A breath of fresh air

Debbie and Richard
Debbie and Richard
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Debbie Temple and Richard Greaves have created a luxurious home on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Heather Dixon reports.

There was a time when the owners of Debbie and Richard’s house used to keep cattle near the kitchen so the cows’ breath would keep them warm.

These days an Aga does a more efficient job, but Debbie and Richard’s remote farmhouse between Kirkby Stephen and Hawes has lost none of its historical charm.

Although it has evolved from a two-room medieval farm dwelling into a cosy 21st-century home, it is full of features which visibly trace its history through the centuries.

The original cattle barn is now a sitting room with a high, beamed ceiling; the kitchen now leads to a Georgian extension with elegant presses built into alcoves, wooden floors and original sash windows which have withstood the winter moorland winds. A Victorian dairy room with cold stone plinths and wooden cheese shelves is now a well-used food store and the old stone cellars have been turned into a stylish cloakroom.

But Debbie and Richard have had to work hard to renovate the tired old building and save it from rack and ruin.

When they bought it auction in November 2005 it had been empty for four years and was starting to decay.

“It had been tenanted since the 1920s so it hadn’t been particularly well cared for,” says Richard. “The spirit of the house had started to disappear. It was very damp and cold and we felt it was on its last legs.”

But Richard had already renovated a cottage on the Isle of Skye followed by a dilapidated barn closer to home, and the prospect of bringing the old farmhouse back to life filled them both with enthusiasm.

“We saw all the original features and fell in love with it,” says Debbie. “We saw it as an adventure.”

The journey began at a nail-biting auction when they found themselves bidding against two others until they hit the guide price of £450,000 and the property was theirs.

“My nails had been digging into Richard’s legs while he bid,” says Debbie. “When we realised it was ours it was a bit of a shock, but we knew it was the right thing to do. We visited the house three times before the auction – in the dark, in the rain and with my mum – but nothing could put us off. It’s a magical place in a magical setting.”

The couple managed to run two places for the first six months while they spent every spare weekend and evening renovating their new home. They soon discovered its flaws. The roof leaked in several places; snow swept through the gaps to rest a foot deep inside the house and the chimneys were blocked up with concrete, electric blankets and Jackdaw nests.

“Luckily Richard and his father are both experienced climbers so they relished the prospect of climbing onto the roof to clear and cap the chimneys and re-set the ridge tiles,” says Debbie.

Inside, the house was riddled with wet and dry rot – which made removing wallpaper particularly easy as it came off in huge strips – and the walls were crumbling where the lath and plaster had given way. The sash windows, dating back to 1756, also needed re-hanging and new wood spliced into the rotten sections.

“A lot of the work was done in winter so we wore six layers of clothes while we were working,” says Debbie. “Sometimes Richard stayed here on his own and he would get into bed fully clothed, then wake up the next day, put his wellies on, and get back to work.”

One of the biggest jobs was to turn the cellar into a usable space. It was full of surface rain water from the fell, so Richard and Debbie lifted the flagstone floor, excavated a further foot and then hired a digger to create a trench outside for a land drain that would take away the surplus water.

The sitting room floor also posed a challenge. The original pegged floorboards, sitting on a layer of oak joists, “elephant’s feet” limestone rock and bare earth, were bowed in the middle.

Debbie and Richard took up the floor, laid new joists packed with four inches of Kingspan insulation, then re-laid the boards.

“It was a nightmare putting them back down,” says Richard. “They had been so brilliantly crafted that the original fit was perfect, but once they had been taken up they started to expand and twist. It took a lot of time and patience to get it right.”

The flagstone floor in the kitchen was also taken up, the floor excavated for a damp proof course, drainage and underfloor heating, and re-laid to include reclaimed local gritstone flags found in the barn.

The property had new plumbing, electrics and oil-fired central heating, and a new septic tank, and all the doors were stripped by hand using Nitromorse and wire wool. “Most normal people would send them away to be dipped, but we did it the hard way,” says Debbie. “We thoroughly enjoyed it, though. It’s much more satisfying when you do things yourself.”

The house unearthed a few treasures from the past, including a Georgian coin under the floorboards which they replaced with a commemorative coin for future renovators to discover. They also found hat pins, brooches and a 1953 newspaper which had been used as draught excluder.

Debbie’s renovating skills came in handy with the furniture too. She taught herself to recover sofas, create new seats for old chairs and make soft furnishings, while Richard brought home bargains, from regional sale rooms and antique shops, which they have restored between them.

Since opening their home as a bed and breakfast, they have attracted visitors from all over the world who share their appreciation of its rural location and colourful history.

“Everyone wants to know about the renovation and it’s lovely that people appreciate what we’ve done,” says Debbie. “After putting so much time and effort into it, there’s a huge satisfaction in being able to share the results with others and hear their comments.

“Although we are only guardians of this place I would like to think that we’ve done our bit to save it from rack and ruin.”