The Windmill in Bradbourne - how a old water mill was transformed into luxury accommodation
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 January 2020
The ancient village of Bradbourne, near Ashbourne, is mentioned in Domesday Book and its restored watermill is considered the oldest surviving in the county. Owners Sandy and David Potter have now turned it into luxury self-catering accommodation
An old water mill in Bradbourne has been transformed into luxury self-catering accommodation. Arranged over three floors, the old mill workings have been preserved to create a unique space for up to 16 guests to relax in a place that promises a home-from-home.
Bradbourne Mill is a collection of four 300-year-old properties on a 15 acre site now owned by Sandy and David Potter. The former miller's house is the family home whilst the outbuildings, where the miller would have stabled his horses and stored machinery, have been turned into luxury holiday lets - Tissington Ford Barn and Waterside Barn.
When the opportunity came to purchase the nearby Water Mill last year - 12 years after Sandy and David had bought their first property at Bradbourne Mill - it felt as if the missing piece of the jigsaw had finally slotted into place. Sandy says, 'To us The Water Mill is the jewel in the crown and all the properties are now united as they used to be years ago.'
The current water mill was built in 1726 and is the oldest working example in Derbyshire, replacing a previous water mill that dated from the 1450s. Sandy says, 'It was the ideal location for a water mill as it's where Haven Brook meets Bradbourne Brook.'
However, transforming the Grade II listed property into five star holiday accommodation took time. Although the building had already been restored, there was still much to do. Sandy and David worked all hours of the day and brought in numerous specialists to encapsulate the history and turn the property into a perfect destination for guests. They also brought the 300-year-old waterwheel back into operation. Although the mill race is no longer in use, the wheels can still be turned using the water from the upper and lower mill ponds.
Having always had a keen interest in interior design, Sandy created a spacious contemporary feel to the property whilst retaining its rich history. She says, 'All of our properties are heavily beamed. We have low beams as well as high and vaulted ceilings. I thought it was very important to create a fresh feel so we painted the walls white to bounce off the light and to show off the oak beams and mill workings.' Sandy complemented this with a neutral colour palette of grey, cream, linen and duck egg blue that she felt represented the landscape of the Peak District.
The walls are set off with historical paintings and drawings as well as botanical and animal prints, reflecting the natural area together with Bradbourne Mill's farming heritage, whilst chandeliers hanging from the vaulted ceilings give an air of country grandeur.
When designing the Water Mill's interior Sandy wanted to ensure that the historic features of the exposed beams and mill workings led the design. One of the luxury bedroom suites showcases the inner mechanisms of the mill and in the kitchen the bespoke table, benches and chairs are all made from reclaimed oak wood in keeping with the period.
However, it was designing the living room that posed the greatest challenge. Whilst the original holiday lets have traditional style sofas this was simply not an option here as the room contained the original grain hoppers and grindstones. Instead Sandy opted for modular furniture to ensure that 16 people can be comfortably seated whilst the mill workings take centre stage.
A second sociable area is the Champagne Bar where the internal workings on the basement floor can be viewed - now aptly named The Observatory. This is where sacks of flour would have been filled and weighed and Sandy reflects this with an industrial style of design by her choice of tables, bar stools and lighting. It's the perfect place for hosting wine tastings, tapas nights, cocktail parties and murder mystery evenings, all of which can be organised for guests.
The Observatory also provides more insight into Bradbourne Mill's history with framed newspaper cuttings and information researched from national archives. Sandy says, 'We've put these in the Champagne Bar area so it feels as though you're entering a gallery.'
Managing their properties is a full-time family business. Daughter Sophie has recently taken an active role in the business as property manager, dealing with all aspects of the bookings and front of house, whilst Sandy is responsible for the administration and accounts, and David oversees property maintenance and carries out any DIY that needs doing.
