Through the keyhole of charming cottage in the Forest of Dean
- Credit: Heather Gunn
A move from London to the Forest of Dean meant the Waldrons were soon making wine from their own vines, cider from their orchard apples, egg dishes from their hens, and ice cream from local Blaisdon plums
Eleven years ago Londoners Max and Liz Waldron wanted to buy a weekend cottage. "We began looking in the obvious places like Oxfordshire and Somerset," says Liz. But after an 18-month search they ended up in a remote valley in Gloucestershire on the other side of the River Severn, having fallen for an ancient cottage in an old orchard.
"The previous owners had started to renovate it then run out of money," says Liz. "So the old flagstones had gone and there was concrete flooring everywhere. There was no kitchen, unless you count a room with a sink, a big boiler and a deep well! There was only one bathroom (which was downstairs) with brick walls and plastic fittings, only two radiators in the whole place, pipework ran round the walls and one fireplace smoked badly… but it did have four bedrooms and some beautiful period features."
The front part of the cottage was said to have been a two up, two down worker's dwelling 500 years before. It was extended in the 18th century and again in Victorian times and the period features include wooden window shutters, ancient heavy doors and lovely elm floorboards.
At first the couple, with daughter Marina (now 19), used the place for weekends, during which time they employed a builder to install oil-fired central heating, rewire, conceal the pipework and lay black slate flooring over the concrete screed. He also tanked and refurbished the downstairs bathroom then the couple repainted throughout in Farrow & Ball's 'Hardwick White' (except for the sitting room). Liz's brother Stephen Whiston who owns a company called 'Important Rooms' fitted out the kitchen with freestanding units.
"We gave the well - which is 36 feet deep - a black slate trapdoor to match the rest of the flooring which means we can open it. We've fitted it with a pump so it's very useful for watering the garden, although we don't want to risk drinking it," says Liz.
The couple then had great fun furnishing the cottage in a rustic way. "We visited auctions, junk shops and reclamation yards as we found items in this quiet part of the world astonishingly cheap," says Liz. "For example, we bought an antique chesterfield for £250 from a junk shop and when the upholsterer came to re-cover it he said it was worth more like £1,250!"
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Then eight years ago, when Marina was due to go to senior school, the couple decided to rent out their home in Islington, move full time into the cottage and commute to London as and when work demanded. "We are both freelance so could be flexible," says Liz.
The best of their London furniture came with them and, oddly enough, despite its more sophisticated style, blended in well with the existing rustic.
As Max is a chef with his own catering company, the biggest project was to convert an old adjoining cider barn into a new efficient kitchen. They did this by knocking through the old kitchen wall. The cider barn was on a lower level because it and the cottage are on a slope, but the builders raised half of it so that you can now walk straight from the cottage into the new kitchen. The other half of the barn is still lower, and is where the old cider press once stood, now accessed by some stairs. It has now become another sitting room and both these new rooms have been laid with the same slate floors as the other main rooms, this time with underfloor heating.
Liz's brother again came to the rescue with some smart fitted kitchen units of reclaimed teak, with leather strap handles and Silestone worktops, and sold to them at a handsome discount.
As for the cider press - "alas, the previous owner had donated it to Hereford Cider Museum," says Liz. "Once a donkey would have patiently plodded round in circles to operate it."
It was their architect who, after they'd removed an unwanted second staircase, suggested there was now space under the eaves for a separate bathroom and shower room. "We'd never have thought it possible," says Liz.
Another big project recently was to repair the roof. "Three workmen removed all the tiles, repaired or replaced the beams, put in insulation and then put the tiles back on," says Liz. "It's so much warmer now. One 'bonus' was that we found we had bats up there! They still are there as they're protected."
Out in the two-and-a-half-acre garden there were a number of outbuildings and greenhouses, one of which contained an old but fruitful grape vine. "So now Max makes our own wine, plus cider from our apple trees, and uses eggs from our hens," says Liz. "Best of all is the discovery that a previous owner in about 1860 was a farmer who had promoted the Blaisdon plum, a local species. It became quite famous and now Max uses the same plum in many of his recipes, including his delicious Blaisdon plum ice cream."
She finishes, "We love it here. It's quite wild in the Forest of Dean, and the views from our house are stunning; not a house to be seen from some of our windows. And there are some surprising benefits. Some workmen came to repoint the house and add a porch to the back door. It was they who told us to get a licence from the Post Office so we could fish in the Longhope brook in the valley. We had no idea it was allowed, but we bought the licence for £15 then Max went off with them and their fishing gear. When they all came back with seven big trout, Max cooked the fish for supper and we all sat round enjoying them with some of Max's home-made bread. They were followed by - guess what, his own Blaisdon plum ice-cream! You could never do that in Islington!"
- Baileys Home, 01989 561931, baileyshome.com
- Beechfield Reclamation Company, 01380730999, beechfieldreclamation.co.uk
- Louise Body, 07889 465 552, louisebody.com
- Max Waldron Organics, 01452 831443, maxwaldronfood.co.uk
- Stoves & Flues Ltd, 01594840878