I'm having a Downton Abbey moment. Looking out of the library window of Devon's Kelly House, I survey the vibrant green lawns and the gravel driveway and imagine I'm Lady Mary waiting for a dashing suitor to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage.
In reality, it's more likely a very disgruntled Ruth Watson will turn up, with her Country House Rescue Revisited camera crew, wanting to know why this particular historic country home is still falling down.
For, despite the building's obvious former grandeur, financial problems and a lack of maintenance have led the house to be in a shocking state of disrepair.
Kelly House has existed on this land, in one form or another, since the 1100s.
The village the house is situated in is called Kelly; the family who lives here are also Kellys - the 31st and 32nd generation of the family to live in the house.
There are other historic families in the area but none date back as far as the Kellys - their closest competitors can lay claim to being in the area for "just" 750 years. "They get annoyed when we call them ‘new money'," jokes Sophia, daughter of current heir Warin Kelly, the 31st Squire of Kelly.
The house is a listed heritage building, with original features including a stone doorcase, Venetian windows and slat stone walls.
Inside, the woodwork features beautiful carved panelling and a sweeping staircase that stands under a ceiling painted with delicate gold leaf stars.
But a house more than 900 years old isn't easy - or cheap - to look after.
After WWII the family lost two heirs in quick succession, and were then faced with huge "death duties" (inheritance taxes). They once owned much of the surrounding farmland, but this began to be sold off simply to raise enough money to keep the house running and pay off the ever-increasing debts. Over time, the house has begun to crumble and is on English Heritage's "at risk" register.
"It's the worst case I've ever had to help with," Watson told Britain's Telegraph in 2010. "The building is literally falling down . . . in a funny kind of way Warin's quite pleased about how awful their dry rot is, he looks at it as if it's some kind of prize exhibit."
She came to Kelly House in 2009 as part of season two of British reality show Country House Rescue. The family were in desperate need of advice on ways to raise money, so they could continue to restore their "crumbling pile" to its former glory - or at the very least stop it from falling down around their ears. The leaking roof needed to be re-slated, dry rot to be stopped, large cracks in the walls to be fixed and water damage to be remedied.
Some of the measures Watson suggested included using local restoration students in a kind of apprenticeship scheme. They would get hands on experience learning their craft, while the house would benefit from their work with some much needed TLC. She also suggested ways to bring in regular income - converting the annex into rental accommodation and hosting guided tours and special events so tourists, as well as the local community, can enjoy this home while contributing to its upkeep.
Which is how I come to be standing in front of the sash window, looking out at the lawn. Visiting as part of a Trafalgar guided holiday, the enormity of the Kellys' task is still almost too hard to comprehend. The house is an intriguing mix of grand and grotty - while the family has made massive progress since the 2010 Country House Rescue episode first aired, there is still much to be done.
Trafalgar has included the "Be My Guest" visit to Kelly House as part of its Best of Devon and Cornwall itinerary - aiming to bring travellers to places off the well-worn tourist trail. As well as open afternoons, the Kellys also offer banquet evenings, opera events and three bedrooms have been converted into B&B accommodation, due to be ready for visitors in October.
In the Tudor kitchen, we sit by the restored 15th century open fireplace and Sophia serves traditional Devonshire cream teas, consisting of a pot of English Breakfast, a fruit scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Kellys have helpfully given us instruction leaflets for how to best enjoy this classic treat. Apparently, in this part of the world there are rules about eating a cream tea, depending which county you are in. If you are in Devon, you cut the scone in half and spread the centre with a thick layer of clotted cream, followed by a smear of strawberry jam; if you are in neighbouring Cornwall, the jam comes before the cream. "Warning," the flyer reads. "Cream teas are highly addictive and will not help you keep your weight down!"
Warin gives us a guided tour of some rooms, but others are tantalisingly out of bounds for visitors and I wonder what kind of state they're in.
We stand in the library on threadbare carpets covering bare floorboards, while looking at an impressive collection of 19th century books and artworks. I imagine the conversations these walls must have bore witness too; the family feuds and friendships, triumphs and tragedies. But the real tragedy would be if the house had to be sold off completely, ending the generational history of the Kelly family home once and for all.
A new series of Country House Rescue Revisited begins on Sky TV's Living Channel on Monday at 10pm. An episode of Country House Rescue screens on Prime TV on Friday at 8.30pm, with Country House Rescue Revisited beginning the following week at the same time.
Stephanie Holmes flew to England with assistance from Cathay Pacific, and travelled to Kelly House courtesy of guided holiday specialist Trafalgar on the Best of Devon and Cornwall itinerary. Ask your travel agent or visit trafalgar.co.nz.
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