Ruth Campbell discovers the sort of luxury holiday apartment accommodation the Victorian Yorkshire Dales stable lads who once lived there would never have believed possible has been converted into chic holiday apartments.
MOST luxury conversions of historic farm buildings are so far removed from their original use they won’t have had an animal anywhere near them in decades. Not so Charles and Emma Ropner’s stunning contemporary holiday apartments, housed in an attractive Victorian listed stable block which is still home to two of their handsome, and much-loved, family horses.
Set in the private grounds of the family’s Grade II-listed 1703 Queen Anne house, and overlooking bluebell woods, with a meandering beck running by, this stable block is the real deal, and that is part of its charm. As one delighted guest effused: “On one occasion the estate’s horses were being groomed just outside our bedroom window to the sweetly sung songs of their young female groom.”
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Those staying in the boutique-style apartments, however, can expect to enjoy much more lavish accommodation than their equine neighbours.
With huge power showers, Italian marble tiles, underfloor heating, luxurious king-sized beds, wood burning stoves and flat-screen TVs, as well as DVD players, iPod docks and free WIFI, this feels more like five-star hotel accommodation.
Four stylish, one-bedroom holiday lets were created from the original hayloft, the tack room, where saddles and bridles were stored, and the grooms’ and head lad’s rooms, where the stable lads lodged more than 100 years ago, when horses were the main form of transport.
Starting with a basic shell, Emma, with the help of childhood friend and interior designer Henrietta Holroyd, created a series of sumptuous and sleek, open plan, modern loft-style apartments, but with original old beams and iron trusses, oozing period character.
Emma and Charles share a love of all things equine, and it shows. There are images of horses on everything from the funky cushions on leather sofas to the original paintings on the walls and even an old, polished saddle hung on a wall for decoration.
Charles, a cousin of British Olympic silver medallist equestrian Karen Dixon, has been riding since he was six, Emma started when she was three. And one former occupant of their home, Billy Nevett, famously even won the Epsom Derby in 1945 on his horse, Dante.
The couple, who have three grown-up children, moved into the early 18th century Patrick Brompton Hall, which the Ropner family have owned since 1958, seven years ago, taking over from Charles’s parents, who relocated to a smaller farmhouse nearby.
Charles, who farms and manages the estate and parkland, as well as working in property development, was encouraged by his cousin, land agent Robyn Peat, to convert the stable block into holiday accommodation. “He pointed out a similar development near him, which was always full, and that there really was a market for it.”
Charles and Emma’s holiday lets, which are aimed at discerning couples, are certainly in the right location. Set in the Yorkshire Dales and close to the market towns of Richmond and Leyburn, the cathedral cities of York and Durham are all within easy driving distance. “We get walkers and cyclists who want to get out and explore the Dales but love coming back to the comfort and stylish setting of these apartments at the end of the day. People also love having the option to shop in York and Harrogate,” says Emma.
Their decision to cater exclusively for couples has paid off: “Couples have come for their honeymoon or for wedding anniversary celebrations. We have had people from all over the North-East and Yorkshire, as well as from Australia and South Africa.”
The designs, Emma explains, evolved as they went along. “The space changes as you’re working on it. Instead of having a number of people crammed into small spaces, we decided to create lovely, big spaces for couples instead,” she says.
The grooms’ rooms, abandoned many decades ago, were full of junk when Emma took on the project. The two rooms now flow into one, with stylish furniture, lighting and fittings, all pulled together using a palette of sophisticated, pared-down colours – baring little resemblance to the accommodation a 19th century stable hand would have been used to.
All the apartments are spacious, but Hayloft, twice the size of the rest, has certainly got the biggest ‘wow’ factor. When Emma started work, it still had the original traps, through which the hay was shovelled down to the horses in the stables below.
The couple initially planned to convert it into a two-bedroom apartment but Emma felt inserting partition walls ruined the flow of the beams and original character of the space, so tore them down and reverted to the original layout.
With pendant lighting hanging from high rafters and a half-wall separating the luxurious freestanding bath, which sits at the foot of a king-sized bed, from the living area and sleek kitchen, this is an apartment couples will struggle to tear themselves away from, should they get the urge to explore.
Henrietta Holroyd, who boarded with Emma at prep school in Helmsley from the age of seven, helped her build up the colour schemes and designs: “She kept me in check,” laughs Emma. “She was good at pulling the look together and very strict about not having any clutter. People want to leave all their clutter behind when they come on holiday.”
Henrietta also suggested putting tongue and groove wooden panels behind the bed areas, which, while modern and stylish, are also in keeping with the original stable building.
Emma’s vision was to have open kitchens with breakfast bar: “I didn’t want people having their back to what’s going on.” Henrietta recommended putting the bath in the bedroom: “I wouldn’t have thought of that. It’s a fab idea,” says Emma. “Henrietta was also very strong on lighting, she put a lot of planning into it and was very strict about where plugs and switches should go.”
The pair enjoyed buying trips in London, where they purchased blinds from Cabbages and Roses and light fittings from Habitat. Rugs, lamps and mirrors came from Oka. Emma complemented the contemporary look with vintage finds and some old family pieces. So there are authentic kilim and Persian rugs and paintings alongside modern designer pieces.
After 14 months of hard work, they finally opened in 2014 and, within months, were selected for inclusion in the acclaimed Sawday’s Special Places guide. “We were very proud of that,” says Emma.
She and Charles are hands-on hosts, keen to go that little bit extra to ensure their guests feel at home. “We meet and greet and are always on hand to offer suggestions,” says Emma, who is happy to provide guests with overspill from her walled vegetable garden. “We often have fresh raspberries and strawberries and vegetables, such as lettuce, herbs, spinach and courgettes, when they’re in season,” she adds.
Guests can also play tennis and there is shared seating, with barbecue, on an outdoor decking area, from which Charles is building a bridge leading over the beck and into the woods, home to kingfishers to ducks, pheasants, badgers and foxes.
And, in one sheltered spot, he is installing a hot tub, where guests can enjoy a soothing hot soak, along with a glass of chilled wine, while admiring the wildlife.
What the stable lads who used to live here would have made of it all is anyone’s guess…
- Dalesend Cottages, Patrick Brompton Hall, Bedale, N. Yorks, DL8 1JL. W: dalesendcottages.co.uk; T: 07780-470-900
- Henrietta Holroyd: henriettaholroyd.com
- Dalesend Cottages is one of the six finalists in the self-catering category of the Welcome to Yorkshire White Rose awards for tourism.