One of Sarah McDermott’s happiest memories is watching the original BBC TV series of All Creatures Great and Small with her grandma, so when she saw Skeldale House B&B advertised for sale, her heart skipped several beats. The property played the part of Siegfried Farnon’s home and veterinary practice and starred in almost all 90 episodes of the much-loved true story that entertained viewers from 1978 to 1990.
Fate and a fierce determination ensured that Sarah and her husband Sean got the keys to the door of the most famous house in the Dales village of Askrigg. “We had gone to JR Hopper estate agents to pick up the keys for a property we were renovating for someone and Sean spotted the brochure for Skeldale House in Hopper’s window. He pointed it out to me and I just knew we had to have it,” says Sarah, who immediately arranged a viewing and secured the deal by offering the full asking price of £600,000.
Since buying it just over a year ago, the McDermotts have transformed the former boutique B&B into six sensational studio apartments and an extra special one-bedroom apartment. All of them are holiday lets and all have an All Creatures Great and Small theme, as does the Surgery on the ground floor, where guests can book afternoon tea or dinner cooked by a private chef. The Grade II-listed Georgian property is now the star of Sarah and Sean’s collection of luxury Yorkshire holiday properties, which all come under the umbrella of their Maison Parfaite brand.
The couple from Pontefract also have upmarket holiday rentals in Harrogate, Aysgarth, York, Robin Hood’s Bay, Pateley Bridge and Leeds city centre. Almost all have been renovation projects and have been restored and remodelled in the most environmentally conscious way. Many of the materials used are recycled or reclaimed, the furnishings are made in the UK from sustainable sources and many of the decorative accessories are antique and vintage pieces.
“Skeldale House really is the jewel in our crown because it’s such an iconic building, so much so that when we were converting it into apartments, we found two old ladies halfway up the stairs trying to look round,” says Sarah, who adds that the King’s Arms opposite is equally popular after being cast as the Drovers Arms in the days when Christopher Timothy played James Herriot, Robert Hardy was Siegfried Farnon, Peter Davison, the loveable Tristan, Carol Drinkwater was Helen and Margaretta Scott was Mrs Pumphrey. (Read More: about housekeeper Mrs Hall)
Work on the four-storey house was more challenging than the McDermotts’ previous projects due to a shortage of materials caused by the pandemic, but it didn’t stop Sarah from enjoying designing the apartments. The former private investigator turned property entrepreneur also has a gift for interiors and sourced everything needed to fit out and dress the apartments. “I watched all the old episodes of the original All Creatures Great and Small for inspiration,” she says.
The property had some original features, including fireplaces and coving, and Sarah also added a nod to the 1950s era while juxtaposing this with contemporary kitchens, 58-in ultra-HD TVs and new roll-top baths. The upper floor studios bear appropriate name plates including the Herriot, the Farnon, the Darrowby, the Drovers and the Tristan.
All the kitchens are by Kesseler with Neff appliances from Concept 17 at Redbrick Mill. The renowned interiors department store in Batley is Sarah’s go-to place for new buys.The apartment walls are painted in deep burgundy and greens with sustainable paint from Little Greene and are hung with pictures, mainly from John Lewis.
While the beds are all new and bespoke, vintage furniture plays a big part. Some of it was left by the previous owners, other pieces are from antique fairs and some are sourced and painted by Southsea-based Boogaloo Boutique. “I like using vintage pieces as it’s another way of being sustainable,” says Sarah, who had to break her own rules when it came to plants. “Keeping live ones is impossible in holiday lets so I invested in faux plants from Dowsing & Reynolds, which are really good quality and should last forever,” she says.
The Tricky Woo apartment, named after Mrs Pumphrey’s Pekingese dog, is the largest let and is on the ground floor. Fittingly, it is the most opulent and includes a sitting room with sofa bed, a kitchen/diner and a bedroom with a bath plus a separate shower room.
Fate again stepped in when the Surgery was designed. “I wanted to theme it as a cross between the surgery and Mrs Hall’s kitchen, and my sister-in-law’s father, John Baxter, who was in the It’s a Vet’s Life TV series, had recently sold his veterinary practice. He knew Alf Wight who wrote the Herriot books because he trained with him. He let me have some letters that Alf had sent to him and he also gave me some vet’s equipment to put on display,” says Sarah, who also used William Morris wallpaper for added wow factor.
The topping on the trifle for the project was another one of those “meant to be” moments. Sean came up with the idea of finding an Austin 10 exactly like the one James Herriot drives in the first TV adaptation.
The couple had a quick look on eBay and there it was, a 77-year old Austin 10 for sale in Bedale. The car now sits outside Skeldale House and guests and visitors to Askrigg love it.
“Rather than put signage on the walls of the house, we have put our signs on the car, along with a QR code that people can scan,” says Sarah. “It has turned out to be a great marketing tool because so many people take photos of it and share them on social media.”
For details of Skeldale House, Askrigg, visit www.maison-parfaite.com/skeldale-house
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