So Little Time So Many Loggias and Verandahs
The road from Skipton narrows and meanders as it heads deep into the Yorkshire Dales. Dry stone walls lining the road open in places to reveal the River Wharfe. Curious sheep and goats ignore the Green Cross Code. Pheasants scurry and rabbits run for cover. All creatures very great and very small. Hubberholme is the last hamlet to pass through on the journey. The George Inn, dating back to the 17th century, looks across the River Wharfe to St Michael and All Angels Church which is half a millennium older. The road further narrows and meanders even more. The valleys deepen and the mountains get steeper.
Finally, a tantalising glimpse is caught of Oughtershaw Hall nestling in Langstrothdale Chase before it disappears again back into the woodland. A country kilometre later along the road, slick new timber gates open into a pristine entrance forecourt. This house and estate are where heritage and luxury meet. A plateau of lawns aprons the house. The garden front overlooks the wooded ravine of Oughtershaw Beck, a subsidiary of the River Wharfe. Purple copper beach and Japanese barbery along with red European beech and Japanese maple stand out amongst the greenery of horse chestnut and elephant ear. Even the stone pigsty in the field opposite the entrance is of picturesque appearance.
This regal country house is the jewel in the crown of Catch the Breeze Retreats self-catering company. In the 1850s London wine merchant Basil George Woodd transformed an older house into a grand shooting lodge designed in a neo Jacobethan style. His son Charles further enhanced the house and estate. Just in case the visitor is in any doubt of its providence, dates and initials and inscriptions are all around. ‘BCW NON NOBIS 1851’ in the stone lintel over the entrance door off the garden front verandah. On a stone frieze across the garden front incorporating Latin from the Psalms: ‘1863 NON NOBIS GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS MINE INHERITANCE CHLW + WHEREFORE LET THERE BE SUNG NON NOBIS AND TE DEUM COME LOVE AND HEALH TO ALL WELCOME AS THE FLOWERS IN SPRING C+JW 1873’. And ‘1874’ on a drainpipe and the weathervane. It’s as if the father and son were in competition for who could put their mark on the building most. In true Victorian style, stained glass windows incorporate Woodd family heraldry and the coats of arms of the related Sole and Mitton families.
Rewind a few centuries and Charles I was rumoured to have stayed at Oughtershaw Hall. “This area was known as The King’s Hunting Ground,” says the house manager Ben Hart, “and in 1241 it was recorded as being called Huctredale. A Woodd ancestor allegedly accompanied the king to his execution. ‘Shaw’ is derived from an old English word meaning wooded area.” Rewind a few millennia and Ben confirms there are the remains of a Stone Age settlement at the top of the field beyond the pigsty.
The London Gazette, 9 March, 1894, states, “Charles Henry Lardner Woodd. Diseased. Notice is hereby given that all persons having any claims against the estate of Charles Henry Lardner Woodd Esquire, a partner in the firm of Messrs Basil Woodd and Sons, of 34 and 35 New Bond Street, Wine Merchants, and late of Roslyn House, Hampstead, Middlesex, and Oughtershaw Hall, Skipton, Yorkshire, (who died on 15 December 1893, and whose will was proved on 22 February 1894 by the Reverend Trevor Basil Woodd and Charles Hampden Basil Woodd Esquires, the executors), are hereby required to send in the particulars of their claims to the said executors, at Roslyn House, Hampstead, on or before 8 April 1894.”
Hilda Christie writes in A Schoolmarm’s Reminiscences, 1955, “At Oughtershaw Hall lives the Reverend T B Woodd, a very dear old parson. He once gave us a most interesting lantern lecture on missionary work in India. Once every summer we all spent a day with him at his home, taking our own food and being provided with liquid refreshment. We tried to pick a fine day, never setting off in the rain. Those who know the Dales will recollect how quickly the weather can change; one can be drenched in no time on those hills!”
She continues, “What treasures he showed us! He was a descendent of Captain Basil Woodd, who was with King Charles I when he was on his way to his execution. Reverend Woodd had, amongst his most treasured possessions, a gauntlet worn by Kings Charles I. He had too a lock of John Hampden’s hair but, as a very keen Jacobite, he seemed rather ashamed of this. His dining room was full of ‘exhibits’ having a 17th century fireplace, in addition to suits of armour and ancient weapons, most of them belonging to his ancestors.” Ben remembers the last lady of the manor having retreated to living with her cats mainly in the largest reception room.
