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Through the keyhole of charming cottage in the Forest of Dean

PUBLISHED: 11:04 13 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:19 13 August 2019

The Waldrons' charming cottage looks like a doll’s house with its central front door. The front section is thought to be Tudor. Now the roof has been insulated by Jenner Builders of Mitcheldean, the house feels so much warmer

The Waldrons' charming cottage looks like a doll's house with its central front door. The front section is thought to be Tudor. Now the roof has been insulated by Jenner Builders of Mitcheldean, the house feels so much warmer

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."

There is a sizeable drop from the kitchen to the lower level sitting room, so their builder turned the dividing wall into a tall and wide bookcase on the sitting room sideThere is a sizeable drop from the kitchen to the lower level sitting room, so their builder turned the dividing wall into a tall and wide bookcase on the sitting room side

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.

The kitchen is the most important room in the house for Max is a chef with his own catering company, Max Waldron Organics. Liz’s brother Steve Whiston, who has his own company ‘Important Rooms’ of Devizes, put in the new units of reclaimed teak. He also supplied the leather strap handles from Turnstile Designs and the Silestone worktop, a material which Max says has antibacterial propertiesThe kitchen is the most important room in the house for Max is a chef with his own catering company, Max Waldron Organics. Liz’s brother Steve Whiston, who has his own company ‘Important Rooms’ of Devizes, put in the new units of reclaimed teak. He also supplied the leather strap handles from Turnstile Designs and the Silestone worktop, a material which Max says has antibacterial properties

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 desk is Danish and from a Lilley Road dealerThe desk is Danish and from a Lilley Road dealer

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!"

The green chesterfield was bought for a bargain £250 and although they had the base re-covered they kept the rather unkempt top half in its original state as they thought it looked more attractive that way. The coffee table is an 1880s Chinese camphor wood trunk which Max’s parents gave them as a wedding giftThe green chesterfield was bought for a bargain £250 and although they had the base re-covered they kept the rather unkempt top half in its original state as they thought it looked more attractive that way. The coffee table is an 1880s Chinese camphor wood trunk which Max’s parents gave them as a wedding gift

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.

The old-looking brick-tiled path was actually laid recently by their builder, Mark Rich, using a bargain job lot of roof tiles that Liz bought for �100 at a reclamation yardThe old-looking brick-tiled path was actually laid recently by their builder, Mark Rich, using a bargain job lot of roof tiles that Liz bought for �100 at a reclamation yard

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 grandmother crocheted the pretty bedspread many years ago. The elm floorboards were a lovely feature but where a wall had been removed to make two bedrooms into one big one the joins were showing badly so Liz covered them in coir carpetingLiz's grandmother crocheted the pretty bedspread many years ago. The elm floorboards were a lovely feature but where a wall had been removed to make two bedrooms into one big one the joins were showing badly so Liz covered them in coir carpeting

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."

The couch came from a Lilley Road antiques dealer and was re-covered in a House of Hardy fabric. The huge mirror is another find from a Lilley Road antiques dealerThe couch came from a Lilley Road antiques dealer and was re-covered in a House of Hardy fabric. The huge mirror is another find from a Lilley Road antiques dealer

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.

In Marina’s bedroom and in the other two bedrooms, Max sanded the floorboards. The eco-wallpaper is Harry’s Garden by Louise Body, printed on chlorine-free paper sourced from managed forests and using water-based inks. “It’s expensive at £60 a roll, but we think it’s totally worth it,” says LizIn Marina’s bedroom and in the other two bedrooms, Max sanded the floorboards. The eco-wallpaper is Harry’s Garden by Louise Body, printed on chlorine-free paper sourced from managed forests and using water-based inks. “It’s expensive at £60 a roll, but we think it’s totally worth it,” 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!"

Address book:

- 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

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