Un­der big skies

Mark and Jan Haines can’t wait for Christ­mas to ar­rive at their home, Bil­leaford Hall, a re­stored farm­house near Kn­odishall

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS & PHO­TOS: Tony Hall

A warm farm­house Christ­mas wel­come in Kn­odishall

On a win­tery day just be­fore Christ­mas, I went to visit to visit Jan Packard and Mark Haines at their beau­ti­ful Suf­folk farm­house, Bil­leaford Hall be­tween Kn­odishall and Alde­burgh. Tem­per­a­tures were fall­ing rapidly and snow seemed im­mi­nent. Once in­side, how­ever, there was a warm wel­come, rooms dec­o­rated for Christ­mas, glow­ing log burn­ers and the Aga mak­ing ev­ery­thing warm and cosy.

“The lead up to Christ­mas starts with putting up lots of green­ery. I love fo­liage,” says Jan. “Then the prepara­tory cook­ing, mince pies, cran­berry jam, mar­malade and the Christ­mas cake.” Jan is a qual­i­fied cook and spent many years work­ing on lux­ury yachts char­tered around the Caribbean. She is highly or­gan­ised on the cater­ing front, which is an added bonus as through­out the year as she and Mark op­er­ate Bil­leaford Hall as an up­mar­ket B&B.

“With those jobs done, it’s off to Red­house Barn, near Fris­ton, to choose the tree – pos­si­bly to get a few more dec­o­ra­tions to add to the col­lec­tion over the years – and then home to dress them, and put on the lights.

“I so love the build up to Christ­mas. The first carol con­cert, nor­mally at Kn­odishall church, re­ally is a mo­ment that her­alds joy and the start of this fes­tive sea­son. I’ve al­ways en­joyed car­ols and Mark and I try to fit in two or three con­certs, plus a visit to the the­atre for a pan­tomime or the Christ­mas Spec­tac­u­lar by the Co-op Ju­niors at Snape Malt­ings.”

The farm­house was built in the 16th/17th cen­turies with later ad­di­tions and takes its

name – prob­a­bly Saxon – from the small ham­let in which it lies. It be­longed to the Black­heath Es­tate and, when the last ten­anted farmer left, was pri­vately bought from the es­tate, to­gether with the barn, in the 1980s. The soil was not good for crops, so the farmer moved to the other end of the vil­lage and started a mar­ket gar­den on bet­ter soil. Horses worked the land un­til the 1960s when 10 of then were re­placed by a trac­tor.

Keen sailors, Jan and Mark chose Bil­leaford Hall be­cause of its rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to the county’s coast and wa­ter­ways. Sail­ing still fea­tures large in their lives, of course, and Mark is do­ing an RYA Skip­per’s course so they can trade up from a dingy to a Moody 27’. They also liked the barns which are a good base for fam­i­lies seek­ing hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“I was im­me­di­ately taken with the con­ser­va­tory,” re­calls Mark, “light and airy with nice views over the gar­den and a great place to watch the big skies. That, and the op­por­tu­nity the barns af­forded, sold the prop­erty to us im­me­di­ately.” They be­gan work on the barn im­me­di­ately, which en­abled them to start gen­er­at­ing in­come early on.

“When it came to this house, it was a chal­lenge, as we had come from dif­fer­ent homes. Mine was a Geor­gian house, but with con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture, and Jan’s a heav­ily beamed barn.” They con­sider them­selves for­tu­nate to have good lo­cal shops. “Sev­eral pieces of fur­ni­ture and arte­facts I have found at Snape Malt­ings, al­ways dif­fer­ent and in­spi­ra­tional,” says Jan.

Soon af­ter they had re­vamped the house they were vis­ited by a fam­ily of Amer­i­cans who had rented the prop­erty many years be­fore. “They had been on the Amer­i­can air­base,” ex­plains Mark, “and re­called that the farm­house was the cold­est place they had ever been in – ice and snow on the win­dows that win­ter and just one fire in an up­stairs bed­room. I was pleased to show them that we had put in wood burn­ers and how warm the house

was.” It’s cer­tainly cosy and warm for the fes­tive sea­son.

“This house so lends it­self to Christ­mas – lots of fes­tive lights, wood burn­ers lit and the smells of Jan’s won­der­ful cook­ing,” says Mark. “There’s so much to do – great walks and games, and even ten­nis even, snow per­mit­ting. We some­times gather the Fri­day be­fore, with friends and fam­ily, for what we call the com­pany din­ner, at the White Lion in Alde­burgh.

“On Christ­mas Eve, the fam­ily ar­rive and Jan does a sup­per of beef bour­guignon, with dauphi­noise pota­toes. On the main day, it’s ba­con sand­wiches for ev­ery­one for break­fast, a dip in the hot tub, then a walk, maybe a drink at The Dol­phin, Thor­pe­ness, fol­lowed by the tra­di­tional tur­key lunch at home, with all meat from Ni­chols in Leis­ton. Nor­mally it’s board games in the evening, such as Mo­nop­oly. We also have a big jig­saw puz­zle, which peo­ple can add pieces to – this year The Hay­wain.

“On Box­ing Day and New Year’s Day, we of­ten go for a swim at Dun­wich, or walk to our lo­cal beach be­tween Alde­bugh and Thor­pe­ness, fol­lowed by a good slug of sloe gin – home made from our own fruits. Or it’s a clay pi­geon shoot in our gravel pit. No gin of course! If the fam­ily are stay­ing it’s a lazy day, with maybe ham and mashed potato later on.” Once the guests have gone, the cou­ple go back to walk­ing the Sailors Path be­tween Snape and Alde­burgh, or across to Or­ford Ness for the wild­ness and bird watch­ing. “Here at home we watch for our res­i­dent barn owl. In fact a most mag­i­cal thing is watch­ing the skies dur­ing the day and at night, prefer­ably with a big moon. It’s such a quiet spot, very ru­ral and so en­joyed by our guests. Suf­folk is spe­cial.”

B&B at Bil­leaford Hall bil­leaford­hall.com

Hol­i­day let­tings of East and West Barns suf­folk-se­crets.co.uk

A warm wel­come - the kitchen hub

Mark and Jan Haines

The din­ing room set for a cel­e­bra­tion Christ­mas house

Cosy and warm for all the fam­ily

The snug mas­ter bed­room

The Haines’ house un­der big skies

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