Writer bought cas­tle for just £450k...but 14 years and a failed mar­riage later, her story will put you off climb­ing the prop­erty lad­der for life! It shouldn’t hap­pen to a chate­laine!

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment - By Kather­ine Suther­land

WHEN Su­san DeVere opened a coun­try­side mag­a­zine and spot­ted a prop­erty ad­vert for stun­ning 19th cen­tury Or­chard­ton Cas­tle, it was love at first sight – but 14 years later she has some very cau­tion­ary ad­vice to would-be lords and ladies of the manor. Life in a cas­tle has not al­ways been idyl­lic for the 56-year-old au­thor, bring­ing her heart­break as well as ro­mance and the joy of moth­er­hood – along with a vast ren­o­va­tion bill and dwin­dling prospects on her in­vest­ment.

The stun­ning ba­ro­nial man­sion on the Sol­way Coast ‘def­i­nitely has its own per­son­al­ity’ and Su­san was soon en­thralled: ‘I im­me­di­ately thought it was some­where I wanted to live. It just looked like a Dis­ney cas­tle.

‘I had been in a fire at my last prop­erty and was look­ing for some­where that was fire­proof and had plenty of space, which would be an es­cape. I didn’t know it was this big when I bought it. I came to see it, and I didn’t have a lot of time, but I’d al­ready de­cided I wanted to buy it from the pic­ture.

‘I imag­ined a kind of coun­try life. I was go­ing to ride, and have pet sheep.’

Or­chard­ton seemed like the per­fect re­treat where an au­thor could con­cen­trate on writ­ing. Built by smug­gler Wil­liam Dou­glas Robin­son in the 1880s, it boasts 46 rooms, five tur­rets, four floors, a li­brary, and sta­bles, along with a res­i­dent ghost. It even has its own wa­ter sup­ply.

Most would-be chate­laines would have re­garded it as a bar­gain for £450,000, but Su­san was soon un­der­tak­ing ma­jor ren­o­va­tions that ended up cost­ing an­other £500,000.

‘It was ac­tu­ally quite ex­pen­sive for what I had to do here,’ she says. ‘There wasn’t even a kitchen. There were ugly par­ti­tions through the rooms, there were pipes go­ing through doors, there were a lot of walls painted red, ceil­ings painted red. There were all sorts of strange things that had been done be­fore I owned it – it had been a com­mune. It was not very good.’

Sadly Su­san soon dis­cov­ered that not ev­ery­one shared her pas­sion for the ba­ro­nial life: ‘When I moved here, I had my mother with me, I had my ex-part­ner, I had friends who came to live with me for a while.

‘Af­ter they had all left – they’d had enough, it was too quiet and they went off to towns – it be­came too big.

‘My first piece of ad­vice would be: “Don’t buy some­where that’s way too big un­less you’re go­ing to do some­thing with it.” You’ve also got to think about the grounds. It’s got five acres of gar­dens. And when you think about it, five acres is quite a lot of gar­den.

‘I used to have a gar­dener, but he spent all his time cut­ting the grass. We cut the grass our­selves now. When I came here I was told there were all sorts of rare plants and rare trees. My pet sheep kind of took care of the rare plants.’ As for house­keep­ing, she said: ‘I clean the areas we’re liv­ing in and just go round oc­ca­sion­ally and do the oth­ers.

‘I have friends who come and stay and they help. We’ve got a very long feather duster, be­cause the ceil­ings are all very high.’

Su­san had thought the cas­tle would be the per­fect set­ting for a fairy­tale life­style af­ter re­mar­ry­ing her teenage sweet­heart, travel writer Alan DeVere, in 2008: ‘We had mar­ried at 18 and were di­vorced at 20 on bad terms. And 27 years later, I saw his name on Friends Re­united and sent him a mes­sage say­ing, was it him?

‘A year later, he re­sponded. He came to see me and then, two months later, we got mar­ried again. We didn’t get mar­ried at Or­chard­ton – we went to Las Ve­gas.’

Af­ter their hon­ey­moon, Mr DeVere was as­ton­ished to be told his new bride was preg­nant. At 48 years old, it made Su­san Bri­tain’s old­est woman to con­ceive nat­u­rally with­out any fer­til­ity treat­ment. She gave birth to their son, By­ron, in 2009. But Mr DeVere soon wanted to leave Or­chard­ton. Su­san says: ‘I don’t think he wanted to be here at all, ac­tu­ally, from the be­gin­ning.

‘He re­ally needs to live in hot, dry coun­try like the south of Spain. Any kind of wet weather isn’t good for his chest.

‘He re­ally needs to be in a city. It was a much slower way of life here.’

And so, in 2010, the cou­ple put their enor­mous home up for sale, val­ued at £2.7 mil­lion but with a bar­gain price tag of £1.4 mil­lion. They thought the prop­erty would be snapped up in no time.

