Spring Watch

Spring Watch Appleton le Moors

It sounds as if many of us have gained a greater appreciation of nature during lockdown. From listening to bird song in the city or spotting more wildlife for those of us lucky enough to live in the countryside.

We thought our knowledge of birds was pretty good, but we’ve learnt so much from other villagers over recent weeks as people have shared sightings and their far superior knowledge on Facebook! The incident that best sums up our poor “twitcher” skills is hearing a high pitched beeping noise in our kitchen. We were convinced that an alarm had gone off in a drawer, and after much searching and head scratching, realised it was the small red legged partridge sitting on our wall outside the window. Whoops! So thank you to those in the village who we are still  learning from, especially Jim and Chris (the latter who has let us use some of his photographs)

The first sightings of visiting birds arriving back in Appleton are eagerly anticipated as they herald the start of Spring. The sound of the first cuckoo is a milestone (even we know that call!) and there is a level of competition as to who can hear it first (24th April this year) Mind you, whilst it is now clearly resident locally, we are still to actually see one..

Other recent sightings include a nightingale heard singing in Appleton Hall, collared doves nesting on a security light at the Moors Inn, and rarer species like the spotted fly catcher, nuthatch and goldcrest.

We look forward most to the arrival of the “acrobatic” birds; usually a solitary swallow or house martin over the village, then more, and finally the ones we love the most, the screeching swifts that race overhead like fighter pilots. We’ve had both swallows and martins nest in the eaves of our house and the Long Barn before. This weekend the Barn has been martin central as several pairs seem to be sussing out possible new nesting sites.  Fingers crossed! They’ll be in good company with the sparrows, blackbirds and starlings all nesting and raising young in the courtyard.

 

The variety of habitat around Appleton means there are all sorts of other birds and animals to look out for when exploring. On the common, the quieter pace of life has seen more sightings of roe deer and hares, whilst overhead red kites, buzzards and hobbies have been spotted. Along with pheasants, sky larks and yes, the infamous partridges! 

Up on the moors, we’ve seen curlews, lapwings and grouse on our walks. On country walks through fields along hedgerows, look out for yellow hammers (their distinctive call is “a little bit of bread and no cheese”) long tailed tits (these are Disney cute, and fly about in little flocks calling noisily) and black caps. 

In the woods, you can hear the distinctive “hammering” of a wood pecker; green and the greater spotted wood pecker are just two varieties seen recently. And by the River Seven that snakes through the woods down to Sinnington, you could be luck and see a pair of dippers. If you are really lucky, a flash of bright jewelled blue will mean you’ve spotted a king fisher.

Head towards the coast, and there is so much to see; Bempton Cliffs is a great place to see all sorts of seabirds from gannets to puffins.

Closer to home, the bird feeders we now have in the Long Barn courtyard have attracted  gold finches, chaffinches, robins, collared doves, great tits, blue tits, pied wagtails and wrens (alongside the usual suspects of sparrows, blackbirds and  starlings)

And when summer is ended, and our migrant visitors departed, there is still much to see. Hooting owls calling out to each other as you walk back from the pub are really common. Our favourite owl to look out for is the ghostly white barn owl; often seen hunting early morning as the sun comes up.

We also have a bucket list of wildlife that we’d like to spot, from sightings listed on the The North York Moors National Park web site! These include pine martins (spotted as part of the Yorkshire Pine Martin Support Programme) nightjars and a murmuration of starlings. Not to mention the various whales and dolphins off the coast from Whitby.

So for those of you coming to stay, we’ll be happy to share any recent sightings in the visit. The North York Moors organises a variety of Wild Life safaris, which will return post lock down. Just bring your binoculars, and keep your eyes peeled. Who knows what you may spot!

 

Village Life

When we escaped to the country and bought Town End Farm, we knew very little about Appleton le Moors other than how beautiful it looked, and that it had a pub, two churches and a village hall. Plus, an odd little green and white building called the Reading Room.

