Community and contentedness is aim of shack-building couple
Getting back to nature and back to basics is all the rage, which is why these shacks compete with five-star luxury. Sharon Dale reports.
REWIND a few decades and imagine telling your loved one you were whisking them away for a week in a wooden shack.
The response would have been shock, horror and possibly grounds for divorce.
Nowadays, basic and remote holds just as much allure as a five-star hotel as we ache to escape a frantic modern world cluttered with electronic gadgets.
It is why Sam and Beth Hardwick had every faith in their plan to build eco-friendly holiday shacks as opposed to luxurious lodges.
“The shacks are hand made, quirky and rustic with no mains supplies so heat is from a wood burner and light from lanterns, candles and solar lighting with water from a spring. They appeal to those with a sense of adventure,” says Sam.
He and Beth came up their back to basics idea after staying in remote sheep shearer’s hut while travelling in New Zealand.
“At that time we were trying to think of a lifestyle business that we could run together. I was working long hours commuting into London and Beth worked as a mental health therapist. We really wanted to change the direction of our lives.
“Staying in that hut was a Eureka moment. It was handbuilt from whatever materials they had to hand and it was entirely sustainable and full of character.”
When the couple arrived back in Sussex, they wrote to 50 landowners, all in the south of England apart from Mark and Felicity Cunliffe-lister, whose Swinton Estate covers a vast swathe of the Dales.
Sam, who lived on the estate in the 1980s when his father worked at a management training centre there, says: “They wrote back to say they were looking for a new land project, so it was perfect timing.”
They also had the perfect spot. The Cunliffe-listers suggested a derelict farmstead in a remote spot above Ilton in Swaledale. It is close to the Druids Temple folly, a stone circle, altar and cave built by William Danby in 1820.
Felicity Cunliffe-lister, who is not afraid to get her hands and her wellies dirty, is a familiar sight at Bivouac Swinton, the rural retreat that she and the Hardwicks are busy creating.
She’s enthusiastic about the joint venture that promises accommodation that is sustainable and different from the rest of the glamping market. Bivouac has a camping barn and yurts but its USP is the collection of six woodland shacks.
They are being built by Sam’s friend Rudi Meseg, who helped Ben Law on his timber house in the woods, which featured on Grand Designs and was voted “best ever” project. The footings are compressed local stone from a Leyburn quarry topped with a Yorkshire sandstone slab and a thin layer of Welsh slate and timber for the wooden legs of the shacks to rest on.
The shack marries old English green wood frame design with scribing techniques of Scandinavian log cabin builders. The construction includes a cruck frame and poles made from sweet chesnut. Pioneered by Sussex woodsman Ben Law, the technique is known as round wood framing as it uses poles, often coppiced, rather than conventional square, machined timber.
The shacks are clad in larch from the Swinton estate, the insulation is sheep’s wool and the roof is Onduline, made from recycled cellulose fibres and bitumen. Unusually, none of the timber is treated with chemicals
“People think that anything made from timber needs treating but it doesn’t.
“If you think about it there were no chemical preservatives hundreds of years ago. You don’t need them if you choose the right species of timber with natural durability like the sweet chesnut. The larch cladding may need redoing after a few decades but the building should last at least 100 years,” says Rudi.
The shacks, which take eight weeks to build using a team of four workers, have a separate bathroom, a kitchen sink, a wood burning stove, range and back boiler for heating, cooking and hot water, plus a ground floor sleeping compartment and three raised bunks accessed by a ladder.
“The idea is that it feels like you are camping, so heads can peep out of the bunks and talk to each other,” says Sam.
“You have work a bit harder than if you were in a timber lodge because you have to light fires and you have to wrap up warmer but it’s all part of the fun.”
A touch of luxury comes from the wood-fired outdoor hot tubs and for those who desire company and comfort food, there is a hub that centres around the nearby farmhouse, where the Hardwicks now live.
The once-derelict farm buildings are being transformed into a rustic café, shop and reception with eco features such as a woodchip boiler, grey water harvesting and solar lighting. Activities will include foraging, bush craft skills and canoeing.
“The idea is there is something for everyone. You can stay inside your shack and read or you can join in. We want there to be a sense of community and a sense of contentedness,” says Sam.
He and Beth, who have two children Martha, two, and baby Elsie, are certainly content after embarking on a complete lifestyle change.
“We love it here,” says Sam. “It is a great location and we’re working with a great bunch of people to make something really special.”
MAIN PICTURE: Sam and Beth with one of the shacks at Bivouac Swinton. Bottom left to right: Rudi busy at work. Sam and Beth inside the part-finished shack which will be fitted with wood burner, range and rocking chair. The shack in its woodland setting with views stretching miles over the Dales. A touch of luxury comes from the wood-fired outdoor hot tubs.