In­stead, de­spite star­ring on the Chan­nel 4 TV show Mil­lion Pound Prop­erty, the cas­tle lan­guished on the mar­ket for years, putting enor­mous strain on the DeVeres un­til even­tu­ally they went their sep­a­rate ways.

‘My hus­band left al­most ex­actly a year ago,’ Su­san con­fides. ‘He was stressed by it – I ex­pect he was very stressed by it – and he couldn’t stand it any more. I went away to visit my mother for a week­end and I came back and he was gone. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing him to leave – he just left. He left a note. It was just say­ing that he couldn’t be here any more, ba­si­cally.’

Now the cas­tle is be­ing sold on­line, rather than via a tra­di­tional up­mar­ket estate agent. Su­san ex­plained: ‘They wanted so much money up­front – about £2,000 or £3,000 for the brochures and ev­ery­thing – and we didn’t have it at the time.’

The cou­ple even tried to sell the cas­tle on eBay. One failed buyer, an Amer­i­can, had been try­ing to raise the money via on­line do­na­tions of $20 (£14) each, and some of the would-be pur­chasers were so odd that Su­san is

My hus­band left a note say­ing that he could not be here any more

now writ­ing a com­edy screen­play about them.

‘We had lots of peo­ple com­ing to see the cas­tle,’ she says. ‘One was a con­man in his early 50s who was on a most-wanted list. An­other guy started send­ing emails say­ing if I helped him to sell a pri­vate num­ber­plate he had, he could pay me more money.

‘We also had a very nice guy based in France who owned chateaux there and knows about them. He said he’d buy – but he had to sell one of his own cas­tles first.

‘I had a guy come over from Ire­land. He’d seen the cas­tle on­line, he was very into it and said: “I just want to come over and see the views.” And about an hour be­fore he ar­rived, a fog de­scended. You couldn’t see 5ft out­side the win­dow. I had never had that be­fore, or since. He and his wife were so dis­ap­pointed.

‘And they said: “Oh, we’ll go out in the fog and go down to the sea.” And then they got lost for about three hours – so they didn’t buy it.

‘We lost nearly two years when one group was go­ing to turn it into a home for re­turn­ing sol­diers from Afghanistan.

‘I even of­fered it as a home­less shel­ter one year, when we had to go back down south for a few months.

‘I thought: “Why should it sit there do­ing noth­ing? It’s a waste.” But the coun­cil didn’t want to use it.

‘I think we weren’t reach­ing the right peo­ple. But I also think the mar­ket has changed a great deal. Maybe it’s be­come more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to have sec­ond prop­er­ties.

‘What I didn’t re­alise is peo­ple look and say: “It’s been on sale for a long time, there must be some­thing wrong with it.”

‘But there isn’t any­thing wrong with it. There’s nearly al­ways a buyer on the hori­zon, or some­one try­ing to do some­thing with it. The whole of the build­ing is in good con­di­tion, in­clud­ing the roof. And it’s re­ally beau­ti­ful in­side.’

At the mo­ment, short stays at the cas­tle are listed on the Airbnb hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion book­ing web­site. Su­san is also in dis­cus­sions with a friend about rent­ing out the cas­tle as a wed­ding venue, and is even con­sid­er­ing sell­ing it off in a raf­fle. What­ever the even­tual out­come, she hopes to make a new life in Eng­land with By­ron, who is now eight and be­ing home schooled af­ter con­cerns over bul­ly­ing.

‘It’s been very dif­fi­cult,’ Su­san ad­mits. ‘I have a large mort­gage. There won’t be a lot of money left af­ter sell­ing it. Just enough to buy a lit­tle place some­where. My mother is 300 miles away – I need to be within an hour of where she lives.

‘I wouldn’t be able to get into Lon­don, it’s too ex­pen­sive. We are con­sid­er­ing Black­pool, and Manch­ester. I rather like Black­pool. I love the theme parks, of course, and I kind of grew up in a sea­side town.’

Yet de­spite all of her trou­bles, the cas­tle’s de­light­ful set­ting and stun­ning views help Su­san re­main op­ti­mistic as she re­flects: ‘It wasn’t a dream to live a cas­tle life – I thought we could do some good things here.

‘I al­ways be­lieve things hap­pen for a rea­son. And ev­ery­thing will hap­pen for the best even­tu­ally. Even­tu­ally it will sell, and put us in a bet­ter po­si­tion.

‘I find it very dif­fi­cult to see the bad side of stuff. There has been joy be­fore, and there will be joy again. Noth­ing seems that bad when you’re look­ing at a beau­ti­ful blue sky and the sea.’

VALUE FOR MONEY: A grand stair­case, el­e­gant bed­rooms and stained glass, all for £1.4 mil­lion

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