Said to be the jewel in the crown of the Highlands, Dunrobin Castle looks every inch a fairytale castle, but can you imagine how hard it would be to look after it?
Elise and Jan Smienk don’t have that worry. Instead they get to enjoy looking beyond the fields towards the castle from the comfort of their own, not so wee palace, Big Barns.
This gorgeous B-listed five-bedroom detached house, like its near neighbour, Dunrobin Castle, is surrounded by delightful formal gardens and mature woodland.
That’s not the only thing the two properties have in common as both enjoy fabulous south-facing views over the Dornoch Firth and have a place in history.
In 1845, while Charles Barry was busy re-modelling the castle to make it more in-keeping with the then hugely popular Scottish Baronial style – Queen Victoria had set the trend with her new residence at Balmoral – at nearby Big Barns, work was also underway around the same time.
Originally a barn on the Sutherland Estate, the building was converted to a terrace of cottages in the mid 1800s by George Devey, one of the early architects in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
This movement put great emphasis on decorative and fine arts created by traditional craftsmen and it often featured in upmarket homes whose owners were delighted to have beautifully decorative features adorn their houses.
“Mr Devey was quite a famous architect, and his work can still be seen here, especially on the outside of the house via the buttresses, tall chimneys and porches which are typically Arts and Craft,” said Elise.
The couple, originally from Holland, moved to their house which sits between Golspie and Brora in Sutherland four years ago after selling a plumbing and central heating business they ran in the Netherlands.
They had holidayed in Scotland for 25 years and dreamed of living here, so when the opportunity arose, they took it.
“While I like the wild beauty of the West Coast I prefer the Sutherland area as I think it is very romantic as the landscape is gentler, has a nice coastline and lovely beaches. From the house we have fantastic views across the Dornoch Firth and can see the Cairngorm mountains in the far distance. The views are ever-changing and the house is south-facing so it’s a very sheltered spot,” said Elise.
It’s not hard to see why the Dutch couple fell for the charms of Big Barns which is on the market at offers over £485,000.
Beautifully presented throughout and with many original features, the accommodation includes, on the ground floor, a large sitting room, dining room, dining kitchen and utility room, a garden room, bedroom, shower room and additional WC. Upstairs there are four further bedrooms, a family bathroom, dressing room and sewing room.
Attached to the house is a self-contained cottage, which has an interconnecting door from the main house, and which has been renovated to the same high standard as the main house. Accommodation here includes a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, study, two bedrooms, shower room, family bathroom, and a rear hall.
The cottage is currently used as a highly successful holiday let, further details of this are available on request via the selling agent, CKD Galbraith.
“Since the launch of the route, North Coast 500, we have been very, very busy and as a result met lots of lovely people,” said Elise. “We chose to live in the main house and let out the cottage but an alternative would be to live in the cottage and rent out the main house as a large holiday let.
“There’s certainly plenty of space for people on the route to park their cars here.”
Since moving in the couple have put their own stamp on the property which was converted by the previous owners.
“We’ve done everything we can to make it in-keeping with the period style but have made lots of changes to the house since we moved in, including putting in a new shower room, upgraded the heating and water system, installing a new kitchen, new bathroom and re-decorating throughout.
“I don’t have a favourite room because I like all the rooms – they are all different in atmosphere. It’s a lovely house and it’s been a good house to live in and we’ve certainly enjoyed the experience, but are now looking to downsize,” said Elise.
Another aspect of the house the couple will miss when they move are the stunning formal gardens.
“The gardens take a bit of looking after so what I try to do is keep up with the maintenance and add my own touches. It’s a beautiful garden and very sheltered and as a result there are some unusual plants growing here,” said Elise.
Within the gardens, there’s a modern timber and slate outbuilding with garaging and store rooms, while a modern biomass boiler minimises the running costs. But at this time of year there’s nothing like coming home to a real fire and at Big Barns, you’re spoiled for choice…
“Most of the rooms have an open fire while most of the chimneys are capped, but if you take the cap off they work. We like to have a fire on every evening which makes it very cosy, comfortable and warm.”
Contact: CKD Galbraith on 01463 224343.