An old faded photograph of the house shows how little has changed externally: the only difference is there was once a conservatory built into the slope down to Oughtershaw Beck. No architect has been identified for the rebuilding of the second half of the 19th century. The many inscriptions would suggest the Woodds gentlemen may have had a helping hand in the design. In a common country house occurrence, the older house became the servants’ quarters. Thicker walls and vertical sash windows differentiate it from the later blocks with their Elizabethan style casement windows. The entrance front is an asymmetrical arrangement of adjoining wings. Set at a perpendicular angle to the entrance front, the elevation overlooking the ravine displays the ‘near symmetry’ beloved of Arts and Crafts practitioners. The entrance hall door behind the loggia is off-centre; the corners of the drawing room bay window are chamfered, the dining room bay is fully rectangular. Otherwise the garden elevation is symmetrical.
The original dining room is so large it now includes a full sized sitting room furnished with sofas plumped high with cushions in purple fabrics matching the hues of the trees outside. Hectares of curtains flow luxuriantly down onto the timber floors. “As many original items in the house as possible were retained,” explains Ben pointing to a long oak dining table engraved with ‘C W 1876’. There’s a row of servants’ bells in the kitchen ‘Drawing Room, Dining Hall, Morning Room, South Room, Middle Room, C Woodd’s Room, Bishop’s Room’. A carved wooden cupboard door set into the dining room wall opens to reveal a shuttered spyhole into the loggia – one way of checking what guests are arriving.
All the reception rooms have open fires or wood burning stoves. “Sustainable heating is provided by ground source pumps,” Ben confirms. “Local stone was used for the restoration and extension. The house is insulated with double glazed windows. The Yorkshire Dales are very seasonal and constantly changing. Spring is pretty special, and summer is full of color in the landscape. In winter we can get snow drifts. The house is open all year round for short stays except January when it is closed.”
There are eight bedrooms upstairs in various wings. The principal bedroom with its super king size bed, bathroom and dressing room forms a private suite. White marble bathrooms by Fired Earth are piled high with thick white towels. The most dramatic contemporary intervention is the swimming pool in the former coach and stable block. The pool is raised a couple of metres up from ground level meaning swimmers can gaze out the glazed arches into the forecourt – another way to spy on guests arriving. It is a double height space open to a beamed ceiling. Clive and Lynne Sykes, the owners of Catch the Breeze Retreats, have carefully integrated the swimming pool complex into the main house by inserting a discreet extension linking it to the former servants’ wing. There’s a sauna in an old cloakroom space.
Further along the road is the hamlet of Oughtershaw. The Old Schoolhouse has been transformed into Ruskin Hostel. Its listing states, “Coursed limestone and gritstone blocks in contrasting bands, graduated stone slate roof. A rectangular single storey building with three windows on the south side and an entrance bay on the east end. East end: a massive round arch of two orders, with imposts and drip moulding, provides a full height porch. Inside is a shouldered arched board double door with large strap hinges decorated with elaborate leaf motifs. Flanking attached columns support the arch with contrasting coloured voussoirs and the tympanum below has a chi-rho symbol in relief and inscription: ‘LYDIA WILSON WOODD AT PAU 16 JUNE 1856 AGED 32.’” Lydia was Charles Woodd’s first wife.
The building was also used as a meeting house for a rural Methodist congregation. The Woodds were involved in charitable endeavours with true Victorian fervour. The Old Schoolhouse is strongly associated with art critic John Ruskin who visited this area as a guest of Charles Woodd. The architecture incorporates Ruskinian ideas such as horizontal bands of masonry imitating geological layers and deep recessed arched openings. Opposite The Old Schoolhouse is a building known as The Reading Rooms. Dating back to at least the 18th century, this is Catch the Breeze Retreats’ latest portfolio addition. A dash of colour amongst all this stone is the red telephone box for emergencies.
But the only emergency is to get back to that terrace at Oughtershaw Hall for a glass of Ribeauvillé Riesling as the sun sets.