Baby, we’ve a barn to run...

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Seasoned renovators Graham and Lisa Smith moved from the town to the country to create a rural idyll with income. Sharon Dale reports.

It’s a beautiful winter’s day at Barnacres and Lisa Smith is enjoying the view across her land to the sea while her two donkeys, Willow and Bracken, and puppy Teodora, compete to get her attention.

Graham and Lisa Smith pictured at Meadowbeck Holiday Cottage, Fylingdales

Graham and Lisa Smith pictured at Meadowbeck Holiday Cottage, Fylingdales

It’s an idyllic rural scene but one that has been hard won by former townie Lisa and her husband Graham.

Eighteen months ago the couple were living in Derbyshire with dreams of escaping to the country to tackle a renovation project that would give them the perfect life-work lifestyle.

“We wanted a home with holiday lets and a smallholding,” says Lisa, a former director of motor finance for a bank. They found it in Fylingdales, near Robin Hood’s Bay.

The main house was ready to move into and it had ten acres of land plus planning permission to convert a derelict barn into three holiday cottages. With experience of self-building and renovating, the couple were unfazed.

“We didn’t realise then that renovating in the countryside is a completely different to working in a town,” says Graham, a builder. “We’d always had mains gas and water and finding alternatives was a real education.”

Water at Barnacres comes from a natural spring and is carried across three acres by pipes connected to a 100-year-old ram pump. It couldn’t cope with the four properties.

“You could put a bath on then come down and have your dinner, a cup of tea and a natter and the bath still wouldn’t be full,” says Graham, who had to install a pressure pump designed to accommodate the increased usage. The Smith’s also discovered that the single phase electricity supply was not big enough and upgrading was a costly £16,000 they hadn’t budgeted for.

Heating was another major issue. Extending and fuelling the oil-fired system from the house to the cottages was expensive, so they looked at energy-efficient solutions. The plumped for a 60kw biomass log burning boiIer and electricity-generating solar PV Panels , which together cost £32,000. The boiler provides heating and hot water for all the properties on site and qualifies for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive payments.

“It will hopefully pay for itself in about seven years and we won’t have any heating bills to worry about. We also planted 300 willow trees and plan to manage our small woodland area, to ensure that we have future fuel for our boiler, ” says Lisa, who managed to find an answer to another common countryside problem.

“After being told numerous times by BT that they could provide a service and trying different routers and having engineers visit, we learned that they couldn’t provide broadband,” she says.

Luckily, they were introduced to Bay Broadband, a local co-operative in Robin Hood’s Bay run entirely by volunteers and they now have broadband at a fraction of the average monthly cost.

While battling to get the utilities up and running, Graham was forced to delay his plans to work on the roof.

“The swallows that had made the barn their home had chicks in their nests when we wanted to remove the roof, so we had to delay work until they had fledged,” says Lisa.

“We didn’t mind at all and got to watch the swallows up close feeding and teaching their young to fly .”

Instead Graham worked on it through winter, refusing to stop laying pantiles even when it snowed. The intensity of a North York Moors winter was a shock and brought more challenges.

“One memory is of the local builders’ merchant’s lorry getting stuck down our lane and trying to reverse out. It ended up going over in the ditch and it took all afternoon and evening to retrieve it. We spent all afternoon sliding large sheets of insulation down the lane to the building site, which was hard work but good fun,” says Lisa.

The cottages are now complete. They are cosy thanks to underfloor heating and are the picture of perfection thanks to Graham’s craftsmanship and eye for detail.

Lisa did all the decorating and most of the furniture has been recycled with some fantastic paint effects using Farrow and Ball colours. Most of the chairs and tables came from Duggleby’s auction house in Scarborough and from neighbour Tim, who owns an antique and collectibles business at Springfield Farm Barn. Other pieces are from eBay, friends and Lisa’s mum.

Meanwhile, Graham made the most of he materials on site. Shelving has been built in using old roof laths from the barn, the TV tables are made from scaffold boards and one built-in cupboard sports doors from an antique wardrobe that was too big to go in a cottage.

The reward for their enthusiasm and hard work is a visitor book that gushes with praise for their holiday let, and a new life in a friendly community. “We have found ourselves made welcome and everyone helps each other out.

“The owners of the Flask Inn across the road have been very generous in allowing us use of their tractor for the heavier jobs.

“Hopefully, we can repay the favour by sending our holiday guests over to them to sample their ales and food,” says Graham.

They haven’t had time for a holiday themselves and still have a lot to do.

They aim to redesign their house and convert another barn into a games room and laundry for guests. Graham wants an orchard so he can brew his own cider, while Lisa wants chickens so visitors can have fresh eggs for breakfast.

“It’s been a learning curve but it’s wonderful here. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I go out walking with the dogs. It’s so beautiful,” says Lisa.

“A good friend of ours got it absolutely right when she visited and wrote back saying that ‘we had found a little piece of heaven’.”

Useful contacts

Meadowbeck Holiday Cottages, Barnacres, near Robin Hood’s Bay,

Mark Laycock, craftsman in wood, Robin Hood’s Bay Tel: 01947 881111,

Plumber N.R. Pybus Ltd, Tel: 01947 602394, Stainsacre, Whitby

Electrician C Webster Ltd, Tel: 01287 640227,

Alfreton Joinery (doors and windows), Tel: 01773 832022, Swanick, Alfreton, Derbyshire

Andy Vasey Glazing , Scarborough, Tel: 01723 376060,

Michael Fenby Reclamation for stone, Fylingdales, Tel: 01947 880702,

David Dugglebys Auctioneers, Scarborough,

J C Fabrications,Whitby, Tel: 01947 825123. Manufactured Pattress Plates to match original and structural steel beams

Springfield Farm Barn antiques and collectibles, Fylingdales, Whitby, Tel: 01947 880393.