The four million viewers who tuned into BBC2’s Christmas episode of Gone Fishing last year watched as Bob Mortimer battled to rid Paul Whitehouse of his “bah humbug” approach. Nothing worked until Bob played his trump card – a quintessential country cottage in Yorkshire with twinkling fairy lights, a beautifully decorated tree, a roaring log fire and a turkey dinner. It reminded Paul that it’s the simple pleasures that make Christmas special.
The transformational effect of Chequers Cottage in Osmotherley was due in no small part to its owner Emma McDonald, a creative multi-tasker who can turn her hand to anything from building walls and lambing to baking cakes and upholstery.
She always decorates the holiday let for Christmas and, along with handcrafting baubles for the tree, she makes her own wreaths and garlands. “I love Christmas as it’s a reason to get creative. I always have a tree in the cottage and I got a 20ft tree for outside for the Gone Fishing filming. I even did some fishing fly baubles last year,” she says.
The property forms part of the remote 120-acre hill farm on the western edge of the North York Moors that Emma and her husband Andrew own. Diversification has been essential to the survival of the farm, which has been in Andrew’s family since the 1950s. The income from their flock of sheep is not enough to fund a living, which is why Andrew’s mother turned a cottage on the farmstead into a successful tearoom.
Emma later took it on but after 12 years of baking, running the tearoom and looking after her five children while helping on the farm, she came up with a plan of action. “I was constantly tired from running the tearoom and I had no life. I worked out that I’d baked 300,000 scones over that period and that’s when I came up with the idea of turning the tearoom into a holiday cottage,” says Emma, 55, a one-woman powerhouse who has refused to let her dyslexia and lack of formal schooling get in the way of success.
She suffered from a rare kidney disease when she was young and rarely went to school. In common with legions of other children, her dyslexia was undiagnosed. “I battled on, teaching myself to read using a Cordon Bleu cookbook my mum bought me, but I don’t regret having dyslexia because, like a lot of dyslexic people, the creative side of my brain is really strong and it races at 100 miles an hour. I can turn my hand to anything from laying stone walls, cement mixing and cooking to designing, sewing and tiling. Nothing fazes me,” says Emma, who is also an accomplished artist and photographer.
Chequers Cottage, a 400-year-old former drovers inn, is her pride and joy and is popular thanks to its beautiful rural location, gorgeous interiors, the abundance of period features and, of course, its connection with Gone Fishing. Emma helped renovate it, designed the interiors, helped fit the kitchen and made all the soft furnishings.
The characterful property, painted in Farrow & Ball neutrals, now has a spacious hall with an armchair, sofa, settle and window seat. The old tearoom curtains, made by Emma, were upcycled to fit, while the settle was one of her many finds on Facebook Marketplace. The 1773 map has been in Andrew’s family for years and was framed and given pride of place on the wall.
The dining kitchen features units from B&Q that Emma helped fit. She added a cosy gas “wood-burning” stove and a table upcycled from the old tearoom, along with mod cons including a dishwasher and coffee machine. The dining area has an old range, where local legend says there was once a peat fire that burned continuously for 200 years.
The cosy sitting room is everyone’s favourite and centre stage is the woodburner by Coalbrookdale with reclaimed, hand-clamped, herringbone bricks behind it that were laid by Emma.
Upstairs are two large, luxurious ensuite bedrooms with king-size sleigh beds and spectacular views.
Ever busy, Emma has donned her overalls and hobnail boots again and is turning another cottage on the farm into a holiday let. Known as Innkeepers, it will be up and running in the next few weeks.
“My son lived there and when he moved out I set about demolishing walls and renovating it to a beautiful standard,” she says. “Next year I’m going to start on a tenanted cottage that I am turning into a holiday let. It will be 15-hour days, seven days a week but I can’t wait and the reward is sharing this wonderful, very special place with guests. They love the amazing views, the silence, the moorland and the feeling of being away from it all.”
Chequers Cottage, Osmotherley, is for let via Beautiful Escapes, tel: 01642 711165, www.beautifulescapes.co.uk or via Emma, tel: 07958 610095. See Emma’s landscape and wildlife photographs on Instagram @emyloumac_photography. The 2020 Christmas episode of BBC2 show Gone Fishing is still available on iPlayer.
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