Belle Grove Barns
PUBLISHED: 13:02 09 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:03 09 January 2017
An exotic collection of barns near Halesworth is inspired by owners’ travels in Asia. Words and images by Tony Hall
Nick Fisher and Jo Jordan own a quirky new-build house, complete with dragon curling around the chimney, in the depths of north Suffolk. It’s something of a local landmark and has featured in this magazine. But this time we’re visiting the equally imaginative conversion of the barns on their farm, Belle Grove, at Westhall near Halesworth.
“Being so close to the old Holton Airfield,” explains Nick, “the barns and outbuildings were damaged during World War II. Government reparation regulations meant that they had to be rebuilt to the original size and footprint despite the fact that farm machinery was already getting larger.” These were the buildings destined to become Belle Grove Barns.
Some background. At 19 years old, Nick took the overland trail to India and, later on, joined a long haul trip across Africa. Seeing an opportunity, he started his own five-month trans-Africa camping safaris. Jo was one of his very first passengers, and together they formed Hobo Trans Africa Expeditions, later Truck Africa.
Over 28 years they grew the company, Nick fitting in farming and Jo her legal work, while self-building a house in Africa. Much of their life is described in Jo’s book, African Approaches: Roads to a Far-Off Place.
“It was a very exciting period,” she recalls. “Although it had its dangers, such journeys through the Sahara, West Africa and the Congo would be much more difficult nowadays, if not impossible.” They also enjoyed travelling in other parts of the world, notably the Middle and Far East.
In due course, Nick inherited the farm from his father. Driven to diversify, he applied for permission to convert the outbuildings into holiday lets.
“As many other farms were doing likewise,” continues Jo, “we had to up our game, so planned to offer a ‘different’ experience by taking inspiration from our travels.” In between Trans-Africa and farming commitments, Nick undertook various building projects, mainly converting interesting old buildings, such as the award-winning warehouses in Halesworth known as Wellington Court.
So, as Nick says: “I had built up a miscellany of old materials and was able to incorporate these into the barn conversions. We started the work in 2006 and opened for business in 2008.” The five barns – Upper Barn, Coach House, Granary, Stable and Gate House – are entirely different in character, each reflecting Nick’s and Jo’s treasure trove of objects from different places.
Colourful and sumptuous exotic fabrics blend with a collection of old doors and furniture, artefacts and rugs, many sourced from Rajasthan.
Around every corner is a surprise. It’s almost bewildering to know where next to look. But the eclectic effect is balanced by 21st century facilities – modern kitchen appliances, en suite bathrooms with digital showers, underfloor heating, wood burning stoves and, always, great attention to detail.
Each barn also has a private walled garden as well as access to the whole site, which borders farmland and a small lake. Nick loves to create additions to the mise en scene, the current project being an octagonal camera obscura by the lake.
Each barn is so different – one room that particularly appeals to me is the living area of the Upper Barn with its chunky stone fireplace and, on the mantel, a splendid painting of cavalrymen of the 10th Hussars in India c1880. Very grand. Overlooking its own separate garden room, the barn sleeps six in three bedrooms.
The painting prompted Jo’s strapline on the website, ‘a Touch of the Raj’, whereas the Stable, sleeping two in the total luxury of its unique deep blue bedroom and gold painted four-poster, became a ‘Mughal jewel box.’
Another room that caught my eye was the blue bedroom with four-poster in the Coach House. This building sleeps four, and, inspired by decorative doors sourced in Bali, is dubbed an ‘Indonesian idyll’. The Granary, in a nod to its wonderful Chinese beds, has been ‘Brushed by the Orient’. Sleeping two, the honeymoon favourite, the Gate House, rejoices in the play on words of ‘Romancing the East’. Rich colours, wonderful fabrics – what a place to spend the night.
Rajasthan, means The Land of the Kings. The barns certainly echo the glamour of potentates.
“It is becoming very much a destination in its own right,” says Jo. “It also appeals to all ages. Apart from the styling, guests love the high level of comfort, as well as walking round the grounds making new discoveries. People also comment on the peace and quiet.”
The location may seem remote, but in fact it’s only two miles from Halesworth, a proper market town with a good range of independently owned shops and cafes. Walberswick and Southwold are only 15-20 minutes drive away and a beach hut styled with Jo’s and Nick’s hallmark quirkiness is available for guest use.
I know it’s an impossible task, but I ask Jo for her own preferences.
“It’s truly difficult to choose a favourite room,” she says, “each is so different. I admit to being especially pleased with the Gate House bedroom and bathroom. Don’t ask me to name a favourite object though!”
Hunting down intriguing items is still very much in their blood, so rather than conventional shopping, they tend to haunt Gaze’s Diss auction rooms and Clarke & Simpson at Campsea Ashe for stand out pieces. They are still tempted by overseas acquisitions though, having just returned from Samarkand where they found some lovely silk on silk embroidered textiles. I ask Jo if she has time for a hobby.
“I guess this business is my hobby as projects on the ground keep us occupied plus the writing, my new memoir about the creation of Belle Grove house and barns, Beyond Dragons: an Architectural Romance, is due out soon. But my favourite waste of time is staring into the fire, glass of wine in hand. Bliss.”
To contact Jo at Belle Barns