Monday, 18 October 2021

Married-up cottages make for quite the country pile

PART of the former Parmoor estate, Grade II listed Elmdown Farm consists of 19 acres, including

PART of the former Parmoor estate, Grade II listed Elmdown Farm consists of 19 acres, including five paddocks, beautiful gardens and a small corner of woodland.

It nestles on the edge of Skirmett in a quiet, tucked away spot that has straight-across views of “that windmill” — The Cobstone — made famous by its part in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

This whole area — which includes Hambleden, Skirmett, Turville and Fingest — is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore not only very beautiful but safe from development.

“It’s that view that gets me every time,” says Anne Robertson who, along with husband Nigel and their two children, are only the third owners since 1947.

“You can see the hill from the gardens, from the bathroom, even from my little downstairs study. In fact, sitting at my desk doing paperwork and looking up to see that windmill is probably the thing I will remember most about my time at Elmdown Farm.”

It was Nigel and Anne who added the “Farm” to the Elmdown name after a few years of living at the property — so named because they continually had so many different farm animals grazing the land.

Their children, when growing up, loved having the varied livestock around them. Even today, Anne breeds rare chickens.

When the couple left London, they were on the lookout for a smallholding of sorts, and Elmdown Farm has its own water. There was a large well, but this has now been replaced with a borehole.

Along with the land, the gardens are worth a mention or two, housing not only a hard tennis court and a solar and oil heated swimming pool, but designer planting by renowned landscape artist Michael Balston, the current vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The formal central point is a circular sunken garden flanked by rose- and wisteria-clad arbours, with sweeping lawns up to the pool area. Rubbing noses with the drawing room, the main arbour makes a lovely sheltered spot from where to enjoy the garden.

Built of brick and flint and making up the majority of a quadrangle around a pretty courtyard, the main house looks like it could have been used for the filming of Shakespeare in Love, with its multiple roof heights, timber framing and Hansel and Gretel-style dormer windows. It’s even been used for an episode of Midsomer Murders.

The remainder of the quadrangle is formed by an 18th-century wooden barn. In keeping with the ethos of the property, apart from being lovingly maintained, this looks almost as it did some 250 years ago.

“The barn has a lavatory and water supply, but apart from that it’s used for storing equipment, much like it was in the past,” says Anne.

“I love the fact that it’s essentially untouched. You don’t often find barns that haven’t been converted. The house gives more than enough space. In fact, one of the wings already has a shower, and a potential living room and bedroom if you wanted to create an annexe.”

Speaking of which, the house was originally two gamekeepers’ cottages plus outbuildings, including pig sties, sheds and pheasant pens.

The Robertsons married these up and extended the drawing room and study wing, as well as commissioning a dining room/bedroom extension, to create a triumph of a country pile.

“This was done over a period of a year and a half,” says Anne. “We’re particularly pleased with how the galleried dining room turned out. To access it, we weren’t allowed to touch the top floor windows and beams on the external wall, so to be able to pass through this to the new rooms, we had to come up with a cunning solution.”

This took the form of a waist-high “doorway” on the bottom half of the bathroom wall reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. It’s as though you find yourself in another world, with a large bedroom and minstrels’ gallery looking down to, in effect, a banqueting room.

In fact, the house is full of quirky features like this, with such things as a hidden “bed cupboard”, an uncovered ancient bread hearth, and painted “curtains”.

“The house is not one of those polished steel, modern extension-type properties, but something with soul, with character, and where one can get stuck into country life,” added Anne, whose homely welcoming Aga-fuelled kitchen, which extends into a bright breakfast room, serves to further illustrate this point.

And then there is the manège (dressage/training arena), which is topped with a surface known as Equimix rather than sand — this being said to give a far superior ride.

The Robertsons also made sure the drainage was excellent when they built the manège, which essentially lies at the bottom of a hill.

“When the rain starts pouring down the hills, you really notice the results of our investment,” said Anne. (Indeed, I happened to be visiting the manège during a rainstorm and can confirm that the ground was puddle-free the entire time.)

The property also has paddocks, which are fenced and all have a water supply, plus there are three loose boxes, two tack rooms, a hay/straw store and a feed store. No longer keeping horses, Anne currently uses the stables to house her unusual chickens.

“Before my hunter died, I used to ride regularly out over the hills,” said Anne, who grew up around animals and has ridden horses on and off since the age of four.

“Nigel and I wanted a ‘proper’ country retreat and there are several bridleways, as well as footpaths close by, yet you are within an hour of London, which is absolutely ideal and the best of both worlds.” Skirmett locals describe village life as “thriving” and there are several social clubs run from the village hall.

A short walk from the house, the Frog at Skirmett gastropub is known as the hub of the village.

“I always say Elmdown is ideal because it’s secluded but not isolated,” said Anne. “We’re close enough to the centre to feel part of everything, yet we’re removed enough to be able to dip in and out.

“Young children often play in the village and fields, and when they get older it isn’t far to Henley.”

Bustling Henley, with its train station, restaurants, boutique shops, weekly market and river recreation is just six miles away.

Added Anne: “Elmdown Farm has always been a very happy home and would ideally suit a growing family.”

Elmdown Farm is for sale with sole agent Robinson Sherston, at a guide price of £3,995,000. Call (01491) 411911 for more information.

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