When my then future husband, John, told me that his dream was to live in an old timber framed house, it came as no surprise. Being a tree surgeon he has a natural obsession with wood, especially oak. However, I thought it would remain just that – a dream…. I should have known better than to underestimate him….
One evening, shortly after putting his own house on the market and moving in with Jordan (my then 2 year old son) and myself, John arrived home, obviously excited about something. It soon became apparent what – “I think I might have found us a project!” – he announced. He’d had a meeting with his estate agent and conversation had turned to the type of property we may be interested in. It so happened the agent knew of one that might ‘tick all the boxes’….
Now, had I of known John for slightly longer at that point, I would of had an inkling of what exactly his idea of a project was and alarm bells would have been ringing…. I still had a lot to learn….
It was on a particularly filthy evening (lashing with rain and howling a gale) in October 2003, that we set out to view this project of John’s for the first time. It was just under an hours drive from our then home but to an area I was totally unfamiliar with. It seemed like an endless journey down narrow, twisting country lanes. For all intents and purposes, I could have been in a foreign land – I was completely lost! It makes me smile when I think back on that journey – how well I know every twist and turn of those lanes now….
Eventually we arrived in the middle of what seemed like….nowhere! We had driven up a bumpy, unmade road and come to a halt at a dark and gloomy dead end – the only light to be seen, was that escaping from the odd chink in the curtains of a few houses, clumped together in a vast expanse of….nothingness! Behind an apology of a hedge stood a dilapidated, sorry looking cottage. This was obviously ‘it’ – the potential project. John’s enthusiasm was unabated but I had a distinct sinking feeling as we knocked on the neglected door with its peeling paint….
Once inside, the first thing to hit me was an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. The ceiling was so low, only 6 foot from the cold, flagstone floor. We had entered from outside straight into a dreary sitting room – the only cheer came from the fire blazing in a magnificent inglenook. My thoughts were – “You have got to be joking…. You can’t honestly expect us to live here….!”
We were shown around the property and I was imagining ghosts and ghoulies in every dark, shadowy corner…. I’ve always had an overactive imagination. Needless to say, I was unimpressed at that first viewing and it took a bit of persuading for me to return for a second look….
Seeing the cottage again, this time in daylight, I was slightly more heartened. It was a Sunday afternoon and the sun was shining. Now it could be appreciated it was not situated in a vast expanse of nothingness but actually on a stretch of common land with a pretty pond close by. Just beyond was a hive of activity. A large bonfire was being constructed in readiness for the coming November 5th celebrations and it seemed as if the whole village had turned out to help. The sense of community spirit was infectious….
Looking around inside once again, I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing what to expect this time, the lowness of the ceiling was not quite so imposing – in fact it felt rather cosy. Still though, I had major reservations about the overall state of the place. It was with a degree of reluctance that I allowed myself to agree to our making an offer on the cottage…. My one stipulation was – ‘all building and renovation work was to be completed before we moved in’…. I refused to live in a building site. The deadline….before Jordan started school. Well, that backfired. We moved into the building site the day before Jordan started school!!
So, that was how it came to be that we were now the proud owners of what was, in my mind at that time, a derelict, tumbledown, disaster waiting to happen….
It was hardly love at first sight….