There has probably been a farm of one sort or another on site for hundreds of years. Nick’s family took over the farm in 1960. ‘Belle Grove’ is identified on old Ordnance Survey maps but there is little clue as to why it has this not-very-Suffolk name.
Back in the 1960′s, the farm was mixed, the family keeping a dairy herd but later converting to fully arable (wheat & sugar beet). There was insufficient work on the farm to keep Nick gainfully occupied around the year as well as his father so he diversified into running long haul Trans Africa Overland Expeditions (5+ months overland from Suffolk to East / South Africa camping all the way). Jo met him when she booked on his first ‘departure’ in 1974 and the rest, as they say, is history.
We ran African trips in one form and another (as Hobo Trans Africa Expeditions and, later, as Truck Safaris Africa – see Book page) for the best part of 30 years and the farm outbuildings came in very useful for storing equipment and building up the expedition vehicles from scratch.
In the mid 2000’s we disposed of the travel business and turned to wondering how the outbuildings could continue to earn their keep. That is when we came up with the idea of holiday lets. Rural Grant Schemes were so hedged about with conditions and bureaucracy that we self-financed the rather ambitious project in its entirety.
To add interest to the landscape and encourage wildlife we excavated two large ponds. The ensuing mud initially gave the place a sense of the battlefields of the Somme but it was delightful observing the ponds fill with rainwater, the banks gradually colonised by teasels, grasses and willows, the margins by reeds and bulrushes and the water itself by many creatures including water voles, dragonflies and newts.
The outbuildings were of little architectural merit and full planning permission for the ‘cottage’ conversions followed. The brickwork was relatively new and robust, bound by cement as opposed to the older lime mortar and utilitarian rather than attractive: this is because the buildings were hit by a stray bomb during WW2 (there were a lot of airfields around East Anglia which were targeted, including the USAAF base at nearby Holton) and rebuilt: ironically, the only way to qualify for government reparations was to rebuild exactly what had been there before. In other words, Victorian outbuildings designed for horses and carts (and therefore already redundant), had to be rebuilt as such. Plus ça change!
Clearing decades-worth of farm machinery, tools, rubber tyres, Trans-Africa equipment and goodness knows what from the outbuildings took many months. Only then could we stand back to see what we’d got. Which wasn’t very inspiring!
This is where Nick’s vision and skill at finding the perfect use for recycled materials came into its own, his hard-working Polish workforce only occasionally side-lined by vodka…
The actual conversions took about 18 months, Belle Grove opening for business in the summer of 2008.