Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Like many hard-working couples with young families living in London, City insurance expert Ian Sinclair and his wife, Mandy, were determined that their children would enjoy the benefits of a proper country upbringing. But, unlike many others, the Sinclair family made their rural dream come true.
They had been trawling the West Country for a Georgian village house with outbuildings and a few acres when, in 1997, they went to see Grade II listed Pitney House, near Langport, Somerset, which was on the market following the death, aged 84, of Rebecca Hardinge-Francis, a pillar of the local community, whose parents had bought the house in 1927.
The Sinclairs immediately fell in love with the classic Georgian house, built in about 1800 of local handtooled white lias stone and beautifully positioned on high ground at the end of a long tree-lined drive on the edge of the village, yet within walking distance of the church, the farm shop and the popular Halfway House pub.
Pitney House was soon theirs and the family lost no time in making ‘the big move’, while Mr Sinclair commuted to London for three days a week before eventually severing his City connection in 2007. ‘Having been in the same family for almost 70 years, Pitney House was a typical main village house, structurally sound but wonderfully old fashioned.
‘We loved the kitchen with its massive flagstone floor, ancient Aga and lead-lined wooden sink; the light, well-proportioned rooms with their high ceilings, original shutters and ornate door architraving; the line of servants’ bells in the hall; and the huge, cameo 1840s bathroom with its cast-iron roll-top bath, which we divided to form one huge family bathroom and an ensuite for the guest bedroom next door. And we loved the old coach house, added in 1830, which we linked to the main house at first-floor level to provide a games room, a music room, a studio and a small swimming pool, lined with natural stone in keeping with the rest of the house,’ Mr Sinclair recalls.
By the end of their first year, the Sinclairs were also the owners of a small herd of Guernsey heifers and, when more grazing land was needed, they managed to buy an orchard in the village. Wondering what to do with all the fruit, they converted some of the farm buildings and embarked on their first venture- making cider and apple juice-which soon developed into a thriving local business. In 2000, they followed with a range of home-produced dairy ice cream and fruit sorbets, using milk from their Guernsey herd and fruit from the orchard.
They named their product range after Ermie and Gertie, two much-loved Guernseys from their original herd. Sadly, Ermie is no more, but Gertie, her daughter, is still going strong at the age of 14 and their products continue to sell through nearby farm shops, National Trust shops and local branches of Waitrose.
Now that their children have grown up and left home, Mr and Mrs Sinclair have decided to call time on their Somerset idyll and head back to Sussex or east Hampshire, where both have family connections. But their love of the country life has evidently rubbed off on the next generation, with their daughter now a qualified vet practising in Surrey, as their son, a talented sportsman, musician and a recent university graduate, considers his career options from his base in Bristol.
Pitney House, £3.95m, Knight Frank
Currently for sale through Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) at a guide price of £3.95 million, immaculate Pitney House stands in 32 acres of picturesque gardens, grounds, orchards and grassland, 13 miles from Castle Cary (London-Paddington, 92 minutes) and 16 miles from the county town of Taunton and its excellent schools.
The main house has some 10,200sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including four reception rooms, a splendid kitchen, a breakfast room, eight bedrooms, five bath/shower rooms and extensive leisure facilities. The property includes a four-bedroom lodge house and a range of traditional and modern farm buildings. The home-run Pitney House Farm business is available by separate negotiation.
Even in a market that now operates all year round, it’s unusual to find a perfectly restored country estate launching in the West Country in January, so to find two is luxury indeed. The second is the impressively renovated 228-acre Mohuns Ottery estate at Luppitt, near Honiton, Devon, at a guide price of £3.5m through the Taunton office of Jackson-Stops & Staff (01823 325144).
Mohuns Ottery, £3.5m, Jackson-Stops & Staff
The historic estate of Mohuns Ottery, or Otri as recorded in the Domesday Book, was owned from 1303 by the powerful Carew family, who established a large house and park in a glorious setting overlooking the Otter Valley.
The manor, which was probably rebuilt by the swashbuckling Sir Peter Carew (his older brother, Sir George, was commander of Mary Rose when she sank in 1545), burnt down in 1868 and was rebuilt as the present farmhouse, listed Grade II. All that remain of Sir Peter’s original manor house are the dramatic ruins of the 16th-century gatehouse and garden walls, listed Grade II*, which stand a few yards to the south.
Exquisitely renovated by its present owners, Mohuns Ottery has six reception rooms, a magnificent country kitchen, six bedrooms and three bathrooms in the main house; further accommodation is provided in the one-bedroom courtyard cottage and the beautifully converted three-bedroom former cider barn. Ancillary buildings include stabling and a range of modern farm buildings.
Delightful gardens include a vineyard and single- and double-bank fishing are available on the River Otter, which forms part of the estate’s eastern boundary.
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