‘Very few come... even at the height of summer you’ll see only 10 cars’
GREAT ESTATES A Lakes farmhouse, owned by Prince Charles’ interior designer, is being reunited with the surrounding land, writes Arabella Youens
When antiques dealer and interior decorator Robert Kime’s late wife, Helen Nicoll, fell ill, the couple made the decision to buy a home in the Lake District, near where she grew up. The author of the Meg and Mog children’s books, she was also a pioneer of audiobooks.
In 2008 they bought Docker Nook, an 18th-century farmhouse in Longsleddale, about five miles north of Kendal. “I’d spotted an advert for the house in the back of a newspaper but it was Helen who saw its potential,” explains Kime, who counts the Prince of Wales among his clients, having decorated both Clarence House and Highgrove. “She was extremely clever. She didn’t make a big fanfare, just said it was rather nice and told me to go and see it.”
Among English interior decorators working today, Oxford-educated Robert Kime is considered by many to be one of the leading lights. During a career that has spanned several decades, he has scoured the world buying antiques and gathering inspiration for his own fabric and furniture collection. He has also decorated houses for a range of clients based everywhere from the Bahamas to Norway.
The antithesis of a minimalist approach, his rooms are timeless designs that are typically made up with layers of patterned fabrics, antique furniture from varying periods, and plenty of good art. The sitting room of Docker Nook is typical of his style, juxtaposing an 18th-century English grandfather clock with a Turkish carpet and a Delft lamp.
When they received the keys, however, the layout of Docker Nook was “a complete mess”. Kime says he’s spent “an enormous amount of money” and a year’s work faithfully restoring its original character. He removed ill-suited fireplaces to reveal original stone lin- tels, and put up panelling made of wide-set reclaimed oak boards to better define the space.
Kime then dressed the house with furniture and works of art that he found locally as well as further afield, including a Westmorland dresser that he’d sold to a dealer in Brussels and was able to buy back. “When you’ve been in the antiques business for as long as I have, you sometimes get a second bite of the cherry,” he explains.
The project also involved transforming a detached barn, which was full of oil tanks and broken machinery, into an elegant library. It now houses Kime’s father’s collection of books, with more than 20,000 titles. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with them all when I sell,” says Kime. As to whether the next owner of Docker Nook will be able to buy the house with some of Kime’s pieces is still undecided. After a long pause, he allows an inscrutable “maybe”.
Together, the couple owned homes together in Wiltshire, London and Provence, but Docker Nook was bought as a retreat and somewhere to live in a quieter style. Set down a no-through road, at night the skies are completely black; the only other house is a farmhouse that is five fields away. “It has the rather special benefit of being utterly remote and yet very accessible. It’s only five miles north of Kendal so we’d take a train up from London for weekends easily,” says Kime.
Local landowner Mark Cropper agrees. “Most tourists head for the likes of Ambleside, Bowness, Keswick or Windermere. As Longsleddale is a dead-end, very few people come. Even on the finest days in summer, you might only find 10 cars at the head of the valley.”
Cropper’s great-great-great-grandfather established speciality paper makers James Cropper Paper in 1845. Today, his is the sixth generation of the family to manage the Burneside-based paper mill that both supplies luxury brands, and pioneers the recycling of coffee cup waste. He is also the owner of Ellergreen, a hydroelectric power specialist and service provider.
In the late Eighties, Cropper’s father acquired Docker Nook as well as several hundred acres in a quest to build up sporting potential on the family estate. Although the farmhouse was almost immediately sold off, together with a few surrounding acres, the land in Longsleddale was retained.
Cropper approached Kime to see if he might agree to reunite the house with the land and sell it together as a small residential estate. “Now that I no longer visit the house as much as I should, I agreed,” says Kime. He adds that the house also holds so many memories of his beloved late wife that it is perhaps another reason to let it go and move on.
Andrew Black of Savills in York is handling the sale of the estate for £2.4 million, which takes in 789 acres including sporting rights; alternatively, it’s also available separated into lots. “I think it makes sense to reunite the land with the house,” says Cropper. “It provides the opportunity for someone to establish a small sporting estate, for example.”
Buying Docker Nook together with the Longsleddale Estate also brings the new owner the benefit of owning two hydroelectric schemes that have generated an average gross income of more than £35,000 in the past six years. “It’s a perfect package,” says Black. “A beautifully situated estate generating significant hydroelectric income, lying within one of the most accessible yet unspoilt dales in the National Park.”