Sweetbriar Dreams

So where shall we go on our journey today?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

My Old Essex Cottage

Oh happy days!  I have just over a week's break to look forward to.  Catching up with old friends, spending quality time with my kids, getting ready for the little ones knocking on the door at Halloween, Becky's 13th birthday and...decorating!  Yes the time has come to stop thinking about it and getting on and doing it!

I have been researching, cutting out, imagining and now the time has come to get the paintbrushes out and start transforming three of my rooms, namely the main bedroom, lounge and dining room.  I am a bit trepidacious about the whole thing, which is strange for me as we spent seven years doing up a run down 16th century cottage a few years ago and loved every moment of it.  We then moved to a new house, for a bit of a break really, and have now been here for ten years!  Yes, we painted a couple of times, but half heartedly as I have never really settled here, but now it needs to show that it has had some love given to it before it goes on the market next year.

We still look back at that lovely cottage and wonder why we gave it up, which is simple really as it would have been too small now with a growing family.  The walks, the easy access to London, Braintree, Stansted and Chelmsford, the rolling countryside, the cottage garden that we created, the smell of wood burning in the Autumn and Winter, the wildlife...I could go on and on.  It was a place that truly stole my heart and my mind.  A place where I felt totally comfortable with life and my surroundings.

As you come down the lane this used to be the sight that would greet you.
A more modern photo of Van Gogh Cottage on the left, our cottage and then no. 4

The hamlet was between Great Bardfield and Finchingfield (famous for its duck pond) and we would often have cyclists and walkers taking photos as they went on their journeys through the Essex countryside.

The work that we put in to the Cottage was enormous.  It was a run down shell really with weeds and huge trees for a garden but as soon as the Estate Agent took us in I fell in love.  It was a step back in time.  One of the cottages still didn't have running water and instead old Tom from Vine Cottage took what he needed from a well in his garden.  There was also an old bake house that was shared between the four cottages in the olden days.  To reach the cottages you had to go down a single country track for about a mile before you turned a corner and there we were, back to a simpler way of life.

We tackled the garden first as this was 'pre-child' days, and set about creating an old English cottage garden.
We had a third of an acre of garden which when we first moved there one Christmas, it was overgrown with weeds but had mature trees (with a couple of preservation orders amongst them), along with a woodland area at the bottom of the garden. We set to work on the main garden first and decided that we would then concentrate on the house, well this was pre-kids time. This took a lot of time and effort with my hubby digging out a huge duck pond and then he created a further pond in the wood which led on to his creation of a meandering stream down to the main pond with lots of waterfalls as it went down. This was going to be harder than we thought as where the pond was dug there used to be a flint path where the old farmer used to walk his cattle into the neighbouring field. We found all sorts of booty down in the ground such as old bottles, farm equipment, forks and spoons. Then our lovely neighbours donated old carpets and rugs to soften the sides before the pond liner went down.

It looked beautiful once done and so tranquil and then joy of joys! We had visitors, we called them Dilly and Daffy and they were regular visitors for about three years, even building a nest in the middle of the pond.

Down near the bottom of the garden was a wood to the right and to the left just a slope and a store for wood for the log burning stove.  So, we decided that the slope could be leveled with the help of the local farmer and we would create our vegetable plot there.  The community spirit there was wonderful, and after asking the farmer whether it would be feasible to do this in that area of the garden he said he would look into it.  Well, one day after a hard time in work, we both came back to the garden with the area leveled, manured, and rotavated!  He was truly a wonderful man.

I spent many hours sowing old heritage seeds to make sure that the plants were old and authentic.  My greenhouse was right next door to my lovely neighbours Harold and Kathy, and we spent so much time chatting and swapping plants that it didn't feel long at all.

And, while all this was going on, my hubby was still busy digging the additional pond up in the wooded area that would be linked to the main pond, creating the waterfalls going down the slope.   Unbelievably hard work, but beautifully done and natural in the end.

The cottage itself went through quite a transformation.  The thatch didn't really need doing for a few more years so we mainly concentrated on repainting and filling in cracks on the outside walls and then started inside.  One of the main things that sold the cottage to us was the kitchen.  It was an extension to the cottage but had been done sympathetically with old beams and a gorgeous warm Aga.  So lovely to snuggle on a chair next to one of these with the cats on a winter's day.  My hubby decided to build a pergola outside the extension so that we could also sit outside if the Aga became too warm!

The work continued throughout the cottage, along came the kids, the kids grew up in an exciting environment (often with Harold shouting out that he could see my Luke up a tree...again!), the kids get older, the cottage gets smaller and then it is time to move on.  We decided to move to a newer property so we could have a bit of a break...and we have now been in Lincolnshire for ten years!!

So, now out comes the paintbrushes again, the freshness of new paint, new colours, new fabrics, new pictures on the wall and time to move on again...where to next??!!

Oh, and the name of my wonderful old Essex cottage...Sweetbriar.  Somewhere where I felt comfortable, at peace with myself and my surroundings.  A place which will be forever in my heart, soul and mind.  Very Very Happy Days!!


  1. What a beautiful cottage, so much like my dream home....and looks like it even has the stable door! I'm going to have to wait for a major lottery win before I can have one of those! :D

    1. That's why we bought it as a run down shell. Couldn't possibly afford now :o)

  2. What a lovely post. The cottage looks beautiful. I hope you manage to find another dream home when you move. Modern homes are all very practical, but they don't have much soul do they? I love the photos of your walks and the greenhouse makeover was a great idea. xx

  3. I loved reading this post about all the hard work you did. Our house isn't anywhere near as picturesque and the garden not so pretty but we spent over five years renovating our three story Victorian terrace. Now we are finishing off things we didn't get round to (because we had a baby) as well as general maintenance. We enjoyed it bit now to be honest I would be happy if I never saw another toolbox again! x

  4. There is such romance in the idea of having a thatched cottage with roses and more in the garden. My mind is drifting away at the thought. I'd still like to return to England and rent a cottage in some picturesque place.

  5. What a beautiful story to tell. I totally get the need to move on. I currently am living in an 1800's Victorian home. The projects are unending...I. too, am planning to move on in the next year. Hopefully to something less demanding. I look forward to each days' post during Advent.


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