Escape to the country

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A surprise move to a North Yorkshire arable farm has had a life-changing effect on Roger and Sally Dunkley. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by James Hardisty.

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” according to Robert Burns – and that was certainly the case when Roger and Sally Dunkley began looking for a new life in the country.

Barr Farm, Old Malton

Barr Farm, Old Malton

The couple were searching for a Grand Designs-style project in Devon or Cornwall when they were hijacked by a property advert in this newspaper. It led them to a 100-acre arable farm in Old Malton and a mammoth five-year renovation that has completely transformed their lives.

“We lived in Berkshire and I was visiting family in Rotherham when I saw the advert in The Yorkshire Post. A working farm wasn’t in our plans but I came to look at it,” says Roger. “It was quite a daunting place but I spent the first five years of my life on a farm and as a teenager I worked on one at weekends, although everything is done differently these days.

“I wandered off down the fields thinking ‘now I’ll have to convince Sally’.”

Sally didn’t visit until their offer was accepted and she found a farmhouse in need of updating, along with numerous outbuildings, a livery and vast swathes of land. Although it was a huge project it presented them with a chance to create a home with income.

Barr Farm, Old Malton

Barr Farm, Old Malton

They now have a contract farmer helping with the crops, a successful livery and a holiday cottage. The first two years of ownership were spent planning the renovation remotely from their base in Berkshire, liaising with architects Bramhall Blenkharn who secured planning permission for the revamp and kitchen extension. They also got the go-ahead to convert a barn into a holiday cottage.

“Mark Bramhall was fantastic. The farm is in a conservation area and the house is Grade II listed, so he came up with a design that is in keeping but contemporary,” says Roger.

The property was three storey with two rooms either side of a central corridor and the planners were keen to retain that layout. But they gave permission to convert an attached outbuilding into a utility room and the old kitchen into a snug. This now leads on to a stunning kitchen extension.

The light-filled space is constructed from stone, brick and oak with folding, sliding doors that lead onto a covered patio. When the building work began, they realised that someone needed to be on site, so Sally gave up her job as a chemical engineer and moved into a caravan on the farm.

Barr Farm, Old Malton

Barr Farm, Old Malton

“There were lots of questions that needed answering and it was clear that we had to be here,” says Sally. “My previous job was managing people and designing oil refineries and chemical plants so those skills helped.”

They hired local firm DJ Lumley and the first job was to put a new roof on the house to stop the leaks. They ploughed on for a year trimming the budget where necessary.

“We were going to have a stone wall around the garden but went for a fence to save costs and that’s something we can come back and do later,” says Roger.

They retained as much of the character as they could, including the old copper washing tub fuelled by a brick-built stove underneath, which is now a feature of the utility room. They built the snug fireplace using bricks from one of the outbuildings and Sally stencilled and waxed old wooden boxes that provide useful storage.

Barr Farm, Old Malton

Barr Farm, Old Malton

They shopped around for fixtures and fittings, finding an ex-display bath on eBay, a cooker from the John Lewis sale, and a beautiful bespoke kitchen from Handmade Kitchens in Pickering. Furniture is a mix of their belongings from Berkshire, eBay, charity shops and new buys.

No expense was spared on the holiday cottage, which is open plan with a wood-burning stove in the middle. There is a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. It also features some clever space-saving ideas such as hanging rails made from wood and rope in lieu of wardrobes. The walls are decorated with framed posters, photographs of the farm and the courtyard garden features planters made by Roger from upcycled old fences.

After a year together at Barr Farm, life has changed for Sally and Roger, who have two grown-up children. He still works in video conferencing and is based at home. In his spare time, he drives a tractor, mends fences and brings in bales. Sally runs the holiday cottage and the livery, while organising educational visits to the farm.

“We love it here. It’s given us a portfolio of interesting things that generate income and so we never get bored. It’s been a huge change from living down south. The people here are friendly and everyone knows someone who can help you,” says Roger.

In the future, they hope to convert more outbuildings into holiday lets and get more animals, including some Highland cattle.

“This is not what we initially planned,” says Roger. “But it just seemed to make sense and we enjoy it. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

• For more details on Barr Farm and Doodale holiday cottage, visit