Yorkshire Interiors - a three-bedroom property in Otley Chevin
PUBLISHED: 00:03 25 February 2014
One homeowner found he had a fight on his hands before he could make a dream property his own, as Heather Dixon discovers
As a boy Jonathan Mortimer regularly watched Emmerdale Farm with his grandmother not realising that the house where it was filmed was just a few miles down the road. So he could hardly believe his eyes when he was driving down a Yorkshire lane with his father one day and spotted a familiar group of stone buildings nestling in a hollow. ‘My Dad pointed them out to me and I was fascinated by the fact that they appeared on television,’ recalls Jonathan. He never dreamed that one day he would be living there himself. ‘I was looking for a place with a bit of history and this came up for sale,’ he says. ‘Although the three-bedroom property had been renovated, it was quite dated, but I loved its location and the large garden which slopes up from the back of the house. From the top of the garden there are wonderful views of Otley Chevin.’
Six months after moving in, however, Jonathan discovered a major and disturbing problem with his new home. ‘I woke up at 4am one day to the most horrendous noise. There was scratching, rustling and screeching right along the length of the house – it was as though the roof space had come alive. At first I thought it was mice, but soon discovered there were hundreds of bats living between the plasterboard and roof slates.’
When surveys were carried out on the property there was no evidence of bats, but by the spring they were arriving in droves, with the population doubling to around 500 as the summer wore on. ‘The noise became so unbearable that I couldn’t live in the top floor and had to sleep on the sofa,’ says Jonathan. ‘To make matters worse, bat urine started coming through the ceiling and the smell was terrible. Some bats would find their way through the smallest gaps in the roof and get into the property.
‘I was watching television one night and one flew downstairs and others would fly around the bed in the middle of the night and land on the duvet. I spent three hours one Christmas Eve trying to get a bat out of the bedroom. It was a really frightening time. I had bought my dream property but the bats were turning it into a nightmare.’
Bats are a protected species and it is a criminal offence to disturb a bat in its roost. Fines can be as much as £5,000 per bat. Fortunately Jonathan, a solicitor, specialises in resolving disputes and litigation and has also been involved in politics, so he drew on his considerable diplomatic experience to resolve the problem.
After a long struggle and considerable news coverage, a license to remove the bats was finally granted by Natural England in June 2011, but Jonathan had to wait until the bats left in the autumn before the roof could be ‘bat-proofed’ by a specialist builder. ‘The following spring the bats returned and I could see them flying around outside, dive bombing the property trying to find a way in,’ says Jonathan. ‘I would lie awake in bed listening for noises in the roof. Happily, they didn’t get back in and I can finally get a good night’s sleep.’
With the bat problem solved, Jonathan was able to turn his attention back to the house which he has since developed into a stylish, colourful home.
‘I collect paintings – the walls are full of them - and I love colour, though nothing too bright,’ says Jonathan. ‘I like the rooms to be warm and comfortable. In many cases the rooms have developed around the paintings.’
Jonathan started by decorating throughout and buying furniture to work with the proportions of the rooms – some of which have a small footprint but double height into the roof space.
‘I wanted to turn part of the garden close to the house into an outdoor room with a hot tub, sofas and table,’ he says. ‘It’s a wonderful house for entertaining and I wanted it to be as versatile as possible, with outdoor space in the summer and a cosy dining room for dinner parties in the winter. I hold wine tastings here as well so I always wanted to create a home which is relaxing and classic rather than up-to-the-minute fashionable.’
Jonathan and his partner Anthony Jones, a project manager, often spend weekends searching for individual shops that are likely to offer something different. The result is a light, spacious home full of period character, history and modern design ideas. ‘It definitely ticks all the right boxes,’ says Jonathan. ‘I still marvel over the fact that I used to watch Emmerdale Farm every week, never imagining, for one moment, that one day I would be living on the Sugdens’ farm.’