We wondered how we would be viewed as “incomers” and what people would think about our plans for the barn. Would we be welcomed, or would pitch forks be waved? How would our guests be received by the village?  Whilst there were a few holiday cottages, they were for 2-4 people. Our plan for the barn was for one large group of 14; how would this go down?

We realised pretty quickly that whilst we’d bought a very special property in Town End Farm, we had moved into an even more amazing village community. One memory that sums it up for us was in the Moors Inn one evening. We’d only been in a few days and went down to the pub for a meal. A few locals were chatting and drinking at the bar. A woman and her young son tentatively walked into the bar, obviously staying in the pub. They were both instantly engaged in conversation by some of the regulars (who we later found out were Steve and Geoff) Where were they from, how long were they staying, where were they thinking of visiting? Minutes later, they were relaxed and chatting away getting tips from the locals of where to visit. We looked at each other and knew we’d chosen well.

Over the coming weeks and months, we were blown away with how friendly the village community was. We had so much positive feedback about our “little” project with people happy to see what had been a derelict building in decline, gradually being restored. We had offers of help when we got stuck from recommendations of local trades people to a local farmer helping unload the 2 ton biomass boiler when it turned up a day early with no one other than Ian on site. When we had an open house for the village to take a look at the barn shortly before opening, over 60 people came!

The Long Barn opened and the warmth of our welcome from the community was extended to our guests. One Christmas, a carol service in the church had just started when a small child ran in. On being asked are there any more of you, to which he answered “Yes, 14”, it was decided to hold on for them! A village history walk by our local expert was run for one group. Our local yoga “guru” ran a class for some of our guests. Many Long Barn guest book entries comment on the friendliness of the locals.

Since then, we’ve loved every minute of village life. The annual village BBQ where everyone brings a plate and shares a meal at the village hall. The gigs in the pub’s marquee, from rock to jazz to soul. The various charity fundraising events, many of which have involved shearing alpacas and knitting. The famous medieval weekend where we all dressed up in costume; selling our medieval breads to a bemused coach of Russian school children was a particular highlight! And possibly the jewel in the crown, the annual village produce show where everyone feigns a laid back approach and then is fiercely competitive. From a handmade loaf of bread to a home grown vegetable, everyone wants to get a prize! And Jackie now knows if you put icing sugar instead of caster on your Victoria Sponge, you get disqualified.

 

Since the Covid lockdown, the community continues to support each other. We’ve celebrated a 90th birthday with socially distanced singing. A network of volunteers make sure prescriptions & shopping gets collected. Deliveries from local suppliers have been co-ordinated from flour to beer to bakeries (and maybe the odd wine delivery!)  We’ve had all sorts of competitions from photos of us all from earlier days to scarecrows. The deserved winner being a fantastic Donald Trump!

We’re finding out so much more about the wildlife and walks surrounding us. There are regular bird song updates; the first cuckoo arriving or a nightingale singing in the grounds of Appleton Hall. Seeing a red kite soar over the village (although we’ve yet to see the elusive white-tailed eagles that are being tracked across the North York Moors)

We’re also learning about every ones favourite walks; we thought we knew most of them, but there are so many more beautiful ones we’ve now discovered from the door. Our plan is to walk them all and include them in our visitors pack for when we can finally welcome guests back to the Long Barn. And guests can experience our wonderful village community first hand themselves.

 

Our Story

The Long Barn is the result of what we like to call our midlife crisis (although at the time, a good friend of Ian’s told him that he was way too old for one of those!)

In 2013, we made the decision to escape from the corporate world and set up our own business in the country. We wanted the space to breathe in the countryside, and to feel we could be masters of our own destiny. We’d always worked in industries where people and customers were number one, and wanted to channel the passion we have for this into our own business.

