Back to grass roots

PUBLISHED: 11:03 25 November 2014 | UPDATED: 11:03 25 November 2014

Old Hall Darsham

Old Hall Darsham


A shared love of animals and farming led Jude and Paul Rylott to their magnificent period home at Darsham

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

“Little did we know,” says Jude Rylott, “until Paul and I met some 13 years ago, that our lives and career paths over the preceding years were running in parallel. I was showing Paul a copy of Farmers Weekly, in which I was in a main feature, when he pointed out that he was in the other main feature on the opposite page.”

“Certainly our paths have been very similar,” comments Paul, “but with one notable exception – my time as a rock star.”

Jude was born near Swindon. Her father was a construction engineer and the family moved to Norfolk, first to North Walsham, then near Dereham, where her father bought land and barns for the storage of his steel stock.

The seeds were sown at an early age. Jude loved the animals they kept, which included ducks, chickens, goats, and cats. After A-levels she got a job at the Plant Breeding Institute Cambridge, then went to agricultural college at Seale Hayne in Devon. With a BSc in agriculture Jude began her career as an agronomist with SC Banks at Sandy in Bedfordshire. After 10 years she moved back to her roots in Norfolk, to AgrEvo as area business manager.

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

Paul came from generations of farmers and was brought up on the family farm in Lincolnshire.

“Unlike many of my contemporaries, who on leaving education went on to the family farms, I wanted to plough my own furrow,” he says. “Initially I wanted to be a rock star, so with bright blue hair, from the age of 16 to 21 I was keyboard player with a group called Grass Roots. We were a heavy rock band, who modelled ourselves on Lynyrd Skynd.”

They played pubs and had a great time, but admits Paul, were never destined to appear at the O2 Arena.

“I went to Edinburgh University to study plant physiology. At 29 it dawned on me that really I had been a student too long. So, looking through Farming Weekly I saw a job as an agronomist for Dalgety, near Burford.” Paul was then offered the post of marketing manager for the company’s seed business in Bury St Edmunds and found his niche.

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

Jude’s and Paul’s paths crossed as a result of company mergers, when they found themselves working for Bayer. “After several bottles of wine and lots of chatting about shared interests, the rest, as they say, is history,” says Paul. “That was the evening Jude showed me that feature of her in Farmers Weekly.”

“Our first home together,” says Jude “was a period timber framed house built around 1420, reputed to be the oldest in Long Melford.” Then, in 2004, Paul was made redundant.

“To clear my brain, Jude and I went in April 2004, to Peru for a month,” says Paul. “We saw, amongst other things, the alpacas and bought some jumpers. However, on our return, if I was totally honest I still could not decide what to do. Seeing a magazine feature concerning a couple in the west country who had started an alpaca farm, spurred us on.”

Jude immediately realised that as animal lovers with a shared love of farming they could do it.

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

“We rented land from Sir Richard Hyde Parker, of Melford Hall, who was extremely supportive, and in 2010 Paul won breeder of the year. But we needed more land. Trying to buy a small farm in Suffolk or Norfolk is very difficult, so we turned our attentions to residential period properties with 70-80 acres. When we saw the details of Darsham Old Hall, we were immediately attracted.”

The Old Hall dates from 1150 and the current house has 13th century origins. In 1611 the Old Hall was purchased by Sir Thomas Bedingfield and his wife Dorothy of Flemmings Hall, in Bedingfield, and the family coat of arms is still evident on the south wall above the veranda.

Jude and Paul bought the hall in December 2010 and are growing their prize-winning pedigree alpaca herd in Darsham. It now totals 130, with breeding stock being sold both in the UK and internationally.

“In 2012,” says Jude, “I decided I wanted to leave my job, for a total change of direction, the obvious choice, having so much space, was to start an exclusive bed and breakfast.

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

“We now have three spacious bedrooms, each with en suite, and a complete self contained suite on the second floor. My inspiration for the design of each was to bring out the history of the property, so each bedroom has a different theme. The property and grounds allow everyone space to breathe – so essential in this busy world.”

Guests can enjoy a walk by the pond, or a seat there to watch the wildlife, a walk in the new rose garden and, perhaps, tea on the veranda, overlooking the alpacas in the fields beyond.

Further afield are the beaches of Dunwich and Walberswick, Southwold and Aldeburgh.

“My own special pastime is a ride in Dunwich forest,” says Jude, “just me and my horse. By luck, our favourite pub is our local, The Darsham Fox where Nell and Brian are so friendly and definitely go the extra mile, so we have no qualms recommending it to guests.

Old Hall DarshamOld Hall Darsham

“We are both thoroughly enjoying our new lives.”

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