Harvesting happiness at history-rich farm
I do hope I can convey in words how delightful this Grade II listed farmhouse truly is. Indoors and outside, the property is full of gorgeous nooks and corners. There are so many little treats here that add up to an irresistible whole.
What's more, it offers income from holiday lets as well as a very appealing back-to-nature lifestyle.
Middle Corscombe Farm near Okehampton is the family home of Sue Shorman, her husband John and Sue's lively 80-something mother Barbara. It was also, until recently, home to Sue and John's bustling family of five children. All have now flown the nest and so – with some mixed feelings – Sue, John and Barbara are down-sizing.
"It's going to be a wrench, I must admit," says Sue. "We have had so much fun here over the years. But this is very much a family home and the truth is we are starting to rattle around here." Small wonder, when you consider that the house has a cool seven bedrooms, not to mention five bathrooms.
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The farmhouse itself combines, to my mind, two of the most appealing historical building styles on offer in the Westcountry.
Half of the house is very old indeed – 16th century, with a touch of medieval here and there. This half is thatched, full of character and completely charming.
The other half – "The new half" jokes Sue – dates from the 18th century and has beautifully-proportioned, harmonious Georgian rooms with high ceilings.
Indeed, with its two kitchens, seven bedrooms and three staircases, the farmhouse is a seriously accommodating property. It could suit families in search of multi-generational living, which has worked so well for Sue, Barbara and John. "My mother has her own sitting room, kitchen and dining room," says Sue. "She's been very happy here, as she has plenty of her own space but we are nearby, too."
The house is packed with fascinating details. The main living room in the thatched half of the house has a fireplace made from huge slabs of hand-cut granite, complete with its old bread oven.
The walls have ancient oak panels and the timbered ceiling is surprisingly high for a thatched property, hinting at the building's historical grandeur in centuries gone by.
In the family kitchen, there are two oak internal doors and a quaint spiral wooden staircase that date back around 500 years, Sue believes. All are beautifully made and redolent with history.
"You can just imagine the person making these doors by hand, right here on the farm, all those centuries ago," says Sue.
Yet this kitchen is no museum piece. With its four-oven electric Aga (powered by a wind turbine, of which more later) and newly-installed units, the kitchen is, like the rest of the house, both friendly and relaxed. "Although the house is Grade II listed, it is very easy to live in."
Outside, Sue and John have also transformed two lovely old farm buildings into popular holiday letting properties.
The Old Stables is a three-bedroom holiday let, converted just three years ago to high specifications, including a wood-burning stove, slate floors, stained glass windows and two bathrooms.
The Threshing Barn is more or less the same size, but is open plan and has just one enormous bedroom, complete with sofas, balconies and a four-poster bed upstairs.
Downstairs there is a lovely open-plan kitchen -living room with a solid fuel stove, slate floors and views over unbroken countryside to nearby Dartmoor.
Both of these holiday lets are, understandably, hugely popular with people in search of the ultimate country break. So the farm offers a substantial income potential.
"It is very flexible, too," says Sue. "We have, at times, lived in The Threshing Barn and rented out the main farmhouse, which was popular for larger groups."
In the grounds, there is also much to delight. For a start, there is a 30x15ft outdoor heated swimming pool complete with indoor sauna. "It's so enjoyable to swim here with a view of Dartmoor. We've worked out it costs us about £250 a year to heat," says Sue. "It's worth every penny." Future owners could offer the pool - which is securely fenced as an enticement to the farm's holiday visitors, although Sue admits that, at present, "Rather selfishly, we keep it just for us."
The farm's land seems far larger than its 4.7 acres, simply because there is so much going on here.
Some features, such as the medieval granite clapper bridge over the farm's stream, date back well into the medieval past. Others are innovations created by John and Sue to enhance enjoyment of their home.
"We are very much outdoor people," says Sue, a former head teacher.
There's a good-sized field, perfect for a couple of horses, with a huge, 30 x 23ft modern barn for shelter, stabling, or just to use as an amenity building. Sue has kept goats, chickens, children's ponies and geese at the farm over the years.
"I used to lead our 12 geese every day down to the pond for a swim," she remembers.
There is also no doubt that the farm could make a wonderful equestrian property. There is a quiet ride straight from the farm along lanes right onto the vast open spaces of Dartmoor. Overall, the farm is well connected. Although you cannot see the A30 from the property, it is easily reached for swift connections through the region. The property is only around 20 minutes west of Exeter.
Below the paddock lies a lovely ancient woodland. Here, you can find the clapper bridge over a pretty stream which wends its way through the trees to the pond.
Sue and John have also installed a polytunnel, a wooden greenhouse and raised beds for growing plenty of vegetables and soft fruit. Like almost all of the property, this kitchen garden is south facing with stunning views over Dartmoor. "It's amazingly productive," says Sue.
Another innovation is a modern wind turbine which, Sue says, provides electricity for the farmhouse and also generates an income of around £2,500 a year through the feed-in tariff. "We are very proud of our windmill. It has been well worth the investment and is also so quiet. We really love it," says Sue.
Another successful project is the wild conservation garden Sue and John have created on the grounds of a former equestrian sand school. It now offers secluded natural tranquillity, with a landscaped pond, a pretty blue-painted summerhouse and a convivial outdoor cooking area around a campfire, with benches made from old railway sleepers.
Similarly sunny is the area just outside the house itself, where Sue and John have installed ("with some difficulty – it was incredibly heavy," says Sue) a wood-fired pizza oven. "This works so well for family get-togethers," says Sue. "Our daughter Naomi had her wedding at the farm this summer and the celebrations went on for four days. We had some wonderful outdoor meals here all together."
The wedding itself took place on the farm, with the couple exchanging their vows in a glade of bluebells in the farm's woodland. "It was absolutely magical," says Sue.
"We have such lovely memories of the wedding, as we do of our many years here at Middle Corscombe Farm."
No doubt this very special property will soon be home to a new family, enjoying many more magical moments and creating happy memories.
Middle Corscombe Farm, near Okehampton is for sale at £985,000 with Miller and Son (01837 54080), www.millerson.com