A pair of derelict cottages and an old byre near the village of Dairsie were combined into a stunning family home. The gardens are just as special, stretching down to the banks of the River Eden. Jack McKeown explores a glorious corner of Fife.
There could be a picture of Lydox Mill Cottage next to the word “idyllic” in the dictionary.
When I step out of my car outside the picturesque home, golden retriever Nesta ambles over for a lean against my legs and a head scratch, owner Alex Robertson waves from within the stone workshop where he designs golf clubs, and in the background a stream tinkles happily as it flows towards the River Eden at the foot of the garden.
Lydox Mill Cottage sits on a quiet country lane just outside Dairsie and close to Cupar.
It was converted in the year 2000 by combining two derelict cottages and a former byre into a single three-bedroom family home.
Alex and Frances Robertson bought it in 2015, at which point it was in need of a complete overhaul.
“Although it was only converted in 2000 it had been neglected for a long time,” Frances explains. “It was sold in 2003 to a couple who then moved to Devon and rented it out. The tenants didn’t look after it very well and the house became pretty run down. It then sat empty for around a year until we bought it.”
Alex takes up the story: “When we viewed it the garden was a jungle. You had to hack your way through. The front door was jammed shut. I was dubious but Frances saw the potential in it.”
The building works took six months, during which time the couple stayed with friends.
Frances, 62, works for the R&A in St Andrews while retired policeman Alex, 61, also works in golf, setting up a bespoke club fitting and building company after 32 years with the Stirling force.
The couple have restored the cottage beyond even its original glory. It almost feels like something out of a Tolkien novel – homely, welcoming, in harmony with the natural world, and with just a touch of magic to it.
The sunroom, which Frances uses as her office, captures the rays from mid-morning onwards. It’s no wonder the couple’s other dog, black lab Lucy, and their cat are sprawled out asleep in here.
The master bedroom is on the other side of the entrance hall from the sunroom. A spacious room, it has windows on two walls, plenty of built-in storage and an en suite shower room.
Alex leads me upstairs into the part of the house that was once a byre. Now it’s a roomy attic bedroom with fantastic views across the Fife countryside, where the couple’s grown up son sleeps when he comes to visit his parents.
Back downstairs and a short distance along the hall is the cottage’s third bedroom. A pair of low-set windows mean anyone lying in bed can enjoy the garden’s lush greenery.
Next to this bedroom is the family bathroom, which had a new suite fitted as part of the renovation.
Now we come into the truly special part of the house. The kitchen and living room both have vaulted ceilings that stretch up to full roof height. As well as traditional windows, banks of skylights run the length of the west facing roofline in both rooms.
“The skylights were installed as part of the original conversion and all we did was replace the glazing, which had failed,” Alex explained.
“We do love the amount of extra light they throw into the rooms. I’m quite tall and having the vaulted ceilings makes the rooms feel much bigger.”
A row of units and a range cooker are inset into one wall of the kitchen, and there is a dining area in the middle of the room. A high shelf above the kitchen units is accessed by a clever sliding ladder.
The living room is an absolutely wonderful space. More than a dozen skylight windows throw plenty of soft light into the room.
The east wall has two windows and a glazed door to the garden, while there is another window and twin glazed doors out to the patio in the west facing wall. A tall window in the gable end gives a view to the stream that runs through the garden.
“You can have breakfast and coffee sitting in the sun on one side of the house in the morning and a glass of wine sitting on the other side in the evening sunshine,” Alex smiles.
The living room has two wood burners – an antique model inherited with the house at one side and a modern burner installed by the couple at the other end. “We hardly ever use the older one as the new one is more than enough to heat the room but it makes a nice feature,” Alex continues.
The garden is every bit as special as the house, and there is plenty to explore. As well as patios to east and west, there’s an area of lawn with a frog pond in it – a little amphibious head and beady eyes peer out from its surface. A tin shelter that might date from the Second World War is where Alex cuts and splits firewood.
A belt of wilderness creates shelter from the wind and a natural boundary between the garden and the field beyond.
The floor and walls of a ruined stone shed stand next to the stream and offer potential for restoration and conversion.
A large polytunnel supports fruit and veg growing, as well as shelter and warmth to season firewood.
A new bridge across the stream leads to a patch of woodland that also belongs to the house. From here, the couple and their dogs can directly access country walks and trails.
At the edge of the woods is a long stretch of riverbank that also belongs to the property and comes with fishing rights. It’s a beautiful, peaceful area and I can picture myself stringing a hammock from one of the overhanging trees on a summer’s afternoon.
“The bend in the river creates a slow moving pool and the dogs love to jump in there to cool down after a long walk”, Alex says.
Lydox Mill Cottage is on sale for offers over £385,000 but anyone who wants to buy it better move quickly. The property has attracted a huge amount of attention and at the point of writing this article it had 10 notes of interest, with closing date set for Tuesday.
As for Alex and Frances? They’re heading north. “We’re moving up to Dornoch,” Frances explains. “We have a holiday cottage up there that we plan to move into until we find a place to buy.” She glances at her long-suffering husband and adds: “I would like to do another project or even a self build.”
Number 5 Lydox Mill Cottage, by Dairsie, Fife, is on sale with Thorntons for offers over £385,000. A closing date of Tuesday March 9 at noon has been set.