Many of the guests who book The Water Mill are celebrating special occasions such as birthdays, engagements, wedding anniversaries and baby showers. Family get-togethers are popular, as are school and university reunions, not least because Derbyshire is an ideal meeting point when guests are travelling from all over the country. Sandy says, 'By staying here people can be part of history and a lot of our guests who come are genuinely interested in the Industrial Revolution because they can literally touch and feel the history that is just beneath their fingertips.'
Keen to create the ultimate Peak District experience, a welcome pack is provided containing locally sourced food and drink products. With the heating already turned up, lamps lit and the hot tub bubbling away, guests are made to feel at home as soon as they walk through the door. Sandy says, 'We ensure the cottages are warm, scented and feel beautiful as soon as anyone enters. We want our guests to think "wow!"'
The careful attention to detail, which is evident throughout the whole property, extends to the customer service where nothing is too much to ask for. Sandy says, 'It's the little touches that can make a big difference to people's holidays. For example, my husband received a text message at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve from one of our guests who wanted to build her son's bike for the next day - only she didn't have a spanner! David immediately went over with one and our guest was over the moon!'
Prior to her career in the tourism industry, Sandy ran her own IT company but when she became a single parent she wanted a job that she could fit around bringing up her children. She says, '20 years ago I thought I'd try running a B&B as my friends were doing it and were successful.' She continues, 'I loved it! It was so different and out of my comfort zone but it also worked around school hours.'
After her business success she decided to go into holiday cottage rentals, buying a small holiday cottage in Thorpe before moving to Bradbourne Mill. Sandy says, 'After 20 years I know what guests like. They are looking for a lovely interior, excellent service and a perfect location. Larger groups often want to do something extra special and it's amazing how many people want to go away but enjoy an experience.' Sophie provides a concierge service, arranging a whole variety of activities including archery, horse riding, yoga, pamper sessions and pop-up escape rooms. For those wanting the flexibility of self-catering accommodation without all the work, private chefs can also be hired.
The Water Mill offers private alfresco dining space just outside the property and also has a footpath that leads to a quiet picnic area by the river, exclusively for use by guests. Sandy says, 'If people are coming from big cities like Birmingham, Manchester or London, they want peace and tranquility and to get away from it all.' With the village of Bradbourne just 15 minutes walk away and Tissington village 25 minutes, it's the perfect place to relax and enjoy all that the countryside has to offer.
During quieter periods, Sandy enjoys spending time in the garden and applies the same principles to garden design that she does to her properties. She is currently creating a heritage feel to the gardens with topiary and box hedging that will complement the period of the buildings.
As well as providing holiday accommodation, marketed through cottages.com, The Water Mill is available for private and corporate hire. Public open days are also planned so that history enthusiasts will be able to look round the mill for themselves.
The Water Mill has a history that Sandy, David and Sophie are keen to share: 'It's been amazing to bring life back to The Water Mill. It's there to be loved and we are honoured, proud and very privileged to be its custodians.' u
How to start a holiday-let
Starting a holiday-let is a smart investment opportunity for those considering a career change, redevelopment, diversification or a source of income for retirement or pensions.
Just as Sandy has here, it's essential to ensure your property has received any necessary modifications so that it appeals to as many guests as possible. Also find a way to maximise your bookings - a good understanding of marketing, PR and social media is useful. Other things to consider include:
- The importance of insurance
- Taxation and legal issues
- Planning application
- Pricing and yield management
- Ways to maximise bookings and revenue
- Interior design
- Practical solutions
Sandy chose to work with cottages.com who provide the national marketing, PR and booking support, giving her more time to dedicate to hosting. They offer face-to-face support and local advice on the ground and provide guidance to owners on all of the above points.
To find The Water Mill, and Bradbourne Mill's other five-star properties, Tissington Ford Barn and Waterside Barn, go to cottages.com. Direct link at cottages.com/cottages/the-water-mill-ukc4031 or /tissington-ford-barn-uk12030 or /waterside-barn-uk11934. To book visit www.cottages.com or call 0345 498 6900.