Writer Liz Todd takes her family for a festive break to a sweet hut, nestled in the woods near Bodiam Castle, for a weekend of outdoor adventure
The huts are nestled in leafy woodland for much of the year, but even in winter the trees provide shelter
Imagine building a den in the woods, complete with woodburning stoves, cosy bunk beds and hot showers. That’s exactly what the people at The Original Hut Company has done: 'glamping' for those of us love the great outdoors but still want a proper little home at the end of the day.
The campsite is close to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, just over an hour south east of London. Nearby Robertsbridge is an hour and a half by train from London Bridge, making it a great weekend destination for car-free families who want to get away from it all without having to holiday in suburbia.
Woodburning stoves and a painted white interior make for a cosy place to dine
Catching the first glimpse of our home amongst the trees was an enchanting moment - our girls were thrilled to be staying in a cabin that looked to have come straight from a fairy tale. The huts were handcrafted by owner Nick on the farm using recycled and reclaimed materials and hark back to the days when shepherds would camp out in the fields to tend their flocks during lambing.
Much of the timber used is from sustainable woods on the farm and the huts are decorated in true glamping style - Farrow and Ball paints, sweet gingham fabrics and understated retro prints.
There was a definite December chill in the air when we arrived so the first job was to get the log-burning stove lit. Despite my worries at not keeping warm enough we soon had a fire blazing and a pot of tea on the go. We flung the door wide because the heat was so intense!
It’s impossible to believe the sweet wooden huts were built up from old touring caravan chassis but the quirky living spaces owe much to neat caravan ‘tricks’. Four-year-old Catherine, and Hannah, who’s two, were amazed to watch the drop down double bunk bed appear as if by magic and scampered straight up the ladder with their teddies. The dining table folds down at night to create another double bed across the bench seating, where all the bedding is neatly stored when it isn’t needed.
Each hut has a gas stove, kitchen space and cold running water - and there are loos and showers in the nearby washroom, shared between the four huts where we stayed on the orchard site. I braved wintry weather to dash through the trees in wellies and towel and was very impressed with the lovely hot shower with its fantastic window view through the trees.
Catherine and Hannah creep into mummy Liz’s bed in the morning
WHAT WE DID:
Our girls would have happily spent every day pottering about around the huts - investigating rabbit holes, building dens, paddling through streams and squelching through mud.
Previous visitors have crafted some brilliant rope swings and guests are free to roam around the 200-acre family farm. We went on a walk through the orchards and headed down to the river where there are ferry rides in the summer.
Bodiam Castle is to the edge of the farm - a spectacular moated castle owned by the National Trust that revels in its medieval splendour.
It’s an imposing sight and our girls were in a frenzy of excitement walking across the narrow bridge because Father Christmas himself was rumoured to be inside. He visits every year, no doubt lured by the medieval hall chimneys, mince pies and glasses of hot wassail for the grown ups. Hannah was star-struck, slightly in awe of the decorated castle grotto, but Santa reassured her that he’d be visiting again on Christmas Eve.
Our walk home was an adventure in the dark as the girls played with torches and listened out for owls and badgers, although most twilight wildlife was probably playing it safe as we tramped noisily back to our forest home.
Each hut has its own fire pit and plenty of space to feel secluded even with another family staying nearby. Our evening campfire was a raging success, and after so much fresh air the children were soon asleep on their top bunk together. Sharing a room with your children doesn’t normally make for a relaxing break - but sharing a beautiful little cabin in the woods is a magical world away.
Catherine and Hannah on their adventure across the fields to Bodiam Castle
WHAT WE ATE:
We didn’t feel up to cooking over an open fire in mid December, but the huts are equipped with sturdy cast iron cookware as well as more traditional saucepans for using on the gas hob inside. The Castle Inn is a short walk away and serves Kentish ales and decent homemade food, and in the weekends running up until Christmas Bodiam Castle is doing three-course Christmas lunches.
Liz, Hannah and Catherine meet Father Christmas in his medieval grotto at the National Trust’s Bodiam Castle
Staying in your own miniature woodland home is a dream come true for the whole family: magical adventures for imaginative little ones who still believe in elves and fairies and Father Christmas. Wilder older ones can rampage through the trees and live like Bear Grylls, albeit with hot and cold running water. And couples looking to enjoy some quality time together will discover it can still be romantic, even with the kids in tow.
Four-year-old Catherine and daddy Matt Neale set to work building a den in the woods
- Guests can order bespoke hampers of fine local produce for the shepherds’ huts - especially great in warmer months when cooking outside is a lot more convivial.
- For fine dining without the washing up, try the Michelin-starred Curlew restaurant close by.
- The Kent and East Sussex Railway runs for more than ten miles through unspoilt countryside from Tenterden in Kent all the way into the Original Hut Company’s farmland. Steam trains power up and down the rural light railway throughout the year, delivering passengers to picturesque Tenterden, full of quirky independent shops on its tree-lined high street.
Mid-week nightly breaks glamping in a shepherds’ hut with The Original Hut Company start from £82 with a surcharge of £7 per person. The price includes all firewood, water, gas and bed linen.
Father Christmas will be visiting the National Trust’s Bodiam Castle up until Tuesday December 22. Tickets cost £4 for children under 18 months and £8.50 for children aged 18 months to 15 years old and each child receives a present.
Catherine enjoys one of the many rope swings
The handcrafted shepherds’ huts have their own campfire pits and a never-ending supply of wood
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