Devon's prettiest homes: Greatcombe family cottage in Holne
PUBLISHED: 11:48 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:48 23 October 2019
House-proud doesn't quite cover how Robbie and Sarah Richardson feel about their Dartmoor cottage. CHRISSY HARRIS visits a much-loved family home
There is a feeling of warmth at Greatcombe that envelops you - and I'm not just talking about the scones baking in the oven. Robbie and Sarah Richardson have lived in their tucked away cottage in Holne for more than 35 years, gradually turning what was once a couple of dilapidated buildings into a family home.
Everything about the place is comforting, almost like you've been here before.
The handmade furniture, cabinets stacked full of random glassware, plates drying in a wooden rack above the sink, the tulips in vases on the worktop; it's loved and lived in.
For local lad Robbie, 64, the connection goes way back. He used to ride past Greatcombe - once two tiny cottages - when he was eight years old.
"It was a bit of a no-go area, 'cowboy country'!" he says, recalling how it used to be a bit of a dare among the village kids to see who would be brave enough to cycle up the valley past the then slightly mysterious old buildings.
In later years, Robbie ended up coming to parties in the cottages before moving to Dean Prior with his wife Sarah. But then Greatcombe came up for auction.
"The auction was going to be on my birthday," says Sarah, 62, heavily pregnant with their first daughter at the time. "I was a bit preoccupied but I said we should go up and have a look at it. I managed to waddle up to the gateway and said, oh, just buy it."
The couple say they somehow managed to raise the funds and the crumbling site was theirs.
"It was in a hell of state," says Robbie, quite proudly. "But, I mean, you could say Stonehenge was in a hell of state, it needs work. But it doesn't matter. You stand in a place and go: this is it.
"If stand outside or inside here, I just think: this is forever," he adds, still not quite believing his luck. "You're not meant to find that when you're in your early twenties with your first kid on the way. You're meant to save up and get ready."
There has never been any great plan at Greatcombe. The couple quickly made the two cottages into one and then the rest of the house evolved to suit the needs of a growing, close-knit family.
Robbie, a farrier (and also an actor - more on that later) has done most of the work himself, bashing down walls and…putting them back again. Ditto the windows and doors.
"If you had one of those stop motion cameras, you'd just see walls going up and down and doors going in," says Sarah, an artist. "Sometimes at about 11 o'clock at night, we say: 'I know what would look good…' and suddenly all the furniture has been moved."
Greatcombe seems to encourage creativity and evidence of both Sarah and Robbie's work can be seen all over the house.
Sarah's paintings brighten the walls, complementing Robbie's rustic metalwork sculptures and furniture. And the garden is nothing short of masterpiece.
"That's Sarah's part - I just dig holes," says Robbie, as we look over the babbling stream, surrounded by summer flowers and ornamental grasses.
Sarah says she works by eye and colour, putting plants and shrubs together like she's painting a picture.
Every year, the couple open up their grounds as part of the National Garden Scheme and have raised nearly £10,000 for charity.
"We've got to share the garden," says Robbie. "How mean of us would it be if we didn't?"
Visitors come and go here at a steady rate, including friends and family.
The couple have three daughters, Natasha, 35, Jessie, 32, and Polly, 25, plus two grandchildren, aged 10 and seven. Life is rarely quiet for long but there are still moments of silent reflection.
"When you wake up in the morning and the sun's streaming through the bedroom window, I mean, honestly," says Robbie, wistfully. "Aren't we lucky?"
SHARING THE GARDEN
Robbie and Sarah enjoy showing people around their beautifully maintained garden, which is divided onto different 'rooms' of planting schemes.
Rustic steps take you up a steep bank behind the house, which provides stunning views of Sarah's hard work.
"I just love gardening," she says. "As the children got older, I ended up doing more and more and now I do their gardens."
Robbie says it's about using the landscape. "The only way you'll get anything back from Dartmoor is by giving to it," he says. "You have to put something in to the community, whether that's the garden or whatever you end up doing. It makes you feel part of it."
STUDIO AND WORKSHOP
Artist Sarah has many of her brightly coloured acrylic paintings, prints and cards on show in her garden studio.
Around the lawn are some 'Made by Robbie' metal artefacts. Robbie has been a farrier for more than 45 years and has a workshop just across the lawn.
Around ten years ago, he set up a 'barefoot' practice, where horses' hooves, through nutrition, condition and trimming require no shoes.
Robbie is also the founder of a garden game, called Crolf. A blend of croquet and golf, a national tournament is held every year, attracting players from all over the world.
As well as all this, Robbie has found time to star in the TV series Jam and Jerusalem and French and Saunders. Robbie's brother, Peter, founded the Comic Strip troupe of performers, which launched the careers of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, and Alexei Sayle.
Much of the kitchen and dining room furniture at Greatcombe has been handcrafted by Robbie, using wood and metal.
The dining room table was made from a piece of walnut tree, which was due to be burned. The deformities in the wood have been filled with resin, making them into a feature.
In the kitchen, a cooker has been made by welding a new top onto a Dean Forge woodburner. "It works a treat," says Robbie.