermarket or village shop.

As a follow up to the earlier piece on the local butchers, the one in Alton has in fact recently closed. Ian, the butcher, suggested that he'd had enough of working on his own and was off to join his wife's business in Leek. She makes Staffordshire Oatcakes. The ones of hers that I used to buy from Ian were tastier than the supermarket ones, that is for sure. I wish them well.

On the hunt online for Staffordshire Oatcakes? Try Facebook, there are hordes of people seperated from their native "lost land", pining for the tastes of their childhood and musing on whether its preferable to have with melted cheese, beans and bacon, or sweet with syrup . . . ? Don't tell my neighbours, but as an evening snack we like them blini-style with pretend caviar, chopped onion and sour cream. Breakfast has to be cheese, beans and bacon though.

Mice in the bird feed

click image to enlarge

Look who checks in when you leave the lid off the birds' peanut bucket. Released back to the wilds of the fields after posing for this photo.
These look like long tailed field mice, aka wood mice. More info on BBC nature website

Winter sun trap

We now have four hens, following a successful bid for a couple more at the farm auction in Leek. Like all chic chicks they like to preen themselves in the sun. The best sun trap? The door and french winders to the holiday cottage. Plus, here they can check their looks in the reflection. Come summer these girls will be donning Raybans and SPF 25 and demanding a skinny latte.
It might only be January, but the air is clear and the sun is bright. The forecast is for snow this week. What will the girls make of that?