In a roundabout way, Lindsay Crawford really has her horse to thank for her discovery of the historic Bridge Castle House near Bathgate in West Lothian six years ago. She met the previous owner of number 5 Bridge Castle House at the livery stables where she kept it while working in Inverness. When Crawford mentioned that she was moving to Edinburgh for work the previous owner told her, "I have just the place for you ..."
"She explained that this house was part of a converted castle and had its own shared grounds, and that there were lots of livery stables in the area," says Crawford. The property was also within commuting distance of both Edinburgh and Glasgow (at 25 miles and 30 miles respectively), making it geographically viable for Crawford. Intrigued, she decided to visit the place and have a look. "The grounds just sold it to me," she says. "I remember walking out the front door of the house and thinking, this is gorgeous. And I was seeing it in December, possibly the worst time of year to view a property, but it still looked fantastic. So I had to get up earlier for work than I would have living in the city, but coming back here at night made it all worthwhile."
Number 5 is a real rarity, because it is a house, not an apartment as one would expect from a conversion of this type - Bridge Castle House was converted back to residential use 20-odd years ago having previously been run as a hotel - and although joined onto properties on either side, this two-storey building has its own back and front doors.
In its heyday, Bridge Castle House was one of the premier mansions of West Lothian, and has the lineage to back up this claim. The original Bridge Castle was formerly a seat of the Earls of Linlithgow, and the three-storey 16th-century keep was incorporated within the mansion house, having been linked by an arch to the 17th century block which in turn was added to in the 1870s, 1889 and 1899.
Number 5 dates from 1871, and was designed by the partnership of Brown and Wardrop, who worked on other grand country houses including Beaufort Castle in Inverness-shire and on the Cambo Estate in Fife. As such, the property has great character. "It's very quirky," says Crawford. For example, each of the rooms, apart from the sitting room, has an angled wall. "It also has windows and cupboards in odd places." The 18th century fireplace in the dining room pre-dates this house, having been moved here from an older part of the mansion.
The layout is simple, with the sitting room, dining room and kitchen on the ground level, and the three bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The sitting room is particularly bright as it has a double aspect, and features timber floorboards, working shutters (the majority of the windows have shutters) and an open fireplace. A door leads from here into the kitchen, which has French doors opening onto the garden to the south and east of the house. Crawford was fortunate when she moved in as the previous owner had already upgraded the spaces, having installed a new kitchen, bathroom and downstairs loo and decorated throughout. Crawford, who now lives here with husband Duncan, improved the house further by installing central heating and adding the French doors to spill the living space into the garden.
The couple did quite a bit of work to the garden, which has a paved patio and sandstone pathway leading to the gravel terrace overlooking the communal grounds, along with a number of trees that grant privacy from the neighbouring buildings. The grounds are a feature in themselves, with Barbauchlaw Burn flowing through them on its way to the River Avon, as the residents share the 4.5 acres of land. "Being part of an old estate like this has been a real pleasure," says Crawford. "The grounds are great for walking the dog, and we've had the odd party here," as there's plenty of space to do this without interrupting the neighbours. "Actually, one of the things I'll miss most is the neighbours, as there's a real community spirit without it being oppressive."
She'll also miss the views from the house, and the drive through the grounds coming home at night, as there's no denying the atmosphere of the location. "And you really notice the seasons when living in the country," Crawford says. A property like this may be something of a niche market, but for anyone willing to look beyond a conventional three bedroom house, 5 Bridge Castle House could be for them.
5 BRIDGE CASTLE HOUSE, WESTFIELD, NEAR BATHGATE IN WEST LOTHIAN.
• A three bedroom, two-storey house forming part of an historic mansion house, set within over four acres of shared grounds with a private garden.
• The interior combines period character with more modern styling. Highlights include the double aspect sitting room, with its open fire; the dining room with its feature 18th-century fireplace, and the kitchen, which has French doors leading into the enclosed garden.
• Offers over 240,000, contact Savills on 0131-247 3710.