As Liz Nelson hosts a tour of her holiday cottages in south Lakeland no detail escapes her notice. A quilt is smoothed here, a sofa moved a couple of inches there, cushions plumped and pictures straightened. But there is one area the guests who enjoy these finishing touches will not get to see: Liz’s changeover cupboard.

Behind a locked door are plastic crates labelled king, superking and single while perfect piles of pristine white towels are stacked on the shelf above. There are more lidded crates, one marked ‘bin bags’, another full of toilet rolls and on the bottom shelf another full of cleaning products. It is neat, organised, disciplined and designed to save time and effort in the long run.

Liz Nelson in the kitchen at Ghyll Cottage  (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

“We only have from 10am-3pm to clean and do changeovers so having everything organised means we can just pull out the fresh bedding we need without having to search through to find the right size, and if I can’t be here then whoever is doing the changeover for me knows where to find everything,” explains Liz.

It does not happen very often since Liz is very hands on and likes to do changeovers – and all the laundry – herself, although her friend Dawn, local villager Robin and her mum Donita also help and work to her standards.

It has led to Ghyll Cottage, in Leasgill, near Milnthorpe, being named a Sykes Gem in an awards programme led by Sykes Holiday Cottages that celebrates the best properties in the UK’s holiday let sector. The cottage beat off tough competition to win the title of Sykes luxury holiday cottage of the year.

Ghyll Cottage, in LeasgillGhyll Cottage, in Leasgill (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

It is just reward for Liz, and her builder husband Brian, whose company is Trafalgar Projects. After a 23-year career within mental health services, Liz decided to embark on a new project and a second career by taking the leap into holiday letting rather than retiring.

She is from nearby Ackenthwaite and the couple’s children, Kimberley and Tom, went to primary school in Leasgill, just a short walk from Ghyll Cottage. Liz knew it had been inherited by an old gentleman but he had not lived there for 23 years, only visited. After he died the cottage was put on the market, together with land that had previously been a market garden and now came with planning permission.

“I found out that at one time the cottage was the laundry to the big house up the road, Eversley House,” says Liz. Eversley was built in the 1850s for Thomas Atkinson Argles, a cotton importer from Liverpool. His wife, Susannah, was local to south Westmorland and the family were important landowners in the district. The property remained one of the country's grandest houses employing numerous staff until the mid-20th century when it was converted into four individual dwellings.

The kitchen in the new extension at Ghyll CottageThe kitchen in the new extension at Ghyll Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

Although there was much interest in Ghyll Cottage, Liz and Brian were successful and secured it in November 2019.

“It was very, very run down when we bought it. I wanted to do it up and make it liveable again but keep some of the older features so that it still felt like a cottage when people came to stay.”

Brian’s team combined their skills with Liz's vision for the cottage, but soon after they bought it the country went into lockdown. “The renovations were quite difficult and we got to the point where it was just me and my husband and son coming to work on it. We had also decided to start building on the old market garden but it was a slow process because we couldn't get materials,” explains Liz

Double bedroom, Ghyll CottageDouble bedroom, Ghyll Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

It gave her time to think of the features that would be practical for holiday letting but also enhance the charm of the old cottage.

“It hadn't been touched in years and things like the curtains just disintegrated when you touched them. The ceilings were really low so one of the first things we did was take off the roof to expose the beams and keep the full height of the ceilings upstairs.”

Another was to create the ‘muddy porch’ which has a slate bench for sitting on to take boots on and off and a Belfast sink for cleaning them or a small dog and there is space to keep a pushchair dry under cover.

It leads into a practical boot room with WC and utility space for hanging coats and laundry. The bespoke cloaks unit was created by Heartwood Joinery, of Milnthorpe.

Twin bedroom, Ghyll CottageTwin bedroom, Ghyll Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

At the back of the house an old coal house was taken down and Brian built an extension which now houses the kitchen and family snug with glass doors leading out onto a patio. Two large skylights in the ceiling draw in natural light.

The dove grey kitchen, by Webbs of Kendal, has an island with Silestone top and breakfast bar. It is well equipped with appliances and local provisions including Penningtons tea and coffee, farm eggs and Pure Lakes handwash.

