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A Sunday stroll led to a major move for one family when they spotted an empty 17th century cottage for sale in the Yorkshire Dales as Heather Dixon reports Photographs by Colin Poole

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Christine and Allan Heseltine probably wouldnt have come across the cottage for sale if they hadnt enjoyed walking so much. We were in the Yorkshire Dales and happened to walk past Rokeby House which was for sale, said Christine. We hadnt been planning to move here, but I had always wanted to run a small B&B and this seemed like the perfect location. It was as though it was meant to happen.


The couple were enchanted by the propertys quirky character although it looked sorry for itself and needed work. It took two years for Allan, a builder, to transform the damp, dingy rooms into a cosy family home.

The repair schedule was daunting; the plaster had to come off the walls so the house could be damp proofed, the old dairy complete with meat hooks and stone cheese slabs was tanked and 12-inch wide oak floorboards were laid. Beams which had been boxed in with plywood were uncovered and coated with Danish oil to bring out their natural colours.


Allan then built a two-storey extension at the back of the cottage to create a larger living kitchen with a larger bedroom above, and fitted a new kitchen and bathrooms. There was just a cupboard, a free standing cooker and a sink in the kitchen when we bought the house, said Christine. The floor also sloped so badly that nothing was straight.

The floor was levelled; a damp proof membrane was added and reclaimed Yorkshire flagstones laidwww on top. An old oak beam was placed across the middle of the ceiling to add rustic charm to the room. It came from an old Sunday school and had been sitting in the shed for 10 years at our last house, said Allan. was going to leave it there but at the very last minute asked the removal men to bring it. Im very glad did it fits perfectly in here.

Beams were uncovered in the sitting room and a beautiful parquet floor, which had been hidden under carpet for years, was restored. The couple also discovered a Victorian tiled floor in the entrance hall which they cleaned and left bare. Plastic windows were replaced with bespoke wooden sashes which were more in keeping with other houses in the local conservation area.


The house is full of treasures, said Christine. Weve kept everything, including picture rails, cupboards and even the meat hooks and stone slab in the old dairy, which is now a wine cellar. Weve kitted it out with comfortable chairs so we can enjoy a glass of wine in our den.


Christine and Allans favourite feature in the cottage, however, is the huge inglenook fireplace which had been boarded over. We wanted to open it up because we knew from the stone arch that there was a large recess behind the wood, said Allan. I took a jackhammer to it but it was more difficult than thought to break through. Then, just as was about to give up, came across the curve of the wall which was the start of the bread oven.


Not only did they discover the huge open fireplace, with its brick and stone recess, but deep within the bread oven was a worn and twisted penny, the engraving just legible enough to reveal the date of 1778. We think it was put there to ward off evil spirits, said Christine. We can only just make out the date on it, but it was a really exciting find. Its one of our treasures.


With all the structural work complete, Christine set about decorating and furnishing the cottage in a style which combines traditional comfort with modern ideas.


We wanted to achieve the same ambience that we had in our last house, which we loved. It was also very old and we had furnished it in a way to suit the house. We wanted to create something even better here, said Christine.


A lot of our existing furniture fitted perfectly here, but we bought new beds and accessories to ring the changes.


Most of the walls are painted magnolia to create a neutral backdrop and continuity throughout the house, but Christine has injected plenty of warmth and colour with feature walls, pretty bedding and hand made curtains.


Although the iron beds are large, the rest of the furniture in the house is scaled down to better suit the height and proportions of the rooms, particularly in the sitting room where a two-seater sofa, chaise and armchairs are more flexible than a single over-sized settee.


The house is full, too, of their favourite things, including paintings and furniture made by Christines father, crockery collected over the years and, in the garden, old tools and implements which Allan has bought at auctions and fairs to add character to their terraced walled garden.

Its a house for all seasons, added Christine. In the winter we light the fires and its cosy and warm, but in the summer we throw open all the doors and often sit in the front garden to watch the world go by.


Its amazing how many people just stop for a chat. We are right in the middle of the community and its a lovely place to be.



The print version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life

We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here

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