Clive Sykes trained as an agronomist and was working in advertising down south when he made the life-changing decision to head back to his native Yorkshire. The plan was to help his mum, Barbara, run the small holiday let business she had started from the family home in Eshton, near Skipton. “I was in my mid-twenties and my wife questioned why I was giving up a perfectly good job but I really wanted to work for myself,” he says.
That was in the late 1980s when his mother had already grown one holiday lettings company before selling her shares in it. “She then had a small, hobby business with 10 or 11 lets on the books and we built that up,” says Clive.
Thanks to his drive, determination and attention to detail, it became Sykes Holiday Cottages and grew into one of the UK’s most successful holiday letting/property management companies.
Clive moved the HQ to Cheshire so his wife could easily commute to London for her own job as an accountant and sold the business to a private equity firm in 2016, relinquishing his remaining shares two years ago when it was sold again. While he could easily have retired early off the proceeds, doing nothing is not in his nature. He is a born entrepreneur, which is why he has found himself back in the game and with a recently formed company, Catch the Breeze Retreats. “I’m 58 and too young to stop,” he says. “It sounds crazy but it’s not about making lots of money, it’s about doing something and doing it well.”
His latest venture began with a holiday home he and his wife bought and transformed in Craster on the Northumberland coast. Named Rock Lobster, the property now has four bedrooms, all mod cons and sensational views. It has been joined by two other Craster holiday lets named Middlerigg and Craster Reach and by TanLlan in the village of Llanelltyd in the Snowdonia National Park.
All are exquisite and at the top end of the market but it is Oughtershaw Hall in the Yorkshire Dales that beats the lot for historic grandeur and size. “I’d been looking to buy somewhere in Yorkshire for a couple of years when this came up. It was way up dale and it was special,” says Clive.
Tucked away above the small village of Oughtershaw, near Buckden, the setting is idyllic, with the hall standing amid tranquil woodland, sweeping valleys and open moorland.
Clive was bowled over, knowing full well that buying it was more of a heart than head decision. “It was a nutty place to buy given the work needed and the upkeep but I fell in love with the setting,” he says.
The property dates to the 1600s when it was a farmhouse. It was the trend for wealthy individuals to have a rural shooting lodge that saw it transformed by London wine merchant Basil George Woodd in 1850. He redesigned and enlarged the house in a late Tudor style and many of the original features remain. Among them are stained glass windows with coats of arms, carved panelling, stonework, servants bells, meat hooks, a large oak table inscribed with the date 1876 and the initials CW, a wooden panel hiding a peephole that looks onto the outside passageway and, most charming and appropriate given its new use, a stone inscription on exterior of the hall, which reads “Welcome as the flowers in spring”.
Perhaps most impressive though is the original guest book dating from 1845 to 1945. Along with referencing many happy times, an account from 1895 refers to a 9ft-high snow drift, which blocked the roads from Oughtershaw to Hawes from December to March the following year.
The hall was sold in 1946 to the Milner family who loved and enjoyed it, mainly as a holiday home. Clive is the third incumbent and after a major modernisation and restoration, the capacious house is a large, luxury holiday let that sleeps 16 and is powered by a ground source heat pump.
Some reconfiguring was required but it retains all its character and has a large dining kitchen, bootroom, snug, huge sitting room, a library and a games room, sunroom and sauna. The decor is perfectly in keeping, blending old and new with no expense spared. The kitchen has bespoke wood doors and granite worktops.
All the beds in Catch the Breeze retreats have tapestry wool blankets and the art on the walls includes work by Yorkshire artists, including Kitty North. The views are mesmerising and outside are beautiful gardens and a riverside walk. Clive also installed a swimming pool in a farm building that is connected via a link to the main house.
Ben Hart, a sheep farmer who lives nearby, manages the property and, along with greeting guests, he is a font of knowledge who can tackle everything from repairs to using his tractor to rescue motorists stranded in the snow when the weather turns unexpectedly, as it does in the Dales.
Along with the modernisation, which should see the hall right for decades, Clive is leaving his mark on the landscape. He has bought the 40 acres of land opposite and is looking to plant more trees there and introduce red squirrels. “What I’m doing now is about creating amazing spaces. It’s fun and it puts a smile on my face,” adds Clive, who is looking at buying more properties in the Dales.
For more details on Oughtershaw Hall visit www.catchthebreeze.co.uk