Was it really a decade ago we welcomed our first guests in to our Eco-Lodge Tree Houses?
Last week, whilst stood inside one of our eco-lodge tree houses, 'hard at work' undertaking our regular property checks (in other words, stood there having a day dream moment, enjoying one of our perks -looking at the wild deer from the balcony, taking in the glorious view and morning song from the birds), when a text message came in from someone I'd not spoken to for a while:
"Hope you and the family are well? Did you know, it's ten years since we finished the tree houses?"
It was Stephen, a skilled carpenter I worked with over that wonderful, long, sunny Summer, building our two eco-lodge tree houses over ten years ago.
We'd patiently waited over two years to get planning permission and three years before that completing other projects, having designed them in 2005. At the time, very few 'tree houses for grown-ups' existed in the UK, at least not that you could have a self-catering staycation holiday in anyway.
We had to wait because in Wealden District Council planning department's own words: they were "a bit off the wall" and they just couldn't grasp why on earth we would want to build a fully-insulated and heated lodge made from sustainable materials, on stilts and up in the trees, with fully equipped kitchen, wet room and all mod cons.
“Height of Luxury”
Our research identified that for every £1 our entire family spent in our village every week, each one of our guests would spend £6. This boost to our micro-economy and the snow ball effect it creates to a local micro economy is huge. Doing so whilst also getting the balance right, to ensure an overriding positive impact on the environment in a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty seemed to make the project a no-brainer, but Wealden District Council's planning department (not exactly known for their forward thinking!) took some convincing. It has of course since been proven and after several accolades and awards they were asking us if we could be used as a model of 'their' success.
At first, customers assumed it was camping or glamping (some still do), unaware it's a residential property built to exceed domestic building regulations and often surprised at the mod cons. In fact, for the first few years, one of the most common questions was: "Does it have heating?". These days they're popping up everywhere and it's less effort to manage expectations although the word: "Wow!" is still wonderful to hear almost every time you show people in for the first time.
The tree houses soon attracted attention and their publicity helped put Fair Oak Farm on the map. I recall the Evening Standard ran double page spread one Friday and I had to have the Monday off work as I was still relentlessly responding to enquiries and taking bookings. We booked out both tree houses for the first year, paying for the build costs, before our first guests had even arrived!
“Dream location and outstanding hosts”
They achieved lots of awards and we're delighted that they still achieve them now, all these years later, including the number one tree house stay in the UK several years in row. However, it was the unexpected nomination by National Geographic which has been a highlight for me personally. I had inadvertently 'geeked out' to a visiting Earth Scientist for the National Geographic who was passing through. At the time I had no idea who he was and was over the moon someone showed so much interest in the the lodges and their 'eco-tourism' credentials - I had learnt not to go on about it because most people glaze over and switch off! But he couldn't get enough.
Of course tree houses and unusual cabin stays have been popping up everywhere in more recent years and these days there is a vast and wonderful selection of places to stay, met by popular demand and increasing expectations, with unique, boutique stays becoming the norm in the UK.
I let Stephen know the lodges are in as good a shape now as the day they were built and will, I have no doubt, be around for many more decades to come. Stephen has retired from such projects now, but I'm looking forward to a visit and a cuppa with him soon, when he can see for himself and inspect our latest handy work - building our new Grand Eco-Lodge Tree House.
“The ultimate country retreat”
The new Grand Eco-Lodge Tree House replicates the trusted and proven design of our existing tree houses, with the same spectacular views, but with the added luxury of a second bedroom and links to a rope bridge and viewing platform in the trees. We can't wait to add this to our collection of accommodation that comes with exclusive hire of the farm.