Stay the night: Camps Heath Barn, Suffolk
A refurbished farm building offers the perfect site for extended family or large groups to explore the Broads, says Sarah Barrell
Sunday 17 July 2011
There appear to be canal boats motoring along the top of the field.
My four-year-old alerts me to this weirdness, so I prepare an indulgent smile, but on inspection the marshy land stretching out towards the horizon is so very flat that it's difficult to tell the broads from the fields. The boats that ply these waters, heading inland from Oulton Broad towards Norfolk's canal network, really do look like grass-top craft.
There is a lot to go "wow!" at here if you're four. With nothing but the occasional tree to interrupt the marshy flatlands, the sun and moon can be seen keeping each other company in the sky hours before dusk or dawn; and dawn hits land first in this most easterly corner of England, after its journey across the North Sea from Amsterdam. All this can be watched, like a very slow-paced movie, from the glorious picture window of this newly converted barn.
The entire west wall of this 350-year-old red-brick structure was rebuilt with the addition of a two-storey window that lends the barn's two lounge rooms something of a cathedral elegance. With help from the Traditional Building Company, owner Jan Overy, spent three years living in a trailer while converting this former dairy barn into self-catering accommodation. It opened last year and this spring received five stars from Visit England. Jan's labour of love continues this summer with work on a new pool house complete with indoor and outdoor swimming pool, sauna, gym and yoga gallery. He lives on site now in a studio annex and manages to be present and helpful but not intrusive. Colouring books, extra hangers and other friendly bits of kit appeared as if delivered by pixies to the laundry room, and the kids were invited over to meet his horses when they were turned out into the paddocks in front of the barn.
Big sandstone flags line the ground floor, which has double-height ceilings supported by thick wooden beams. These alongside wall tapestries and wrought-iron chandeliers make the barn feel rather grand. A huge collection of cottagey "antiques" – slightly twee displays of everything from old typewriters to vintage ice skates – temper the opulence somewhat. The main barn sleeps 12 in four rooms (not six rooms as the Hoseasons website insists on suggesting). There are two double rooms on the ground floor, and the upstairs has two family rooms sleeping four; each has a kids' room with two single beds and a double adults' mezzanine room with vaulted ceilings and views over fields. All rooms are en suite and downstairs rooms have underfloor heating. Soundproofing makes it less noisy than other barn conversions. Bigger parties can spread out into an adjoining two-bedroom cottage that sleeps four people.
The food and drink
The barn's big kitchen opens on to a terrace with BBQ and picnic table; inside there's a huge range cooker and a dining table that comfortably seat our party of 12. It's about getting people together here, and to fuel the feast, Suffolk has no lack of gourmet grocers, farm shops and fishmongers. Head to Adnams in Southwold (about 25 minutes away) for superb British wines and beers. Further south, the town of Orford has its own smoke house and great seafood shops with everything from local oysters to Cromer crab. For staples, the village shop is within walking distance and a couple of big supermarkets are 10 minutes by car. Jan leaves the kitchen stocked with basics on arrival and has suggestions for everything from pubs and restaurants to butchers and chippies.
Much of the surrounding land is managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and there are lovely walks along bridle and canal paths plus great birding-watching (barn owls, kingfishers, marsh harriers and terns). The broad sands and kiss-me-quick distractions of Lowestoft are five minutes away; wilder stretches of coast offer crabbing and seal spotting. Our kids loved Bewilderwood (bewilderwood.co.uk), a treehouse adventure park populated by mythical Boggles and Twiggles. The barn has TVs, DVD players and free Wi-Fi and, this autumn, begins residential yoga weekends.
Children and pets are welcome (with an additional charge of £12 per dog, per stay). There are high chairs and stair gates and the front garden is enclosed, although parents need to be aware of a dyke bordering the property. The grounds are scattered with shingle and the barn is spread over three floors with narrow staircases, so wheelchair access is difficult.
Sarah Barrell stayed at Camps Heath Barns (REF E4980) as a guest of Hoseasons (0844 847 1100; hoseasons.co.uk) which has a week's stay from £880.
The Barn, Queens Highway, Camps Heath, Oulton NR32 5DW (01502 562981; campsheathbarn.co.uk).
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