Once a for­ti­fied retreat, a Tudor bas­tle in Northum­ber­land has been thought­fully ren­o­vated to cre­ate an at­mo­spheric, orig­i­nal home

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by hazel dolan pho­to­graphs by brent darby

Once a for­ti­fied retreat, a his­toric prop­erty in Northum­ber­land has been trans­formed into an orig­i­nal home

Many sur­viv­ing bas­tles are known and flagged up, while oth­ers wear their his­tory more lightly. When Julie Oswald and Colin Cay­gill first went to view one of these an­cient do­mes­tic for­ti­fi­ca­tions that came up for sale seven years ago, it had been so tamed by time that it was easy to over­look its her­itage. Yet the signs were all there: its po­si­tion with clear views over the hills to­wards Scot­land, a wall of stone to pro­tect the in­hab­i­tants and their an­i­mals, a high win­dow for a look­out and, in­side on the orig­i­nal gable, the out­line of a sin­gle, heavy door to fas­ten tight against ap­proach­ing threat. “We saw the big boul­der plinth out­side and dis­tinc­tive shape,” re­calls Julie, who recog­nised its prove­nance – and its po­ten­tial as a coun­try es­cape within easy reach of their home near New­cas­tle.

Re­in­forced 16th- and 17th-cen­tury farm­houses, bas­tles once formed a pro­tec­tive net­work across Northum­ber­land and into Scot­land. The name is de­rived from the French term for a de­fen­sive town – ‘bastille’ – and dur­ing the bor­der skir­mishes bas­tles were on the front­line of the ac­tion. At the first sight of Bor­der Reiver trou­ble, farm­ers would drive their stock in­side them on the ground floor and bolt the door fast, then the fam­ily would climb up into the house above, pull up their lad­der and bar the trap door be­hind them.

Hap­pily, more peace­ful times in the in­ter­ven­ing cen­turies have seen a gen­tri­fied ham­let of honey-coloured stone houses and cot­tages grow up around the late 16th-cen­tury Tudor bas­tle that now be­longs to Julie, an in­te­rior de­signer, and events or­gan­iser Colin. It sits at the heart of a coun­try par­ish near Hex­ham, and is thought to have been the vil­lage school for a time – backed up by a cache of tiny red clay mar­bles un­earthed at the door­way – but for years it was a tied cot­tage and, judg­ing by the chill in­doors and ev­i­dence of sus­tained at­tempts at damp-proof­ing and modernising, rather a bleak one.

Their plan was to go for a pared-back look in or­der to en­joy the build­ing’s es­sen­tial rugged­ness, while still find­ing a way to soften

and bal­ance it with a lit­tle com­fort and warmth. They be­gan by strip­ping the 1980s con­crete and ren­der, the black beams and hol­low core doors – un­cov­er­ing a splen­did in­glenook along the way – and ended up tak­ing out walls, stairs, win­dow frames, wood­worm-rid­dled floor­boards and ceil­ings. “We bought an old Land Rover De­fender,” Julie says. “It be­came our skip on wheels, go­ing end­lessly back­wards and for­wards to the tip.”

Colin re­turned from one such trip to a reve­la­tion – pierc­ing shafts of sun­light from the at­tic win­dow, beam­ing down through two storeys to set the kitchen door aglow. “I knew we had to re­tain it and make a fea­ture of it,” he en­thuses. “That’s why the hall and stairs are ex­posed, cathe­dral-like, to the top level. We also put a glass panel be­tween the bath­room and the hall, so the evening light shines down – if the hall­way door hap­pens to be open, the rays reach the kitchen door and il­lu­mi­nate the whole house.”

At that point they were se­ri­ously tempted to give the en­tire first floor over to one deca­dently huge bed­room and bath­room, but flex­i­bil­ity won out and the stud walls went back in, although the di­vi­sion was shifted slightly to make two more equal-sized bed­rooms. How­ever, the bath­room – sim­ply fit­ted with a white suite and lime­stone tiles within its stone shell – is won­der­fully el­e­vated, and sits on the level of the look­out perch.

Lik­ing the ef­fect cre­ated by the ex­posed rock, but wary of over­do­ing this rather aus­tere look, Julie and Colin ex­per­i­mented to find a bal­ance be­tween raw stone and colour. In some places it was an easy choice – chip­ping off the more tena­cious patches of ce­ment proved te­dious and the sim­pler op­tion was to paint or skim with lime plas­ter, a skill they taught them­selves.

