I think the imaginativeness of the design is what always gets me. So many different ideas come together to make it such a habitable place.

23rd November 2023
Hi Duncan. It’s so great to see this house in person. It’s lovely.

When we got this, the owner had had it for a while but wasn’t living in it. She’d rented it and it was looking a bit shabby and the whole thing was incredibly gloomy. So, the first thing we did was put down solid wood floor

It’s a lovely addition. And such an inviting view out there to the garden as well.

In the cottage we lived in before, we had a really big garden. I worked as a soft fruit grower on a really big scale and I’d always been used to gardening. Took a horticulture course at uni and all the rest of it. So, when we moved here I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this miserable little postage stamp?’ There was one plant in the garden and the rest of it was grass. So, the first thing I did, was dig the whole garden up and then crammed it with all the plants that I like. And in the digging up, I found a cannon ball.

Did you actually?

The Battle of Langport was the last battle in the civil war. The Royalists were chased over the river by the Parliamentarians and this was the crossing point. So it didn’t come as any surprise that I found a stone cannonball only a few inches down when I dug the lawn up.

Well, the garden looks beautiful now.

Yes, I wanted to try and extend the full feel of it, by keeping the boundary low so that you looked across the plants and into the shared garden, so you’re not really aware of quite how big the garden is. It is in fact incredibly small.

It’s stunning though. How much time do you spend in your garden now?

I spent quite a lot of time designing it – I know it doesn’t look designed but in the winter there’s a structure there that reappears – and then I just potter. I help run the communal garden too, which is quite a bit of work, but quite honestly after 35 years growing fruit, I’m happy to just potter and not do too much really.

How about this living space here, how much do you use this?

Well, this is wonderful. Doors are flung open. We eat out there in the summer all the time. It’s just a lovely light, airy space. You know, when we first saw this, we thought ‘Oh my God. Are we really getting all this, for this money?’ Only £280k in 2017.

When it was first sold in 2005, it was £285k. They put so much money into the technology, so it didn’t recoup initially, and I think there was resistance in the market because it was so unique. So, this house was on the market for quite a while before it sold. I think it’d be completely different now.

I think so too. And so how do you use the space now? Do you entertain much?

We’ve partied quite a bit here. Jill and I turned 70 just before we moved, so we said let’s have a 70th celebration in the communal garden. We had 70 friends come to the garden and just opened everything up. We had a BBQ. There was music. Then we got the boat onto the river. We said, ‘Go and explore the river, there’s a boat running all afternoon’.

You know how to throw a party don’t you.

People couldn’t believe it. They said, ‘Oh wow, this has got so much to offer.’ It’s like it was made for it really.

What do you think is your favourite part of the design?

I think the imaginativeness of the design is what always gets me. So many different ideas come together to make it such a habitable place. And I think the position on the river too. When we saw that for the first time, we said, ‘Oh we’ve got to live here’. I mean, how many houses can boast a view like that?

The views are fantastic. What’s your favourite space in the house?

It varies really. It’s great to have so many different spaces to read. This room is so quiet and the aspect is so nice. Downstairs, I read in the morning sometimes. It’s nice to read down there. The bedroom on the other side has got a completely different view so you can sit up in bed and read.

Do you use the house differently in summer as opposed to winter?

Yeah, we tend to be cloistered downstairs in that main room in the winter months. It’s very, very snug. When the lights are low, it looks so inviting from the bridge. When the leaves come off the trees and you look across and you see these houses, you could be in Denmark. It just looks so beautiful.

Do you notice a rhythm of life here? Do weekdays feel different to weekends, for instance?

The river gets incredibly busy at the weekends. On summer evenings, the Cubs and the Scouts all come down here and they’re all on the water. There’s a lot of noise and chatter. It’s lovely, actually. In the winter, we get the anglers. It’s how I came here originally; I was a fisherman, so I knew the river well.

That’s such an interesting first connection with the place.

Once I was up here ironing and looking down at a guy on the river. I thought, ‘He’s onto a decent fish there’. I could see the rod straining like mad. So, I dropped everything and raced over to help him land it because the banks are very steep. I got the net underneath a 19-pound pike. He had five off that one spot that afternoon. That was the biggest one of the lot.

My neighbour, Beth, used to wild swim in the river and I’d say, ‘Are you sure about that Beth – did you see the pike that came out?’ And she’d say, ‘What pike?!!’

You would know a 19 pounder if one nibbled your toe wouldn’t you? Is swimming popular here?

People get in all the time yeah. You often see a group of ladies going down the river, chattering to each other and towing these orange things behind them. They even swim in November with their bobble hats and wetsuits on.

As a fruit grower and angler, it sounds like you’ve got a connection to the natural world. Has living here changed anything about how you live your life?

Living here coincided with retiring. My career was very, very full on. From April to the end of October, I was on a seven-day week so I didn’t know what weekends were for years. So, coming here and having free time was lovely.

I had that in the old cottage too for a while. The thing was, when we retired into that cottage, it was like living in God’s waiting room. Everybody living around was of a certain age. There was no sense of community. They were behind their curtains and living a life that was completely cut off.
We came here and probably the biggest thing we noticed was this sense of community. We never bargained for that. We just thought we were buying an architecturally interesting house in a wonderful position. We really love the close community here and I think the design and shaping of the houses really encourages us all to come together.

Did you get a sense of community when you first looked around?

No, we didn’t. And we weren’t particularly looking for that. People were just so helpful when we came to buy the place and that’s when we began to get a sense that there was more to the place than just the buildings and the location.

I love that. So, is there anything that you would change about the house?

There are one or two things. The storage was very poor. That’s one thing my partner complained about. Somebody said to us, “A woman would never have designed a space like this. It’s a man’s space”.

The other thing is the big window. Looks fantastic. Wouldn’t be without it but it’s an absolute nightmare to clean. I have a device with an electric motor and extending pole. You have to teeter on ladders with it. And because the place has so much wood, we are beset by spiders.

That’s why it’s so good to come back to a place after it’s been lived in for some time. You notice these smaller details.

Yes, and they’re just tiny niggles compared to the positives.

So how do you clean the outside then. Do they have someone come around to do it?

Finally, we found a set of window cleaners that weren’t daunted by it. But it costs a lot so we only really clean twice a year outside. It’s great though, we’re able to discuss any maintenance issues amongst each other because the houses are all very similar. That kind of exchanging of information is quite useful.

Great. So last question, do you have a favourite memory of living here?

I think it’s got to be the parties in the garden. Party central. That is in the ambience of the buildings and the garden and everything. The parties and the people.

Duncan, thank you. It’s been really amazing to see your house and chat to you.

It’s been great. I was really looking forward to meeting you and hearing your questions. You’ve made us really think about where we live which is something we tend to take for granted.