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Living the Dream?
Park Barn (Holt, Norfolk)
Member Name: azana
Park Barn (Holt, Norfolk)
Date: 21/04/13, updated on 23/04/13 (117 review reads)
Advantages: big house, well situated
Disadvantages: too many notices
I would imagine that holiday rental homes with eight bedrooms are not plentiful, and ones that accept dogs even less so. When I was invited, with my family, to spend a week in this one with another two families I didn't know what to expect. What we got was something that was beautiful to look at but, which in reality, had a few downsides as a place to live in for a week, the first being the price - £3000 for a week when I stayed but rising to a thousand pounds more in the Summer, and near on £3000 for 3 days in high season, having checked. Admittedly you can sleep up to 16 people for that price (in peak season for 7 nights that would work out at £35.71 per person per night according to my maths, at full capacity), in some comfort but with a few niggles as I shall explain.
The barn is situated on the outskirts of the town of Holt, in Norfolk, about 10 miles from the coast in Cromer. If you like Norfolk you should find it relatively well positioned to do the tourist thing - though it's a bit of a painful drive from the M25. The building itself is part of a complex of renovated properties, enjoying its own entrance and walled off garden area. Entrance is via a narrow drive situated on quite a sharp bend on the way out of town to the country park, through some gates which ensure plenty of privacy. There is plenty of space to park cars and the property has a main building, as per the photo above, and also an annexe which houses one of the bedrooms in an upstairs flat and also a games room with a pool table and table tennis.
When entering via the kitchen the property certainly ticks all the boxes as far as lifestyle aspiration goes. From the Aga via the granite centre island to three storey high ceiling and the longest table you can imagine capable of housing the up to 16 guests who can be housed in this property. The barn was, I believe, renovated by the builder owner, and he's done a good job on the surface of things. There are three separate living room areas, a living room on the ground floor and an orangery and to the first floor another sitting area. The finish is good, oak doors and plenty of hanging hooks and storage areas and more toilets than you can probably even use - I counted five on the ground floor which has three bedrooms (one double and two with single beds), all of which have ensuites, and there are another two toilets. On the first floor there are another three bedrooms, two of which have bathrooms and then there is a further bedroom up on the second floor. All the rooms are fairly spacious, the master bedroom on the first floor spectacularly so, it has the hugest bathroom you can imagine, again all furnished in tasteful tones. The kitchen is well equipped with enough cooking stuff for huge groups (though bizarrely no potato masher), but there are plenty of plates, glasses, cutlery for adults and children and also high chairs should you need them. There is a very flash integrated coffee machine and a huge American fridge and plenty of recipe books, puzzles and even a few toys. Everything was very clean within what is a huge house. There is a utility room with washer, drier and a microwave, all in all mostly what you think you would need to stay in comfort - however over the time we were there although it was quiet and fairly comfortable we did find some things a little lacking.
The first thing to grate was the fact that we were only given one key for the property, apparently as other guests have lost keys. This was inconvenient from the start and quite mean given that the house is hardly cheap, I didn't really understand why the owner couldn't have provided more keys on huge key rings that would have been difficult to lose and which could have been charged for if lost. Another thing was that you had to pay an extra £250 for heating - I can understand the heating being costly as the heating is, in the main, underfloor and aga and run off bottles of gas, but again it seemed a bit mean to quantify it like this - and had you not paid for the aga I imagine it would have been quite hard to cook with the other facilities. The heating was a bit hit and miss, possibly as the building is so high and huge. There was a wood burning stove, which was a nice touch and we did appreciate having lots of space to spread out, but also found that the owner had gone a bit crazy with warning signs. I appreciate that guests may break things but the amount of notices in every nook and cranny warning you in shouty language about the dire consequences of flushing the wrong thing down the toilet (£300 to fix if you were the one to block the system apparently according to the notice next to nearly every loo) was ridiculous. As an adult I don't want to have to look at notices telling me to turn off lights and strip sheets - one notice would have sufficed. At one point I was enjoying a shower and thinking it was strange there were no signs only to turn my head to see a sign warning me to turn the shower on and off carefully - madness, given that it was one of five notices in one small bathroom. Maybe the owner has been unlucky with his guests but I would imagine most people would respect a place they are staying in and could be given some credit for being sensible, and informed at the start of their stay rather than being assailed by notices.
Though high vaulted ceilings and wooden finish might look nice we found too that that house was very noisy to live in. We were on the ground floor, the beds were ok but a couple were bit squeaky and not the best quality - they did have pillow covers and plenty of blankets though, but we did find that we could hear every noise when anyone walked above us. In the rooms upstairs there was a mixture of issues, the top bedroom is not enclosed giving the occupants no privacy or protection from noise below and had a shower that didn't work, and a jacuzzi bath that made noise randomly in the night, whilst one of the bedrooms on the first floor had a shower you had to squat in. The appliances such as the washing machine and toaster were of the cheap but functional sort and all in all the house was less comfortable to stay in than it maybe looked at first sight and hampered by rules, rules and more rules. It could have been more relaxing than it was with a few less notices and a little less scrimping on finish such as appliances, duvets and curtains - these were all pretty thin and cheap as were the towels. The games room was fine, but a little too cold to use when we stayed and the wifi only worked in one room. Having stayed previously in a house in Cornwall which had mattress toppers, blackout shutters, luxury high count sheets and the most fluffy towels that I have ever seen, I know the difference that spending a bit of a money on a few comforts can make, there were no such touches in this house, bar the very nice coffee machine.
If I sound like I am picky, I don't think I am, but when you are away and paying quite a lot of money I think it's reasonable to expect a similar level of comfort to that you have at home. I don't think this house, despite its beautiful looks quite achieved that. The visitors' book was a mixture of the good, bad and indifferent (and a strange obsession about the lack of hand soap in the bathrooms, not an issue to me), and most of the comments in the guest book were pretty positive. I think this house is the sort that would have looked stunning on a photo shoot, assuming you could photoshop out all those notices, but in reality it could have been better than it actually was, given the price. If you are a huge group this place is probably perfect for a weekend, but for anything longer the shine on this place might start to dull and it might start to feel like an awful lot of money for something that's not quite a five star experience when all is said and done.
Link to pictures and more info: http://www.cottage-choice.co.uk/cottages-Park-Barn -CWT.shtml
Summary: Nice to look at, lacking luxury in reality
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