‘This is my slice of heaven’

Highwaymans, where Juliet Fisher grew up and where she and her family now live and work

Highwaymans, where Juliet Fisher grew up and where she and her family now live and work - Credit: Archant

Juliet Fisher returned to her beloved childhood home to create a business and raise her own family. She gave Sheena Grant a tour

Juliet Fisher at Highwaymans

Juliet Fisher at Highwaymans - Credit: Archant

When Juliet Fisher got the opportunity to live and work in what had once been her childhood home it seemed like a dream come true.

The stunning and unusual entrance hall at Highwaymans

The stunning and unusual entrance hall at Highwaymans - Credit: Archant

It didn’t matter that the roof in one part of the building was falling in and the list of ‘to-do’ jobs was as long as your arm.

There just aren’t many houses like Highwaymans and none that offered Juliet the same family connections, memories and possibilities.

So, armed with a business plan and a few savings in the bank, she, her husband Adam and their children moved in, painted rooms, created a website, and launched their fledgling bed and breakfast business.

Six years on they have expanded the number of guest rooms, added an art gallery, separate holiday home and host a bespoke range of events from clay pigeon shooting to yoga retreats, painting and photography workshops. There is also a café, tree walk, antiques and collectables and gift shop.

Highwaymans, at Risby, near Bury St Edmunds, was designed by Juliet’s architect mother, Kay, in the late 1970s.

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It enjoys vistas across wide open countryside, its low-slung bright white walls, huge windows and decorative stone features commanding the landscape and conjuring up the feel of a Mediterranean estate rather than a home in rural west Suffolk.

And, when you know a little more about the building, it’s a feeling that isn’t so wide of the mark.

Highwaymans was created as a vintner’s house and the surrounding land given planning permission to grow a 24-acre vineyard.

The enterprise ran for 10 years, creating wines such as St Edmunds Bury that sold to a number of big-name companies.

“It was a brilliant place to live and grow up,” says Juliet. “It ran as a vineyard for 10 years but sadly, with the erratic weather and at that time, little investment in English wines, it didn’t work out. There was more money to be made in farming than there was in wine, so the land was returned farmland.”

In the late 1980s the family moved out and the entire property was rented to the US military to house pilots.

It must have been a bit surreal for the pilots who lived there, coming back to a digs where the unusual architecture features an entrance hall with enormous circular roof windows and a series of stunning wall murals depicting stately homes and their vineyards.

When the arrangement with the American military came to an end in 2007 the property was left empty and in need of a new role. But not for long.

“My husband and I had three children at that time and I worked a lot in hospitality and events management,” says Juliet. “We had moved to Spain to see if we could make a business there but knowing that this place had become empty we decided to come back and see what we could do with it. We are now private tenants of my family.”

Undaunted by the work that needed doing to turn the place around, Juliet and Adam (who now have five children) rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in.

“We changed the carpets, decorated the rooms and opened up initially with three guest rooms,” says Juliet. “The roof in the gallery area was coming in too. The place was in quite a sorry state. We used good local builders to turn that around and the gallery opened in 2010. It has become an artists’ hub really.

“I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial. I was the girl who would make lemonade and breed my rabbits to sell as a child. I was always working.

“The idea was always that Adam would look after the chef side of things and intially I had a job at Center Parcs to keep an income going while we were starting up. Eventually, we got to the level where we thought we could do it without the need for me to be working elsewhere.”

The family now has eight simple, comfortable rooms for letting and live in a separate wing of the house.

With her return to Highwaymans life has come full circle for Juliet. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This really is my slice of heaven,” she says.

For more information visit www.highwaymans.co.uk, email info@highwaymans.co.uk or telephone 01284 810283.

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