Peace in the country
A lucky find on the Sotterley Estate makes a wonderful rural retreat
A factor which has often helped to preserve both the fabric and the architecture of rural area is the large estates, where landowners, over the centuries, built a grand house for themselves, and then cottages for their workers. Interestingly, many used the same architect for both their home and the cottages. Many of the resulting villages are truly picture postcard, with delightful buildings and well preserved countryside.
Many examples exist, notably Benacre Estate near Wrentham, Raveningham Estate in south Norfolk, and another, often forgotten as it is so secluded, Sotterley Estate, between Beccles and Southwold.
Sotterley Hall overlooks a lake. The manor was sold to Miles Barne, a London merchant, in 1744 and the present hall was built that year to replace the previous one, which was destroyed by fire. The Barne family still owns the estate, and it is this continuity of control that has kept the estate and buildings intact. It is, therefore, rare for these properties to go up for sale, but Helen and Mark RushtonMaynard had an opportunity.
Mark knows Suffolk and Norfolk well, from childhood holidays, and on his retirement was keen to show Helen the area.
“I was born in south London,” explains Mark, “and lived there till 2000, when I moved to Berkshire. I had owned an estate agency in Blackheath, Humphreys Skitt & Co, with my brother for 30 years, before selling out. When I first brought Helen up here it was for a weekend at Walberswick, followed by a stay at Satis House, Yoxford. We both knew that the Heritage Coast area of Suffolk was where we wanted to be.”
Helen’s early life was spent in Northumberland, but the family moved south when she was a teenager.
“After school I worked in corporate events in Lymington. I’ve always loved being on and by the sea, so that was one of our priorities in our search. We also both wanted wild windswept coasts, those huge skies and marshes.”
Their search focused on the north end of the Heritage Coast, and up to five miles inland, where they could find a home with land,
‘We wanted to create a place to stay that felt like home, not just a holiday home, therefore I was excited when it came to doing the interior design,’
perhaps an additional building to provide an income stream, and a good garden.
“When we saw Alexander Barn, and the accompanying Granary, it was dated, but it had the blessing of a run-down but beautifully planted and landscaped garden, which had been designed by a Chelsea Flower Show gold award winner, who had lived here for some years.
“Having brought our last garden back from the brink, at our previous home, a Georgian house near Windsor, we felt we could make the barn, granary and grounds spectacular.”
The main house, Alexander Barn, was built in 1870 and the Granary probably around the same time. “The location,” says Helen, “is blissful, really tucked away off a very rural, quiet and peaceful country lane, yet we are only 12 to 15 minutes from Southwold.
“So we have the benefit of excellent local woodland and country walks on our doorstep, much loved by our two dogs Maya and Megan, and of course great beaches at both Southwold and Walberswick.”
The Granary took a year to refurbish. “We wanted to create a place to stay that felt like home, not just a holiday home, therefore I was excited when it came to doing the interior design,” says Helen. “My starting point was looking at magazines, and we tried where possible to use local companies, including Waveney Bespoke Kitchens and Jenny Pywell, of Curtain Solutions. We both also like visits to local antique shops, to find something interesting. A lot has come from a favourite, the antique shop on the A12 at Marlesford Mill, and Stag Interiors in Southwold.
“Our favourite room has to be the way the kitchen has turned out. Sitting at the dining table with the view, then walking out onto the terrace and seeing the pheasants scurrying for cover always makes us smile. We also love the Bakerlite clock and timer in the kitchen – impossible to get eggs wrong.” Mark and
Helen really love the location. “People are laid back and calm, and always have time to talk. There is a large amount of wildlife in the garden – partridge, pheasant, owls, deer, bats, buzzards and so on. The aspect and light are fantastic, and at night we have magnificent dark skies, so even with a cheap telescope you can get glimpses of The Milky Way.
“The Sotterley Estate is still very much a working farm, and we’re surrounded by fields of wheat, barley and rye. We have really taken to rural life and have settled in extremely well. Our favourite hobby is, without doubt, our gardening, but we also enjoy sailing, cycling, running and walking the local lanes in this countryside idyll. “
With the Granary complete and proving popular Helen and Mark have more time to explore and enjoy the area. “We love the beach at Covehithe, just a few miles away, which is another hidden secret, often deserted. You can walk for miles towards Benacre and the broad, with the wind in your hair, and nothing but birds, and the occasional seal swimming inshore.” Other favourites are Dunwich, Orford Ness, Shingle Street.
“With Southwold so close, we are so fortunate with some great independent shops. The Three Magpies Bakery in the High Street is a regular haunt. Their white frame bread is a toasted treat, not to be missed, and their meringues are to die for. We have put a little summer house in the gardens, so sitting out there with a drink, a meal or a book is bliss. It’s easy to understand why both we and our guests so enjoy this hidden secret, totally special and totally unique.”
The Granery at Sotterley is available for holiday lets through Heritage Hideaways Southwold www. heritagehideaways.com. Tel: 01502 724782
‘We have really taken to rural life and have settled in extremely well’
Left, the blue family bathroom. Above, the master en suite. Main image, featured homethe simple dining room