Words by Alice Westgate, photographs by Greg Martin
A trip to the Lizard can feel like a glorious step back in time, especially if your destination is the farmhouse at Kestle Barton. This ancient Cornish farmstead, which nestles above the Helford River and is just a stone’s throw from Frenchman’s Creek, has remained largely unchanged since the 16th century, and there is still a good deal of faded grandeur about its granite façade, steeply sloping roof and flower-filled garden.
For many years, Karen Townshend has been captivated by the strong sense of place and the air of timeless peace at Kestle Barton. “I would often walk past and chat to the farmer, Boaden Lyne, as he leant on the farmhouse gate,” remembers Karen. “I always thought his house was such a beautifully romantic building.”
When Boaden Lyne retired in 2004, Karen saved Kestle Barton from an uncertain future by buying the old farmhouse, the farmyard and the surrounding barns. She planned to establish an arts centre on the site, and to turn the farmhouse and the barns into holiday accommodation so that guests could immerse themselves in the countryside, the community and the local artistic culture.
“Boaden’s family had lived in the farmhouse since the 19th century and, while we did not want to alter its atmosphere or tame it in any way, it needed some careful restoration,” she says.
Karen set to work with the help of her sister, Alison Bunning, who is a conservation architect. “The farmhouse has a Grade II* listing, so it was important that we did the job properly, preserving anything old to an absolute degree,” says Karen. So the gently sloping floorboards and uneven walls remain, along with the beaten earth floor in the pantry and the old Cornish range in the kitchen. The art of preservation even extends to the outbuildings, where you can still see the dairy in which Boaden Lyne’s aunt would make clotted cream every day.
In the main sitting room, a large and very old inglenook fireplace had been blocked up and replaced by a tiny Victorian grate; Karen removed this later addition to reveal the original soot-blackened stonework. In the snug, the walls are still lined with wonderfully wonky home-made panelling that adds a delicious sense of craftsmanship from days gone by. And the banisters on the back staircase, which are made out of flat pieces of wood cut into a barley-twist pattern, remain as a fascinating example of vernacular craftsmanship. “Someone obviously wanted to have a grand, decorative banister and so made their own in a simplified way with the available materials,” says Karen.
Upstairs, a quirky wooden bathroom on stilts, which was originally reached by steps leading up from the garden, was replaced with a more secure structure. It has exactly the same footprint, but is now accessed from inside the house.
These days, Kestle Barton sleeps eight guests in four bedrooms, with two sitting rooms and two bathrooms. “We aimed to make it extremely comfortable, with really good beds and big sofas,” says Karen. “The house is beautifully sunny, as it faces south, so it always feels warm and welcoming. The décor is unfussy and simple so that guests can just sit back and enjoy their holiday without having to worry about anything.”
Where modern improvements had to be made – for example, in updating the bathrooms – Kestle Barton was treated to a spot of designer luxury in the form of a vast shower and a double-ended Duravit bath. “I share the opinion that when you are adding a modern intervention it should always look clearly new,” says Karen.
Perhaps the biggest attraction of a stay at Kestle Barton is the rolling arts programme that brings exhibitions, makers, performance art, workshops and special events here throughout the season. There is always work on display in the gallery, but a huge selection of original paintings and prints also lines the walls of the farmhouse. “We have curated the interior quite carefully,” admits Karen. “People can buy the paintings if they wish, but mainly it is a chance for local artists to showcase their talents. If guests particularly love someone’s work, we can even arrange a studio visit.”
And what of the future? Karen has just secured the purchase of the property that adjoins the farmhouse, which means that at last she is custodian of every single building at Kestle Barton. And with charitable status recently granted to the arts centre, the future of this exquisite slice of Cornish country life, and the deep creativity that it fosters, will be secure for many years to come.
- For holidays at Kestle Barton Farmhouse and the surrounding barns, contact Forever Cornwall, tel. 01209 832848, www.forevercornwall.co.uk. Prices start at £445 per week low season.
- For opening times and details of all arts events at Kestle Barton, call 01326 231811, visit www.kestlebarton.co.uk, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.