There’s nothing better than having your accommodation choice approved by national newspapers. So I’m feeling more than a little smug that the B&B we recently stayed in has just been placed in the Top 100 British hotels in The Sunday Times and is one of the 40 best hotels in Britain as listed in The Guardian.
Five Acre Barn, in the tiny village of Aldringham, near Leiston, is perfectly placed on the Suffolk coast. It’s a short drive from Aldeburgh and Southwold and just a few minutes from Snape Maltings, Benjamin Britten’s famous concert venue. We had booked to see the legendary gospel blues group, The Blind Boys of Alabama, at Snape and spotted Five Acre Barn listed in the venue’s brochure as a suggested place to stay. I checked the website and it looked a world away from more traditional B&Bs or self-catering accommodation. Concrete, plywood and a zig-zag roof with skylights? Yup, we’ll give that a go.
B&B with a difference
Choosing a B&B can be a bit hit and miss. In a hotel or if you’re self-catering, you can choose the level of interaction you have with other people. With a B&B you are usually staying in someone’s home and there is something about the word ‘communal’ which can strike fear into people. Well, people like my husband, Dougie, who would prefer not to make small talk over his bacon and eggs. I’m delighted to say, the hospitality from the owners of Five Acre Barn, Bruce and David, was so relaxed that any fears of awkwardness were soon forgotten.
For a start, the accommodation is in a separate newly-built wing so you don’t have to exchange pleasantries with all and sundry if you don’t want to. But, attached to the rooms is a renovated barn which is so gorgeous, I defy anyone, even my husband, not to thaw out with a seat by the log-burner and a proffered slice of lemon drizzle cake. The owners’ two dogs, Ruby and Lola, are also on hand to make guests relax and I have to say, as two non-doggie people, we were quite smitten with these two pooches.
Five Acre Barn was designed by architect Greg Blee from London firm, Blee Halligan. This unique shingle-clad building has won awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) including a National Award for 2018. The building’s sharp lines are softened by the beauty of the five acres of garden and woodland in which it nestles very comfortably.
Of the five available rooms, four are designed with a mezzanine floor and the fifth is a beautiful, spacious, accessible space on the ground floor. We stayed in Room Two, one of the two-storey rooms. The large patio doors, plus two skylights, allow the light to flood in. The interior materials are bold and very modern but the starkness of the concrete floors and pale woodwork is offset by some very clever furniture choices.
Bruce and David have picked up mid-century classic items, including many Ercol designs, and given them a new lease of life. The result is part Scandi-chic and part retro. Paintings and desirable objects from local artists adorn the walls and the main corridor.
What did we love about our room?
- The space, on two floors, made it feel more like a self-catering accommodation minus a kitchen. There was however, a kettle, cafetiere plus tea, coffee and biscuits. There were small cartons of UHT milk but guests are encouraged to help themselves to fresh milk from the kitchen. You can pour some into small flasks to take back to your room.
- Comfortable bed with quality linen. Design books on the bedside tables were a nice touch.
- Large bathroom with walk-in shower and proper-sized bottles of top-notch Bramley toiletries.
- Cotton waffle bathrobes plus hanging rail for clothes. There’s no wardrobe but that’s not a problem as there is plenty of shelving space in the living room.
- Decking area outside the room with table and two chairs. I could just imagine the joy of sitting here on a warm summer day.
Anything we didn’t love?
If I’m being really, really fussy, I kept wondering whether it would have been better to have placed the living area in the mezzanine and have the bed on the ground floor, next to the bathroom. It felt a long way to clamber up and down the stairs in the middle of the night to pay a visit to the loo. With no mirror downstairs, apart from in the bathroom, I also had to schlep up and down the stairs to plug in hair-straighteners so I could see what I was doing.
Aesthetically it probably looks better with the bed upstairs and I can appreciate that, in the bedrooms where dogs are allowed, it’s a more practical arrangement. I suspect the architect would be most put-out by my suggested reconfiguration, so I’ll stop talking about it. In any case, it wouldn’t be a game-changer – I just need a stronger bladder and an extension cable.
Best breakfast ever?
When we drove back from Snape Maltings after the concert (which was brilliant, by the way) we snuck into the barn and warmed up by the log burner for a few minutes. I enjoyed having a mooch about, admiring the furniture and the lighting. We jotted down when we would like breakfast in the morning and what we fancied eating. The slots are staggered so guests don’t all appear at once.
The next morning, we met a couple who had also been to see The Blind Boys of Alabama. We had lots to chat about over our muesli which was so tasty, especially with the fresh raspberries. David served us with tea and coffee whilst Bruce rustled up a hot breakfast. I had chosen scrambled eggs and honestly, they were ambrosial and I don’t mean like tinned rice pudding. Food of the gods; this golden, creamy, buttery concoction was just as good, if not better, as anything I’d tasted in any five star hotel.
We sat at a long communal (that word again) table but the staggered timing meant we weren’t all there together. Next time we come – and there will be a next time – I’ll wear trousers for breakfast as it’s quite hard to extricate yourself from a long bench in a ladylike fashion, whilst wearing a skirt. And I don’t think anyone needs to see that gymnastic manoeuvre on a Sunday morning.
This venture by owners Bruce and David, to uproot from Peckham in London, to the sleepy Suffolk coast, is to be applauded. What a vision they had and how brilliantly they have brought it to life. It’s no wonder Five Acre Barn is being praised so highly. It is contemporary, utterly stylish and funky but, above all, it’s a comfortable and relaxing place to stay. Five Acre Barn – FAB.
Five Acre Barn, Aldeburgh Road, Aldringham, Leiston, IP16 4QH. Tel: 07788 424642