When Barbara and Ian opened the doors of Le Craobhan Treun they had a vision of a contemporary home that would ooze character
Ian Fernyhough and Barbara Irwin admit that they were naïve when they purchased Le Craobhan Treun, but 18 years on they don’t regret their decision one bit.
Meaning “with mighty trees”, Le Craobhan Treun more than lives up to its title. Built in 1845, it was one of the first churches in the Free Church of Scotland and sits proudly surrounded by said trees, overlooking St Mary’s Loch in the hamlet of Cappercleuch near Selkirk.
The couple, who were living in Sunderland, had been having the Borders property guide sent to them, and when they spotted a tiny, grainy photo of a church, they decided they had to go and see it. “We viewed it and fell in love with it,” Ian recalls. “It was a hundred per cent heart.”
“We didn’t realise what we were taking on,” says Barbara. “We’d never done anything like this before – Ian read so many DIY books you wouldn’t believe it.”
What Ian and Barbara had bought was more or less a shell, but most definitely a church. It had only been closed two years previously due to a declining congregation, but all that was left were half a dozen pews.
“We didn’t really have a plan,” Barbara recalls. “We knew the first thing we had to do was completely gut it. It took months and months because we did it on our own. We removed all the old lath and plaster work, took out the ceiling, removed the floor and we were left with the stone shell, which was absolutely beautiful.
“I was teaching in Newcastle and Ian was working at the university there, so we travelled up every weekend and every holiday to start with and then eventually we had a little old caravan on site that we stayed in.
“It was a very, very, small caravan. When we actually moved into the church in 1998, we had great fun smashing the caravan to bits.”
Next on the list was to get all the services in. As there was only electricity when they purchased, a borehole had to be sunk to provide a private water supply, a septic tank installed and a reed bed was created to provide an eco-friendly alternative to the normal soakaway.
During this phase, the couple started planning what they actually wanted to do with the space. “We spoke to a lot of people and took expert advice, but we stuck to our guns and said ‘no’ to a lot of ideas because we knew what we wanted,” says Barbara.
“It’s not listed so we didn’t really have any problems with planning, and also because we didn’t want to change the look of the front elevation in any way,” says Ian. “Whilst we added a conservatory, it’s very subtle and I think the wood finish keeps it in character with the building.”
The character of the building also kept appearing in the super thick walls, as Barbara recalls: “The width of the walls was a constant revelation. We put in new doors and made some of the windows larger and there was just so much stone in there, I’ve never seen walls so thick. How they managed to build it in 1845 I don’t know – the workmanship is just amazing, everything is so precise.”
Although it took a long time to complete, thick walls taking part of the blame, the couple knew what they wanted to achieve. “We wanted a home that when you arrived at the bottom of the steps you saw this beautiful old building but when you walk through the door it’s completely different and not what you expect. I’m not a person for wishy-washy colours as you can see, and we wanted it quite contemporary inside,” says Barbara laughing.
“The open plan nature, the space element, the lighting, the layout has really worked for us,” Ian adds.
On the ground floor there are two bedrooms, a kitchen, open plan living area, bathroom, utility room, conservatory, boot room and attached green house. On the spacious mezzanine level, there is a further double bedroom with en suite and walk-in wardrobes, plus two additional seating areas in which Barbara has her craft space and Ian has his IT den.
And, whilst it wasn’t the intention when Barbara and Ian moved in, they also did a few alterations to make the church into a B&B. “We were running a small business and it became 24/7 and we thought, ‘We’ll do something else,’ which we are prone to doing. So, we cut a door into the small bedroom which leads into the conservatory which gives the B&B a separate outside entrance. It means we can block off our living space and it’s made the B&B area into a four-room apartment if we so choose. There’s a bedroom and bathroom; the second bedroom can be used as a lounge; and, of course, guests have access to the conservatory, which has the most fantastic, panoramic views. In fact, there’s nothing better than sitting in the conservatory on a winter’s afternoon with the sun streaming in, it’s freezing outside and the wood burning stove is keeping your toes warm.”
Painting such an idyllic picture, why on earth do Ian and Barbara want to leave? “It’s heart-wrenching to go but we have a one-year-old granddaughter and another on the way and we do a 240-mile round trip to babysit, so we’re swapping our possessions for experiences,” says Barbara. “Doing this was a very steep learning curve and I don’t think we’d do it again but we’re really, really pleased we did it, it’s a heck of an achievement.”
• Le Craobhan Treun is on the market for offers over £325,000 through eMoov.co.uk