Couples who choose Ashridge Court Farm on the edge of Dartmoor for their wedding reception have options very few venues can offer. Whether it’s riding on horseback from a country church to the wedding breakfast, exclusive access to a 500 year old renovated barn, or photos in the sustainably managed wild woodland on site there is something at Ashridge for every couple who has an affinity for rural Devon at its best.
Five years ago Cat Richards-Kastelic and her mother, decided to diversify their family farm by converting their medieval cattle barn into a rustic venue for weddings and events. Sensitive to its history and original architecture, they ensured that the character and essence of the barn remained while giving it some new Ashridge-style features. The main area of the Great Barn has split level flooring and a dance floor, beyond which is a separate quiet room complete with sofas and armchairs for cosy conversations away from the main music and event. At the other end of the barn lie the accessible toilets that are so striking they have been included in bridal couples’ official wedding photos. Hanging from the ceiling are metal chandeliers created by the family from the hoops of barrels found on the farm. Every nook and cranny of this beautiful venue is steeped in history and individualism.
This individualism is carried through to the total autonomy given to clients over who they hire in for catering, entertainment, even furniture. Ashridge can make recommendations for every part of a wedding or event, but they are as happy to let the clients choose and arrange their way to whatever constitutes their perfect day without interference or bias towards specific suppliers. Not only does this allow for bespoke weddings and events, it also encourages investment back into the local economy, as Cat explains,
“We aim to host 15 weddings a year in the Ashridge Great Barn, we have really enjoyed meeting the amazing array of talented suppliers here in the South West and look forward to recommending them to couples in the future. We also enjoyed organising our very successful Christmas Fayre, where we were delighted to showcase local small businesses. We are excited to build on this experience by also putting on a Country Fair in the summer when we will also be holding a dog show to raise money for the Guide Dogs. Running a broad range of private and public events at the Ashridge Great Barn will allow us to share our beautiful venue and setting with the local community as well as those from further ‘up country’! “
The wedding party or event guests can stay at a number of hotels, B&Bs and holiday chalets within easy reach of the venue and, on site ready for next season, Ashridge are building a honeymoon cottage within walking distance of the Great Barn. Three churches serve the parish within a short drive or a country walk from Ashridge. How many wedding’s have invitations that might include the words ‘bring wellies for the walk from the church to the reception’? The venue is open 9 months of the year between April and December, as bad weather would make access to Ashridge unreliable, but in good weather makes for an idyllic peaceful and rural escape.
There are plenty of opportunities for stunning photos from the walled kitchen garden, to the rolling Dartmoor landscape, the large lakes, the fields, the woodland and the Great Barn itself this is a photographers dream. There is even a peacock, and a gaggle of Canada geese to accompany the many sheep and cattle in the fields around the farm. There is an onsite large catering kitchen within a few metres of the barn, and space to the side of the Great Barn complete with fire pit and room for hogroasts and bbqs.
The deliberately rustic feel to Ashridge has been created through hard work, careful planning and financial and time commitment.. While the barn conversion was paid for privately local support and funding also helped the business get off the ground. The DR Company based in Okehampton provided business support and helped them access funding via a LEADER grant.
“ We are so excited to be able to offer this venue to people who love the outdoors and rural Devon. It has been a long process getting change of use and planning permission, sympathetically renovating the barn and deciding what was important to us to be able to provide for our clients. We have put a lot of thought, and money, into getting this venue right. “ explains Cat. “We were very lucky to be able to successfully apply for some funding to help us do the work we needed to. I don’t know what we would have done without the help of the Diverse Regeneration Company who helped us with business planning and the funding application – for a Greater Dartmoor LEAF grant. It helped turn our ideas into reality and enabled us to turn a run down barn into a really special venue that we are incredibly proud of.”
This family business is a shining example of how a rural business can both be supported by and at the same time itself support the local economy. By working with Devon based businesses they have managed to gain and give support, to create a sustainable, diversified family business that can provide clients with a celebration of the very best rural Devon can offer.
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