Against this pale back­drop, Julie opted for ro­bust colours: indigo-blue res­cue so­fas and chairs and vi­brant madder reds and other rich shades in the vin­tage Turk­ish car­pet bring warmth to the liv­ing room, while the char­coal slate floor and wall tiles make the kitchen feel both grounded and con­tem­po­rary.

The essence of it all is earthy – rather to the sur­prise of Julie who, at the out­set, had a less rus­tic, more Ge­or­gian fin­ish in mind. “I thought it would be softer, be­cause there’s a lot of tex­ture here with the walls and the beams,” she says. “But the build­ing it­self seemed to steer me this way.” Up­stairs, the mix of aged stone, brick, lime and sea­soned oak-beamed ceil­ings cre­ates a clas­sic cot­tage feel, en­hanced by sim­ple checks and tex­tured linens.

In keep­ing with the re­laxed mood, fur­ni­ture is a com­bi­na­tion of vin­tage and an­tique, in­clud­ing sturdy 18th- and 19th-cen­tury cof­fers and a bi­ble box, fam­ily cast-offs, sec­ond-hand finds and chalk-painted pieces. “I ac­quired it all by gath­er­ing, beg­ging and bor­row­ing – I wanted to make it look as though ev­ery­thing had been here for a while so it feels as though it’s evolved or­gan­i­cally,” Julie ex­plains. “But, at the same time, we’ve also got our mod­ern el­e­ments – un­der­floor heat­ing, a Bose sound sys­tem and a power shower. It’s not the Dark Ages!”

Julie’s love of vin­tage tex­tiles was the in­spi­ra­tion for her de­sign busi­ness, The Cloth Shed, yet here fab­rics are used with re­straint – a smat­ter­ing of nat­u­ral linens and tick­ing, with touches of tweed and the odd state­ment cush­ion to sharpen up the scheme. There’s a sub­tle artistry to the way they set off her cher­ished col­lec­tions of sim­i­larly un­der­stated Ir­ish sponge­ware and pewter.

The time spent work­ing on the bas­tle, and the ar­rival of their Labrador Ot­tie, con­firmed what the cou­ple had long sus­pected: a full-scale move to the coun­try was es­sen­tial. This year they found a farm nearby with enough barn space for both their busi­nesses and left the city be­hind. “We still love com­ing here but we don’t feel the same need to es­cape the city now, so we’ve de­cided to

rent the bas­tle out when the fam­ily isn’t us­ing it,” Julie ex­plains. “Af­ter so much work, it’s great to know it is be­ing en­joyed.”

Their fi­nal task has been to es­tab­lish a decked ter­race set on a raised plat­form – a mod­ern look­out spot for a leisurely break­fast or late-evening glass of wine. It faces the ravine, with the old joiner’s work­shop in the fore­ground, part of a job-lot with the bas­tle and a pro­ject for the fu­ture. For now, though, the cou­ple are happy to take stock, re­flect on the changes and en­joy the close con­nec­tion to the dis­tinc­tive home they’ve cre­ated with such care. “We have a great af­fec­tion for the place,” Julie says. “Af­ter all our ef­forts, it feels as if we know ev­ery sin­gle stone.”

The Bas­tle, Belt­ing­ham, Bardon Mill, Hex­ham (01434 672495; the­bas­ sleeps four and is avail­able to rent. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit the web­site or email Julie at info@the­bas­

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OP­PO­SITE Pale, calm­ing tones es­tab­lish a rest­ful mood in the guest bed­room, where sim­ple checks cre­ate a home­spun feel


FROM ABOVE RIGHT Up­stairs, the com­bi­na­tion of ex­posed brick and tim­ber is soft­ened by el­e­gant painted fur­ni­ture and pretty bed linen, in­clud­ing a flo­ral-stitched vin­tage quilt; the ceil­ing was opened up to the roof’s apex to in­crease the sense of space in the bath­room and the orig­i­nal high look­out win­dow un­blocked, fill­ing the room with light; cream-painted pine shut­ters, made by Colin, re­flect light into a bed­room, where the orig­i­nal worm-rid­dled ceil­ing and floor were re­placed with sal­vaged planks

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