For former Newcastle Falcons and England rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, Rowantree Grange in Northumberland has proved far more than just a home.
As well as being his North East base for almost a decade, the stunning period property in Slaley provided the “retreat” Jonny needed to recover from the four-year injury which could have ended his career.
The 35-year-old, famed for his legendary World Cup drop goal against Australia in 2003, said: “When I went through my injury period between 2004 and 2007, I just couldn’t stay fit and I was struggling. It was then I decided to extend the property to include space for a gym and a swimming pool.
“It kind of saved my career. My whole life was about doing rehab and gym work to try and stay fit and get back into my job. It became a bit of a a retreat almost. I could do what I had to do, but still have all the peace and quiet that comes with the house.”
The former fly half, who recently retired from the game, bought the seven-bedroomed country house in 2003. Attracted by its stunning rural location and vast outdoor space, it provided the perfect escape for Jonny and his brother Mark, who also played for the Falcons.
Jonny relocated to the North East from Surrey when he signed for the club aged 18. He said: “My brother and I were living in a brilliant place in Corbridge at the time but it was just getting a bit small. Rowantree is a bit of a sports dream. The golf course runs alongside and there’s also a football pitch a short stroll beyond the course.
“That, combined with the huge amount of outdoor space, fresh air and peace and quiet.”
Dating from the late 1800s, the house has been updated and extended. Blending contemporary and traditional features, it provides stunning family accommodation. Mark moved out in 2008 and it has since been a family home to Jonny.
Features include an entrance hall with Amdega flooring and cast iron fireplace, drawing room with period fireplace housing a wood burning stove. There is a dining room and study, both with fireplaces, as well as a games room and bespoke fitted library.
The breakfasting kitchen, with its bespoke units and wood burning stove, is the hub of the house.
Jonny said: “The kitchen is the centre of the property. Because it’s so big, you can spend all your time in there. We’ve created a snug just off the kitchen which is great for the two of us to go and hang out.”
On the first floor there are two en suite bedrooms, two further bedrooms, and a bathroom. In the swimming pool/annexe area there are three more bedrooms and a bathroom.
“ It’s a classic country house. It has a bit of a castle type feel and I’ve always loved that idea. The original part of the house is very old and we’ve added onto that, making sure that everything is in keeping with period of the house,” said Jonny.
One of the most significant additions he made to the property is undoubtedly the leisure complex. “My favourite areas of the house are the gym and the pool, from both a functional and enjoyable perspective. The living room has a lovely wood burner which is nice to relax in front of on an evening.”
The versatile property is also perfect for entertaining, says Jonny. “The layout of the house is great for guests. If you want to be around each other all the time then great, but it’s also easy to almost have your own separate wings so you’re not on top of each other. The barbecue and sitting area is also a great place to enjoy the sunshine with friends.”
As well as gardens with patio areas, there is also an enclosed courtyard, double garage, and paddocks. The land extends to around five acres.
Despite its peaceful rural setting, the house is well located for access to Newcastle. He said: “We were heading into town pretty much every day. It’s a 20-minute drive to the bottom of the A69.”
Following five years with French club Toulon, Jonny retired from the game last month. He will be taking on a part-time coaching role with the team, as well as exploring new avenues.
He said: “It’s a very different style of life in the South of France. You’re out walking by the beach most days and it’s a real contrast to living in Northumberland. The two extremes allow you to really appreciate both situations. In the case of playing it’s always been A or B, 100% all in, or not at all. It’s now moving over to coaching and trying to see if I can help in that respect.”
Despite exciting plans, Jonny will miss the Northumberland lifestyle.
“There’s a big field with a striking tree right in the centre of it. Sometimes I just wander around there and just take it all in. The views go on forever. It’s that kind of thing that I’m going to miss. It’s that beautiful and that much of a privilege to live here. But at the same time, it’s one of the these things when suddenly your life takes shape in front of you and you have to move on.
“The house is very special to me as it’s where I spent the mainstay of my rugby career. In fact it saved my career which was undoubtedly my life at the time.”
Rowan Tree Grange, Staley, Northumberland, is for sale through Foster Madison at a guide price of £1.5m, tel: 01434 605441.