25 Feb 2019

A labour of love

Hidden within the 30-acre site of Butterhills in the north of Devon, the beautiful Linhay has been rescued from a state of ruin.

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Butterhills is owned by Nick and Caroline Welch who live there with their two teenage children. Nick’s grandparents bought the land and dwelling that makes up Butterhills in the 1930s, where Nick and Caroline decided to make it their home in 1989. Caroline explains: “Butterhills had been passed down through the generations and we made the beautiful valley, meadows and woods our home in 1989, which is where we live with our two teenage children. The Linhay sits hidden within the picturesque 30-acre site of Butterhills, north of Devon. We desperately wanted to prevent any further deterioration to the Linhay and give the building a meaningful purpose to reach its full potential.”

When deciding what to do with the ruins of a linhay, the initial plan was to prevent further deterioration by converting it into an open camping barn for friends and family to use. But following redundancy, Nick and Caroline decided to develop it into an off-the-grid holiday let to provide a source of sustainable income for the family.

Many people would have simply demolished the fragmented, unloved shell, to start from scratch. But Nick and Caroline have lovingly converted it into a stunning, environmentally-friendly cottage. Accessed via a cart track, the Linhay’s location gives a feeling of total seclusion whilst being a 10-minute drive from the bustling village of Braunton.

“Restoring the crumbling ruins of the Linhay was the main priority when we undertook significant renovations of the fragmented, unloved shell.

“Simplicity was the keynote and we wanted to retain as much of the Linhay’s character as possible – in its original life we knew that the building would have had a mezzanine where animal feed would have been stored so we decided to reinstate that across part of the building as a sleeping platform. The other main requirement was for a shower room extension at one end. All plans were drawn up by a local architect friend, Victoria Needham, and it was built to current Building Regulations.

“The Linhay needed to be as low impact as possible and be virtually off-grid as there are no mains services running to it, we also wanted it to be year-round accommodation for guests so hot water, heating and good insulation was important. The only access to the Linhay is along an unmade cart track and the planning dictated that we weren’t allowed to improve or change the surface of the track, which meant everything had to be brought in by 4WD or using our little old grey Fergie tractor and trailer. The lane to our house is very narrow and winding so we relied heavily on local suppliers using small vehicles to deliver materials or we had to meet them on the top of the down with the tractor to offload larger deliveries. We started the build at the end of 2017 and carried on through two lots of snow in March 2018, which was not the best weather for an off-grid build and at times there was severe danger of all of us getting trench foot as we trudged through the mud! Our petrol generator had to be replaced halfway through the build as it simply couldn’t cope with the loads put upon it – at one point Karl, our Builder, was having to turn the cement mixer by hand. When digging the footings for the shower room we encountered veins of extremely hard, blue compacted slate which again had to be dug out by hand using a Kango hammer drill, iron bar and brute strength! Incredible to think that the Linhay and the stone-banked cart track were built before power tools and constructed using the very stone we were digging out.”

The project started in 2014, with materials sourced locally from the surrounding environment. Oak trees in the Butterhills wood were felled and milled to provide the roof timbers. The stonework in the main section of the Linhay was repointed and restored – inside and out – with lime mortar.

“The project took approximately seven months to complete. We didn’t set ourselves a deadline but hoped to finish in time to welcome summer guests – our first guests arrived on August bank holiday and they’ve been arriving steadily ever since.

“Nick, a Building Services Engineer by trade, had the skillset to introduce a sustainable water supply, plumbing and solar electrics – which was vital as the site is off-grid. The 12V solar lighting is powered using a single solar panel and the battery storage is housed in an old apple crate on a shelf above the back wall. All the cabling has been run in copper pipe with bulkhead lights and 12V LED bulbs and upcycled wooden bobbins with sisal rope for light pulls – designed to be in keeping with the rustic and agricultural look of the building.

Caroline, who took responsibility for the Linhay’s interior design, decor, furnishing and detailing, explains: “I used a mixture of materials, such as slate worktops and oak flooring, to reflect the natural surroundings, and created a plywood wall feature in the living area to bring the outdoors in. Instead of artwork, large mirrors line the walls to create a sense of depth and add light.

“Letting in natural light to the Linhay was important,” explains Caroline, “it was so important to gain as much light as possible in the shower room, which led me to choosing the stylish fixed flat rooflight by Roof Maker for its clean, sleek design, which mostly consists of glazing and minimal frame.

“The rooflight is a fantastic feature and all of our guests at the Linhay have loved it – you can be in the bathroom and you simply need to look up through the branches of the oak trees and watch the buzzards swooping overhead.

“It also offers a lovely view of the Linhay’s gable end with ancient stonework and cedar soffits and fascias – a great contrast with the clean lines of the rooflight and shower room. When first installed, the rooflight brought so much light into the space that we kept thinking the builders had left the site lights on!”.

All in all, with the help of a local architect, civil engineer, surveyor, ecologist, builder and carpenter, and, of course, the oak from the wood – the Linhay was lovingly brought back to life. The project was completed within a budget of £50,000, including all fixtures, fittings and furnishings.

“We wanted as little impact as possible on the surrounding area so the landscaping was minimal – gravel from a quarry two miles away which matched the stone of the Linhay, some oak posts with synthetic hemps threaded through and Nick’s ‘henge’ border of stones which were dug up from the site when excavating the footings. The natural surroundings, the water meadow and the woodland behind form the perfect backdrop. Nick created several oak sleeper benches – one under the kitchen window, perfect for enjoying a cuppa in the morning sunshine and several lower ones around the firepit which was fashioned from an upcycled washing machine drum and a wheel rim.

“It’s even better than we ever dreamed – the most magical beautiful space which has been enjoyed by all our guests. We have had fantastic reviews and great feedback. We’d absolutely do the whole thing again; it was the most rewarding, enjoyable thing we’ve ever done and see it as our legacy to this beautiful valley.”

This is a story of a labour of love and a building that refused to fall down. A story that truly shows what can be accomplished when choosing restoration over demolition. Caroline and Nick already have exciting plans for more Butterhills-based projects in the future.

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