Responsible travel: Bed and Breakfast in the High Weald, England
When they bought the house, it was derelict, with some clay peg tiles clinging to the roof, and a dirt floor. The building leant to one side and was very much an old barn. Jacqui's husband was a builder by trade, and worked hard at restoring and preserving the building's history, whilst making it a lovely place to live. They encased the frame with weatherboarding and insulated the house to standards that are still seen as highly efficient today. Where their stunning dining room windows are now, there were barn doors that were leaning to one side. They inserted some strong, structural wooden beams, stabilising the house.
The kitchen was originally an incredibly low part of the barn, with a beam going across that cows used to use as a back scratch! They dug out underneath the barn, and the beam now stands at about 7ft (the cow hair has been thoroughly removed of course). They made every effort to preserve all the features of the barn that they could. The stunning barn is Listed grade II.
With a heat exchange system and a thermodynamic water heater, they try to reduce their energy usage as much as possible, as well as recycling, using eco friendly products and buying local produce. Jacqui also uses large bottles of toiletries in the B&B which she refills, rather than using tiny disposable bottles. Guests are encouraged to come via public transport, or at least to leave the car in the driveway, as the walk to the train station is pleasant and only 20 minutes long. There are pubs within walking distance, and several great places to visit on beautiful walks in the area.
Jacqui is involved in the Ashdown Forest Tourism Association, which is currently working towards producing a list of routes and 'day itineraries' round the forest to help people plan the best way to see the forest on foot, by public transport and by car, with tea rooms and pubs included on the way. Once the Ashdown Forest bus is running, her guests could walk to the train station, get the train for a few stops and then get the hop on and off bus. Jacqui keeps up to date tourist information, maps and guides and is very happy to check opening times of stately homes etc.
There are two pubs near the B&B that Jacqui recommends to guests-The Fountain and The Kentish House. Further afield there is The Castle Inn at Chiddingford, which is a beautiful pub in the National Trust village, and serves incredible food. The King Henry VIII in Edenbridge is another wonderful place that Jacqui always recommends- dating back to the 1600s it has a wonderful atmosphere and gorgeous outside seating area.
Because of her close proximity to so many wonderful gardens, Jacqui knows exactly where to send guests for plants to take home- there are two great garden centres near her. The nursery of Roger Platts, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show winner is in nearby Edenbridge, and Perryhill Nurseries which sells the largest selection of plants in East Sussex.
There are all kinds of things going on in Cowden, including folk music nights in the pub, fetes and fundraisers. Jacqui keeps up to date with all these so that she can inform guests, allowing them to get a taste of the local community.
The area around the B&B is fairly hilly, a combination of fields and woods and is covered with bluebells and snowdrops in the spring. There are marsh marigolds, violets, buttercups and cow parsley, as well as brambles and hedgerows. The woodlands are full of oaks, sweet chestnut, pine, sycamore, holly, silver birch and some coppiced chestnut. There is a gill running though the woods; a gill is a small ravine with water running through bottom, lined with trees on either side. It's a beautiful place for a walk and Jacqui encourages guests to go out and enjoy the land much as possible.
In Jacqui's previous home, they owned land with some wild orchids in their fields which they protected. Jacqui knows all about the local history of the area and can help guests learn about, and increase their appreciation of the area. There are ancient footpaths leading from a Roman Road at Edenbridge which goes over a hill and up to Ashdown forest- this was used by the Romans to take wood from the forest, make into charcoal and then use in the iron workings at Cowden; the same happened during the Napoleonic wars for making cannonballs. Hence the local names like Furnace wood and Hammerwood. A mile from the B&B is Dry Hill which was the site of a Roman Fort with wonderful views.
Along with her involvement in putting together the Ashdown forest itineraries, Jacqui is as accommodating as possible to guests that want to see and enjoy the landscape. She has a secure bike store and will hang wet clothes up overnight. There is a special place for boots and wellies.