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  • 24th Feb 2024
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The 10-year home renovation project in Teesdale

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This is cool


They say death and moving house are amongst the most stressful things a person ever has to endure in a lifetime.

In our case, it was the death of my dad in 2013 that led to us deciding to up sticks and move further north to be closer to family. Several months of looking for a new place led nowhere. We’d completed two big renovations in the previous 13 years and my husband was adamant that we weren’t up to doing another.

But the modern houses we saw just didn’t cut it. No space, tiny gardens, no features. Nothing we viewed had ‘that feeling’. Until one day, I saw an old dilapidated farmhouse, up on a hill in Teesdale, advertised through an estate agent in Darlington. I felt compelled to view it. There were two photographs. One of the front of the house, looking fairly desperate and in need of a new roof, and the other of an outbuilding with an old rusting car sat inside an archway. Something told me I had to see it.

My husband refused point blank and asked me to cancel the appointment.  He said it was obviously in need of a lot of work and he wasn’t prepared to take on another project. The afternoon of the viewing arrived and my daughter and I decided we would go along. It seemed rude to cancel at short notice. Lo and behold, as we approached the gate to the property, my husband rang me and announced he’d changed his mind and was coming to meet us.  As they say, the rest is history.

We didn’t even make it inside the house before we gave each other a knowing nod. This was it. This was the place for us.

Sad, neglected, complicated – but full of potential

I should elaborate here; the house is in a most beautiful setting. High up on a hilltop with far reaching views over open countryside. Hamsterley Forest is to the right of us and on a clear day, you can see for miles.  We viewed it in May and the sky was clear blue. It is in a most beautiful spot with no neighbours in view, only sheep grazing in the surrounding fields.

The house, although sad and neglected, had loads of potential. We both knew it would take a lot of hard work, not to mention a large budget.

We’d been married for 28 years at that point and know each other well.  We knew it’s what we wanted and were both absolutely smitten.

Year one – all paperwork

Since the farmhouse and outbuildings are Grade II listed, the first year was mainly planning.  We liaised with conservation and it seemed the officer was amenable to all our proposals – so we weren’t fazed at all.

We were naive however, and shocked to learn that not a tile on the roof, nor a pane of glass could be touched until all 10 of our proposals were agreed in writing.  The process was tedious but thankfully, all permissions were granted. One year in, we could finally start!

Year two – sleeping rough

Because we hadn’t the permissions, we couldn’t order materials nor line up workmen. No one was prepared to wait indefinitely.  So, once we received the paperwork, only then could we line up roofing contractors… year two almost went by. It was toward the end of the second year that we finally got the roof sorted and the building watertight.

We were able to begin inside but it was difficult without changing windows or digging up floors.

Since our family were grown up and had left home, we were able to ‘camp out’ and live in the place, all be it, very roughly.

My husband Carl rigged up a shower curtain that ran all the way around the old rusty roll top bath and fixed an electric shower to the back wall.  That was heaven after having to run up and down to our daughters for showers for the first few months.

All our food had to be cooked on the coal fired Aga – which was a novelty at first, but became tedious after a while.

The place was so damp, the old stone floors had no damp proof membrane and there was no insulation in the loft. Our first winter was extremely cold except for the back boiler, connected to the Aga, which chugged away day and night… eventually, even that blew up.

Year three – finally a kitchen

Slowly things did begin to progress and one room after another took shape. The roof was eventually replaced on the main house and insulation was installed.  We got our new kitchen which was huge cause for celebration.  A proper cooker and worktops – you very quickly forget the struggles.

Year four – distractions

In year four my daughter and I decided to open a new business – which took me away from the house seven days a week initially.

Until then, I’d project managed and also been chief decorator and tiler, so that slowed things up quite a lot.  Carl has worked full time throughout the whole project, and being the nit-picky engineer that he is, it’s very rare that he trusts anyone to do any work if he’s able to do himself.  Which leaves plastering basically, he’s not great at that…

In year four I eventually got him to agree to hire a contractor to help progress with the old stable which was to become the lounge.

Years five to seven – Covid strikes

Finally in year five we got our proper lounge and had a Christmas tree for the first time since we’d moved in.

Sadly, around that time, my Mum was also dealing with cancer and months of travelling back and forth to hospital for tests and treatments ensued. My Mum didn’t drive and relied upon my siblings and I to get her to appointments.

We all know what happened in 2020 – Covid hit. None of us saw it coming and getting materials became very difficult.

The one blessing we had, being out of town and in a bubble with our daughter and son-in-law, was being able to get a start on the gardens.  We were lucky to get hold of a couple of wagon loads of gravel from a local quarry and we had all the stone which had originally been the floors inside.

It took weeks of hard work, but we were able to create a stunning front garden and transform the rear farmyard. Plants came at intervals – we were able to buy some online and have them delivered.

By the time covid settled, and materials were finally more readily available, prices had gone sky high.

Years eight to 10 – living in a little slice of heaven

The past couple of years have mainly been spent outdoors. More gardening, roof repairs to the outbuildings and re-pointing the stonework.

The main house has been finished for some time. This year, which will be year 10 in August, we hope to have the outbuildings tidied to a point of usefulness and I am hoping all traces of building work/rubble sacks/piles of stone and timber are finally cleared away and the ‘builders yard’ look will be banished.

Amidst the time here, we have had two grandchildren born, now age three and almost-one years old.

And very sadly, 2023 saw the passing of my lovely Mum. She loved it here and loved to come and stay. Her favourite thing was to go outside on a summer night and look up to the stars. We are very fortunate to enjoy dark skies and have some spectacular views of the universe.

It shall forever be a most treasured and special decade of our lives.  Hard work? Yes, lots of it. But oh, so worth it.

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Laura Kingston
Founder and Editor

Laura is the Founder and Editor of High Life North. She had the idea to set up an exclusively digital women’s magazine after feeling there was a gap in the market in the North East. With over 10 years of experience in marketing and PR, Laura had a very clear…


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