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.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

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.

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