From the newest part of the cottage into the oldest, the dining room has original beams and a large, rather grand fireplace that had been hidden behind a small, traditional coal fire, complemented by the slate window sill. Six can eat here comfortably and an old cupboard built into the wall has been repurposed for board games. Both properties have wi-fi through rural supplier BARN too.

The dining room with its grand, original fireplaceThe dining room with its grand, original fireplace (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

A fire surround, in similar dimensions to the dining room, has been created in the living room. The old staircase once ran alongside here from the front door but the removal of a door has made the living room bigger and a cosy space with a plaid armchair and two sofas and another stove.

“All the walls have been lined so it’s nice and warm. We knocked lots of walls down and took the old staircase out, then built a new one from the dining room,” explains Liz.

“We spent ages upstairs with bits of wood trying to work out how to put in three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There had been two bedrooms before and the master was the old laundry; the big old mangle was still in there. The room was reached by stone stairs on the outside of the cottage. For ages we wondered why the floor sloped but then somebody told us it was like that so the water from the laundry could just drain out through the low window to the outside.”

The master bedroom was once the laundry room The master bedroom was once the laundry room (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

The colour scheme throughout is calming pale greys with oak latch doors to bedrooms, bathrooms and the large built-in wardrobes in each room. “I just wanted to keep it very cottagey, quite plain and neutral so it’s light but warm,” says Liz. The draft-free windows are cottage style with deep sills.

As well as the master bedroom, there is a kingsize bedroom and a third with zip twin beds.

“The beds were a hugely important thing to me. Mattresses have to be top quality, there is nothing worse than coming away and not being comfortable in bed. I decided early that I wanted White Company bedding and towels.

“I just thought about what I like when I'm going away. Brian and I stayed here when we were doing all the jobs and you forget how nice it is.”

Reading lamps and accessories are from Next and TK Maxx while the larger furniture is the work of upcycler and restorer Painted by Me, in Kendal.

Laundry Cottage has been newly builtLaundry Cottage has been newly built (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

Whilst preserving the cottage feel in the renovated property, new build Laundry Cottage is very different with and open plan and contemporary ground floor. “The plans were already drawn, so all we did was put in the glass corner,” says Liz. “Some guests like the cosiness of Ghyll Cottage but they like Laundry Cottage in summer because of the glass.”

It opens up the dining space to the patio on a raised terrace and lawned garden. The living space is separated by a chimney breast housing a wood burner above a slate hearth. The kitchen has high gloss units and a breakfast bar.

There are three bedrooms upstairs: a glamorous master with en suite shower room, a quiet kingside room with a skylight and a twin bedroom. The large bathroom has a wet room-style shower and a freestanding bath.

Master bedroom, Laundry CottageMaster bedroom, Laundry Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

It is here where Liz raids her changeover cupboard. “I like to keep things simple and it helps whenever you are doing changeover and cleaning if things are easy to find. The main thing is keeping on top of it and making sure it’s nice every time guests come.

“Covid helped in a way because after we opened we had to follow the guidance. Sykes gave us some standards to follow and we have continued with those.

“If you say you are five star and you want to remain five star then you have to keep standards up. I shut for six weeks after Christmas and had all the carpets and sofas cleaned so it was perfect throughout again. It’s not a one day a week job, it’s a full commitment to meet expectations.”

Open plan dining and kitchen in Laundry CottageOpen plan dining and kitchen in Laundry Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

Her tips for anyone thinking of kitting out a holiday let is to buy quality and to think ahead and buy enough to cover breakages or things being spoiled.

With the properties now earning their keep with 82 bookings in 2023 and 33 by April for this year through Sykes Holiday Cottages, how is Liz feeling about her change of career?

She says: “It’s been really rewarding to have embarked on a second career and holiday letting was something I had always been interested in.

The living space in Laundry CottageThe living space in Laundry Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)

“While I had enjoyed a varied role in mental health services, I was ready for a change of pace and wanted to do a project with Brian. Together, I knew we could create a brilliant holiday home which would attract visitors from far and wide.

“We love welcoming people to Cumbria and encourage them to dine at the local restaurants and eateries to give back to independent businesses. It’s a wonderful place to visit and we look forward to meeting new guests in the years ahead.”

The glass corner at Laundry CottageThe glass corner at Laundry Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group) The main bathroom in Laundry CottageThe main bathroom in Laundry Cottage (Image: Forge Holiday Group)