Estate agents in the Yorkshire Dales have been inundated with calls from would-be buyers in London and the South East who are desperate to escape to the country. Those who have joined the pandemic-induced stampede north include the office-bound who can now work remotely, along with a sizable number of people looking for a B&B or a home with an annexe for holiday letting.
For those who want to say “goodbye corporate life” and “hello hospitality”, Stow House offers the perfect opportunity with knobs on. The boutique B&B in Aysgarth is a profitable going concern and comes with owners accommodation in a contemporary annex that Kevin McCloud could wax lyrical over.
The former vicarage is for sale with GSC Grays for £1.75m and while this places the property at the top end of the market in Yorkshire, it is equivalent to the price of a four-bedroom terraced house in the capital.
For would-be buyers who intend to swap London living for a new life in the country, Stow House owners Phil and Sarah Bucknall can give them plenty of tips. They made the very same change seven years ago and brought cocktails and contemporary art with them, with the aim of giving the traditional guest house a major makeover.
Their thoroughly modern approach to decor and drinks teamed with traditional full English and Dales views to wake up to has been hugely successful. “We have enjoyed having the B&B and we have never regretted moving up here. When we told friends we were selling the business, they asked if we were coming back to London but as much as I like visiting, I don’t want to live there again,” says Sarah.
She and Phil are now looking for another project in or around the Dales after completing the work at Stow House and enjoying the fruits of their labour. Eyebrows were raised when the couple first arrived at the vicarage and swapped floral fabrics and traditional furniture for a wildly different decor.
Local tradespeople who helped with the reinvention of the B&B were bemused by the papier mâché sculpture of a badger wearing a gas mask, which hangs on the wall in one of the bedrooms, and by the Glasgow toile du jouy lampshades from Timorous Beasties, which look classic but feature someone being mugged and someone else smoking a crack pipe. They also wondered whether poster-size photographs from a fashion shoot inspired by the film Kes, which include the famous two-fingered salute, would appeal to guests, given that they were the polar opposite of the pastoral views from the bedroom windows.
The answer is in the bookings, which are bountiful. Stow House is almost fully booked until the end of the year. Guests love the concept of all seven of the bedroom suites being after pieces of art collected by the Bucknalls, who are both creative people. The suites include “Love is Blind” at £115 per night and “Like Wow Man” and “Shotgun Clare”, both £170 per night.
Phil was an art director and Sarah a copywriter until they decided to sell their home in Islington and embark on a new adventure. A B&B was an obvious choice as Phil is a keen cook and Sarah is a great people person. They were captivated by Stow House thanks to its handsome period architecture and beautiful views.“We came to view the house and we knew immediately that it was the one, ” says Sarah. “The couple who ran it had been there for 23 years and, although it wasn’t really our taste and it needed updating, we could see it had potential.”
They installed a new roof and insulation. Every window was replaced, oak floors were laid and old radiators were swapped for Victorian-style, cast-iron versions.
A series of five small rooms, including the old kitchen, pantry and utility room, were brought together to make one enormous open-plan kitchen. To enhance the feeling of space, the boarded ceilings were removed to expose the trusses.
Next, the 11 letting bedrooms were reduced to seven and some of the tiny en-suites replaced with sensational, large bathrooms. On the ground floor, they changed the old bar into a snug/library and installed a wood burner, while another reception room was turned into a bar/sitting room.
If that wasn’t enough wow factor, the couple also astounded locals by getting national park planning authority approval for a contemporary annex on the basis that separate owners accommodation was needed to make the B&B business viable. The stunning single-storey, two-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling is clad in cedar and stone with full-height sliding glass doors and a sedum roof so that the structure can’t be easily picked out from an aerial view.
“We have loved being here. It has given us a great lifestyle but it is time for a new challenge,” says Sarah, who offers this advice for B&B novices: “We started off trying to do everything ourselves but we soon learned that slogging yourself to death is not a good idea. We now hire people to help us who have experience in housekeeping and who help with breakfast, though guests like owners to be involved too as that gives the place a personality.”
She adds that guests also appreciate the local produce at Stow House, including the fruit and veg. from Carricks, meat from butcher David Harper and eggs from a supplier in West Burton.
“It’s all delivered, which is great because it means I rarely have to go to a supermarket. That’s another huge benefit of living here.”
*Stow House is in Aysgarth, famous for its falls. It has a reception hall, cloakroom, library, dining room, sitting room/bar, kitchen, breakfast room, bedroom suite and wine cellars.
There are three bedroom suites on the first floor and three on the second. The annexe has a large living space and two bedroom suites. Outside is a walled garden and paddock. Tel: 01969 600120, www.gscgrays.co.uk.