This live work opportunity, near York, is a first class home-based business for railway enthusiasts who want to escape to the country. Sharon Dale reports.
When David and Lizanne Southworth agreed to buy a former railway ticket office with land, they were forced to wait six months for the sale to go through.
The delay was frustrating but it gave them plenty of time to think about what to do with the property, which is on the site of the old Skipwith station. It was during this hiatus that they came up with the idea for a railway- inspired holiday haven.
“We wanted something to renovate that we could maybe get an income from,” says Lizanne. “We heard about this place from friends and we knew there was something we could do with it.”
The plan was to buy old railway carriages and turn them into holiday homes while living in the converted ticket office that once served passengers on the Derwent Valley Light Railway between Selby and York. Opened in 1913 and closed in 1985, it was known as the Blackberry Line and was a favourite with chocolate factory workers from York who travelled out in their hundreds to pick berries.
While the track has long gone, the idyllic location, overlooking fields of barley and Skipwith Common nature reserve beyond, remains unchanged. The views helped sell the site to David and Lizanne, though the railway connection was also apt as David used to work at the York Carriage works.
The couple, who have two children, have spent the last 11 years giving Skipwith station a productive new life and are now looking for new owners to take over their home and holiday business, which has just come on the market with Savills at £795,000.
They have done all the hard work, including getting planning permission. Railway carriages are classed as mobile buildings and even with the help of a consultant it took two years to get the go-ahead. While they were waiting, the Southworths kept busy by renovating the converted ticket office and waiting room.
“There was a tiny, one-bed granny annexe and so there were four of us and two dogs living in there while we renovated the rest of the house,” says Lizanne.
The ticket office turned family home was initially converted in the 1970s and later extended but was in desperate need of modernisation. The couple covered the wooden exterior with insulation and topped it with new breeze block and render to create a duvet-like effect. At the back, they covered the old veranda and added glazed French doors that lead out onto decking.
Keen to respect to the railway heritage, they added decorative wood cladding, finials and cricket pavilion-style roof tiles to mimic the look of the original building. They modernised inside, but ripped off the old plasterboard to expose the old Yorkshire boarding and the old barrel ceiling. Lizanne, a garden designer, who has transformed the grounds into a glorious oasis.
They sourced their first two holiday properties from an auction at the carriage works at Doncaster. The third, a Virgin carriage, was bought from Derbyshire. After sourcing some old track to sit them on, the first carriages arrived on low loaders and were craned into place.
David, a gifted DIYer who helped design the conversion of the Orient Express, did most of the work himself. It took two years to convert the old mail van, now known as the Derwent Mail, and the first class car, now the Derwent Flyer. The 1970s seats were stripped out and sold to rail enthusiasts and the steel shell was packed with insulation. Mahogany panels were painted cream to make the interior lighter, while the exterior was painted green to suit the planners. Wiring, plumbing and heating were installed and bedrooms created. Some original features, such as luggage racks, were retained for storage and the carriagesd are filled with railway memorabilia.
The ex-Virgin carriage is now called Lady Deramore, while the most recent holiday let, an old station goods building, is now a one-bedroom holiday let with its own hot tub.
Lizanne and David are selling to pursue other interests after fulfilling their ambition to revive Skipwith station. “We’ve loved building up the business. It really is thriving and not difficult to run as we have three people who help us out,” says Lizanne. “Now it is time for us to move on and let someone else enjoy it.”
The couple are leaving some untapped potential for the next owners. There are 1.4 acres of land and paddocks, which has potential for more holiday accommodation.
* The former station, which now includes a house and four holiday lets, is for sale at £795,000 with Savills. The family home, the station’s former ticket office and waiting rooms, has four double bedrooms, a private driveway and garden and a terrace overlooking countryside. The holiday lets include three converted railway carriages, sleeping between four and six people, and a one bedroom converted goods building. The property also comes with 1.4 acres of land. Sarah Graham, of Savills, says: “ The holiday enterprise has been carefully developed utilising the history of the site.” Savills, tel: 01904 617800, www.savills.co.uk; www.skipwithstation.com.