After much searching and viewing of lots of properties in Yorkshire and further afield, one wet day in February we found ourselves heading up into the North York Moors to the village of Appleton Le Moors. Town End Farm was everything we promised ourselves we wouldn’t go for; a grade 2 listed building, partly derelict and in a conservation area. So lots of restrictions and lots of cash needed. As we drove into the national park, whilst neither of us said anything to each other, we both had a feeling that this could be “the one”. And after 5 minutes of looking around the barn, we knew for sure that it was. It was love at first sight. The potential of this wonderful old building was huge, and we could just see what it could look like in the future. And after much negotiating we managed to buy it, and moved in on D Day June 2013, a date suggested by our friend and solicitor Mike. We moved into the crumbling old farm house along side the barn, and walked round on that first night thinking what have we done?!

While Ian was working full time on the build, Jackie commuted daily to Hull to work at the University. During that first 6 months when we were organising planning permissions and agreeing the building works, we had so many friends and family visit. Common comments were “you are very brave” and “it will be wonderful when it’s done”. We often wondered what they were really saying in the car as they sped home from us!

We were lucky to work on the barn with a couple of amazing people, Mike (our builder) and Stan (our joiner) Jackie can still remember wanting to hug Stan when he looked at the derelict West Barn and said he’d seen worse! Over many months of hard graft, both barns and pig pens were rebuilt and renovated. The pictures show the edited highlights – there are also more pictures on a previous blog including a time lapse photo of the West Barn front being taken down and rebuilt. Ian used his skills from selling and marketing medical lasers to sourcing and commissioning a massive biomass boiler to heat the entire site. Practically every spare minute of our time was spent on the barn in some way.

We spent hours thinking through how each room would work, how it should be furnished and how it would practically work for guests. We had to be creative as the barn is listed so there were restrictions as to what we could do. We interrogated everyone we knew who’d ever stayed away in a large group to find out their loves/loathes about large self-catering places. Thanks to their feedback, we made sure we had two dishwashers, enough crockery and glasses to supply a small hotel, and some beds with no ends for tall people! We also thought of our pet hates when we stayed away; blunt knives, 1 dishwasher tab and having to pay for anything extra like logs for the burner. We wanted the Long Barn to be luxurious, generous, and full of our love and enthusiasm for giving great service.

We kept the colour scheme deliberately neutral for a tranquil, calm feel and also to let the character of the oak beams and stone walls to shine through. We chose high quality fabrics for curtains, blinds and cushions to add colour and texture. Looking back, Jackie can’t quite believe that she made all of them herself whilst commuting to Hull! We took ages choosing the right glasses and cutlery. We even researched and bought a hostess trolley; not something we’d ever thought of, but realised we needed to help guests heat large quantities of crockery! The garden was planted with grasses and perennials to create a tranquil space that would attract wildlife. Jackie tested out baking recipes on Ian, Mike and Stan for the welcome pack, and Ian further perfected his bread making skills. We also tracked down local suppliers thanks to recommendations from our new neighbours in the village to make sure that where ever possible we bought local.

In October 2015, with much excitement (and more than a little trepidation) we opened to the public and welcomed our first guests. And our dream became reality! Since then we’ve been blown away with the number of guests who’ve come to stay with us, and also the number who’ve come back to stay more than once. It makes it all so very worthwhile.

 

We’ve not been the best at keeping up with our blogs so far; they always come lower down the list of things to do when running such a busy business. However since March this year, we’ve temporarily closed the Barn due to Covid 19. And like many of you, one small positive is that it has meant we’ve started to tackle many things on our to do list. We’d rather have guests here, but we know we will eventually! And in the meantime, we will keep updating on what we’re working on in the barn along with anything else that we think will be of interest to you!

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The beast from the east

Since we moved here we haven’t really had what we would call a proper winter….until this year. We had snow early on in the season and now the beast from the east has arrived.The snow is amazing it’s just like the stuff you get skiing, it’s powdery, crunchy under foot (even after a couple of days) and when we get a break in the weather and the sun comes out it is picture postcard pretty.The cats and the chickens are pretty unimpressed, but we think it is absolutely beautiful.