Owner stories: Rockton Mews

Owner stories: Rockton Mews

Perched on the cliffs above Exmoor National Park's rugged coast and surrounded by temperate rainforest, Rockton Mews is a haven away from the frenetic modern world in unspoilt North Devon with exquisite sea views and astonishing interiors. Today, it’s a tranquil escape, but what was the journey that led it to become a Boutique Retreat? We sit down with owner Russell, who chats to us about the ins and outs of this incredible renovation project.

Owner of Rockton Mews

What’s your story and what drew you in to this project?

Before the pandemic I lived overseas. I spent time living in Singapore and Bali, I learnt to sail in Australia and New Zealand, plus I travelled extensively throughout Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Central and South America and even visited Antarctica. But when I was forced to leave Uruguay by the pandemic (escorted by the Uruguayan Navy!) I decided it was time for something different. I’d been thinking about ‘a house that pays for itself’ for a while and the nudge in 2020 was just what I needed to make the dream a reality.

Rockton Mews nestled amongst the trees

What made you choose Rockton Mews and Lynton over anywhere else?

I first saw Rockton and Rockton Mews on Rightmove whilst living in Singapore and dreaming of one day owning a house with an income back in the UK. I was blown away by the potential of the buildings and the stunning location (as is everyone who visits). But being overseas I wasn’t in a position to act. Some years later after returning to the UK and selling my flat, the same property unexpectedly became available again. I jumped at it and completed on the purchase just three weeks after my first viewing. North Devon was known to me and a manageable distance from my home base of Bath. But since moving to Lynton, Exmoor has captured my imagination. It’s wild, stunningly beautiful like New Zealand and has a friendly island feel because we’re 40 minutes away from the next nearest big town. I feel like the spotlight is shifting from other parts of the Southwest and the North Devon coast has it all. Stunning coastline, high moors, deeply wooded valleys, rivers, waterfalls and hidden secluded coves and beaches. Plus, unlike the wilds of Dartmoor (where I was also looking) I’m a short walk to two bustling towns and I have fibre broadband! 

Rockton Mews

What’s the history of this beautiful building?

Rockton Mews was the coach house for a huge mansion, built in around 1870 that still exists 40-50 meters away. It was one of two principal country estates (the other no longer exists) that were built by some of the most important people to Lynton and Lynmouth’s history. These landowners had the pick of the building plots in North Devon and Rockton Mews sits today 400ft above the sea and is the last house on the South West Coast Path when leaving Lynton, before entering the Valley of Rocks and Exmoor National Park.

Rockton Mews under construction

What has been the hardest part of the renovation project for you?

I knew both properties needed a new roof when I bought them. But I naïvely thought I could live in one house, totally unaffected, whilst renovating the other. The reality was that last winter I lived in the only two remaining habitable rooms of the principal house. I had no roof from November to April and even my log burner was decommissioned. It was not a comfortable winter! 

Rockton Mews living space with wood burner

And the most rewarding?

But it’s all been worth it, the roof is now a work of art with reclaimed tiles, a rebuilt turret and hand-crafted lead details. It oozes craftsmanship as does the restoration of the interior of Rockton Mews. I had a fantastic team of local roofers, general builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, cabinetry makers etc. They all live in the village and wanted to breathe new life into this special but long neglected building. We completed the whole project in six months (six cold months) and within a whisker of my original budget. Which is remarkable given the pandemic, labour shortages and chronic material price inflation.

Rockton Mews Kitchen

The property is very eco-conscious, how difficult was it to source materials that met your requirements?

I had help from the roofers sourcing the reclaimed tiles, and I sourced many of the other antique or reclaimed materials. We even used the old internal walls of Rockton Mews to make cabinets for the prep kitchen / utility. But we were pragmatic and used modern materials where necessary (such as insulation) to make the property more efficient over the long term. 

Views from Rockton Mews

Are there any brands or companies that you worked with that you would recommend to those looking to be as ecological as possible?

I would recommend not installing outdated fossil fuels for heating or cooking and instead installing all electric heating, hot water, and appliances. I would have loved to have generated my own electricity for this property, but due to its position in the forest and National Park this wasn’t possible. Instead, I get my electricity from Octopus Energy who only supply power generated by wind and solar. In addition, we shop local for our welcome pack and source refillable toiletries from Miniml. We save previously rejected coffee pods from going to landfill via the Odd Coffee Co and our toilet rolls are from Who Gives a Crap.

Rockton Mews Bedroom

Which part of the project are you most proud of?

I built Rockton Mews to be a Boutique Retreat. The company was very helpful to me during the design and build and I’m so pleased to have been selected to be the first property featured on the homepage of their website at the moment. I hear that Rockton Mews is the most successful new property launch of 2022 and I’m delighted to be the first owner to be interviewed about their project / build. I’m also proud to have achieved my goal of a self-sustaining, financially self-funding, coastal home.

Rockton Mews under construction

Is there any part of the project that you would do differently?

Maybe it was a bad idea to take the roof off the building and replace the wood burner, in the middle of winter at the same time? But I don’t have any regrets!

Views from Rockton Mews

What do you love most about Rockton Mews?

I set out to buy a home with income, it had to have a good view and be in a forest, on a moor or by the sea. What I like most about Rockton Mews is that it’s on a moor, in a forest and has stunning views across the sea. I never thought it would be possible to find a place that had all three. The immediate area is a walking, exploring, nature, produce and dog paradise. I never tire of spending time here.

The Valley of Rocks

What are your top recommendations for things to do and places to eat in the area?

My number one recommendation for something to do in North Devon is to explore and “get lost”. It’s an endlessly impressive and surprising part of the country. Walking, driving, cycling, kayaking, sailing, or riding a motorbike, get outside and see what this place has to offer. I could give you some tips, but maybe it’s more fun to explore for yourself? 

The one excursion I suggest to all my guests is to take a trip with Ilfracombe Sea Safari, preferably the 2hr trip to Lynmouth and back. When I took the trip, it reminded me of islands I visited in the Southern Ocean like South Georgia, the Exmoor coast is incredibly beautiful. There are seals, maybe dolphins and of course you get to see the Valley of Rocks, South West Coast Path and Lynmouth, all from a new perspective. If you ask your skipper nicely, they will go a little further offshore on the way back and stop so you can see Rockton & Rockton Mews from the sea! 

There are a few good restaurants in Lynton & Lynmouth that I would recommend such as The Rising Sun, The Old Bank, Charlie Fridays, and The Vanilla Pod. But North Devon is full of wonderful places to eat, and I’m prepared to travel for a great meal. My favourite places are Woods in Dulverton, The New Coast Kitchen in Croyde, and The Farmers Arms in Woolsery. The final one isn’t a place, it’s a pop up, called The Street Porter, they do various cuisines of street food in Lynton, Woolacombe, Braunton and other local spots. 

Or perhaps combine both my recommendations and explore Exmoor whilst picking up Oysters from the Porlock Oyster Co in Porlock Weir or other local produce and wonderful meat from Besshill Farm Shop. I could go on and on, oh, did I mention there is a fresh fish van every Tuesday (10am-11am) outside Lynton Town Hall…

Feeling inspired? Take a look at Rockton Mews here and find out more on becoming a Boutique Retreat owner here.

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