Love at first sight? I hardly think so….

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….


So, the journey begins….

Restoration work to No.3 started in the Spring of 2004. What was to follow can only be described as an ‘experience’. We were completely green and naïve, neither of us having ever attempted such a venture before…. We made mistakes and plenty of them…. Some are still waiting to be put right today.

Would I do it all again? Probably not….but I’m glad to have had the experience. I feel I know this old cottage more than intimately…. Having been stripped, virtually back to its bare ‘bones’ – it has revealed its soul to us….

When you start a large scale project, it’s a little like embarking on a long journey – or in this particular case – a never ending one! Very often, it’s only when you pause and look back, that you can appreciate just how far you have come….

Obviously, I have been reflecting a lot recently, on the time we spent renovating No.3 and   it has all come flooding back (especially after digging out the photos) just how big a task we undertook….


There were times of frustration and despair. On many an occasion I asked myself the question “why the hell are we doing this?” If I’m honest, in the very beginning, I was not sold on the idea of restoring such an old property…. Although I like to think of myself as a creative person, I had trouble visualising the end result. John and I had made several visits to the Weald and Downlands Open Air Museum. He was totally fascinated in the way these old places were lived in all those centuries ago (I always knew he had been born in the wrong era) – I was terrified he was expecting us to live in a similar manner! Of course, I should have had more faith….

There were many setbacks and hurdles along the way but somehow we overcame them. To be truthful, although there was a rough plan in place, we pretty much made it up as we went along. That was something we learnt right at the onset – plans have to adaptable!

Possibly, you are considering or are actually undertaking a similar venture. Hopefully, you are managing to take it all in your stride – but if, like I did, you sometimes find it all a bit daunting and ‘too much’, then I hope this will give you heart…. It’s always good to know that there are others who know what you are up against. If it’s a word of encouragement you need – then you’ve come to the right place. Trust me, it might seem like an awfully long road but it’s definitely worth it in the end!

Maybe you are just curious to know what it is like to live in a place like this…. I will endeavour to give you a flavour of that….

Or perhaps you are more interested in our swan family. I promise they will feature frequently….

So, whatever your reasons, thank you – it’s nice to have you along…. I’ll quit waffling now and get on with the story….