Castle in the Dales fit for a king

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When Francis and Karen Shaw bought crumbling Peel Castle, little did they realise what a massive undertaking it would be to restore it, writes Sharon Dale.

When the presenter of Grand Designs re-visited Peel Castle and declared it one of this favourite projects, the owners joked that they’d put a plaque on the bedroom he stayed in, stating: “Kevin McCloud slept here”.

Peel Castle  at Hellifield

Peel Castle at Hellifield

There was no need. There are regular re-runs of the series both here and abroad, which have brought the Dales property in Hellifield, near Settle, worldwide fame. It’s now on the tourist map, which is good news for the boutique B&B that Francis and Karen Shaw set up to help pay their enormous mortgage.

“It is very popular in Australia, so we get lots of Aussies here and they love it. We’ve also had a lot of people coming on honeymoon and proposing, including one man who was too drunk and asked me to help him. He wanted to put the ring inside a strawberry, inside a cocktail. He eventually managed to put the ring on her finger and I finally got bed at 3.30am,”says Francis, stroking another star in the making.

Daisy is almost as famous as Kevin McCloud and twice as cute. The Lhasa Apso tweets as @daisythebnbdog and has over 7,000 Twitter followers.

“She tweets about sausages, me being a useless owner and philosophy and she loves doing cod versions of traditional poems,” says Francis, an architect, who runs his own practice, Shaw Jagger.

Peel Castle  at Hellifield

Peel Castle at Hellifield

She’s a lucky little dog. She feasts on full English leftovers and lives in a home so beautiful and cosy, it’s hard to imagine that ten years ago it was on the Buildings at Risk register. After 60 years of dereliction, its state was so perilous that had the Shaws not rescued it, it would now be a pile of old stones.

The couple, who have two teenage daughters, Harriet and Morgen, bought it in 2004 and embarked on one of the most foolhardy, difficult and truly romantic self-building projects ever undertaken.

Even the history books had written the house off. Architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner stated that the property had been demolished. Reports of its death were exaggerated.

The site started life as a wooden Saxon hall house, but the main house dates from the 1300s and was built by one of the last Templar Knights, Sir John Harcourt. For most of its life it was owned by the Hamerton family, during which time it was Georgianised. After being requisitioned as a prisoner-of-war camp, it was bought by furniture maker Harry Lund in the 1940s. He took the wood he wanted then staged a dilapidation sale when the property was stripped of everything from its roof to its panelling.

Peel Castle  at Hellifield

Peel Castle at Hellifield

The crumbling bones, classed as a scheduled ancient monument, were still there when the Shaws, experienced renovators, decided to bring it back to life.

There was a feeling that fate had brought them to Peel Castle. Francis visited the house when he was 14 and on holiday with his parents. “When I saw it on the Buildings at Risk register, I remembered it immediately. It appealed because of the location and because I’ve wanted to live in a castle since I was a child.”

Karen, a former retail designer, was equally enthusiastic. They bought the property for £100,000. It took over two years and another £720,000 to resurrect it. The journey, full of drama, was TV gold.

The couple budgeted £6,000 for archaeological research, which spiralled to £20,000. Then, three months into the project, the central wall collapsed. It was a major financial setback and added six months on to the build time, but it allowed them to rethink their original plans. “It was going to be a standard roof, with some roof lights in, so I could convert the attic myself over time,” says Francis, an accomplished DIY-er.

After clambering up the scaffold and realising what a phenomenal view there was from the top, the Shaws decided to design a fabulous loft apartment with floor to ceiling windows and a roof terrace. It added another £100,000 to the cost.

“We went for broke,” says Francis, who insisted on the best materials and craftsmen, which has produced a spectacular family home with reception rooms, a dining room, dining kitchen, study, seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms and that penthouse apartment.

The £12,000 ground source heat system provides their heating and hot water, though the electric bill is £800 a month.

The small fortune and the evenings, weekends and holidays they spent working on the place have been more than worth it. It doesn’t just look amazing, it feels good. Maintenance, though, is never ending. The lime and horsehair plastered walls have been re-decorated many times and they have to hire a cherry picker to repaint the wooden windows outside.

Their castle has been steadily filled with the beautiful and the unusual sourced from auction sale rooms, eBay, antique shops and local designer makers and artists, such as sculptor Sarah Smith, Dalesbred furniture makers in Austwick and artists, David Knight and Margaret Uttley. Francis designed everything from the fireplace, featuring the Harcourt’s coat of arms, to the staircase and four-poster beds. “We like buying from makers and artists because what you’re getting is someone’s heart and soul and you are also helping to keep old traditions alive,” he says.

The house is often mistaken for a restoration, when, in fact, most of it is a re-creation. The interiors are so good that English Heritage is considering changing its rules on scheduled ancient monument status to ensure it is protected.

“They usually de-schedule it if it is lived in and only the old elements are left protected but the new stuff isn’t, so we are the first full-time residents in a scheduled ancient monument,” says Francis, who wants to create a mini Stonehenge in the garden.

Apart from that, the project is done, which begs the question: are they ready for another? “No,” says Karen. “Francis gets his fix of projects from work and we want to stay for the foreseeable future.”

Daisy, for one, is very pleased to hear it.

• www.peelcastle.co.uk; www.shawandjagger.com. Find Daisy on Twitter @Daisythebnbdog. Follow Sharon Dale on Twitter @propertywords