As soon as the first British offices opened, we began to dream of escaping it. In Three Men in a Boat from 1889, Jerome K Jerome wrote about the restorative effect a ride on the Thames could have on sickly city workers.
Travel is often the cure for everyday discomfort, whether it’s a weekend in Wales or a midlife gap year. However, sometimes, a taste of freedom brings the question: what if we left – definitely? Have you given up on 9-5 to move to the countryside or the coast and live a simpler, more sustainable and more enjoyable life? But few actually do. Too many links. There is comfort in the old routine.
When Covid destroyed life as we knew it, it imposed changes that we might not have chosen, but that some saw as freedom. And so they spent the lockdown building their own great escapes as a new way of life – away from cities and offices.
As the pandemic fueled our desire to liberate ourselves, yurts popped up in virtually every area in Britain. What started as a few festival bell tents has ballooned into one of the fastest growing travel sectors, and not just in Britain – the global glamping market was worth $2.35bn a year latter, a figure that is expected to more than double by 2028.
Now it has gone way beyond glamping. Nature retreats are becoming more and more imaginative and luxurious, and there is something for everyone.
“Uniqueness, design and setting are more important than destination,” says Alex Wilson, founder of hostunusual.com. “People are looking for something experiential, away from the mainstream.”
For those who broke free from the rat race and returned to earth, the fruits of their labor of containment are revealed.
“If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught Brits about tourism,” says Wilson, “it’s that you can unearth real treasures on your home soil.”
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The Essex Hut, Essex
“We did the classic Grand Design thing”
Finance high-flyers Ffion Francis and Ollie Speck moved to an Essex backwater during lockdown, planted a vegetable patch, dug a pond and hand-built the most gorgeous rustic retreat – using videos Youtube.
“Ollie and I met in Canary Wharf, where we both worked in banking. We were working long hours, and barely had time to see each other, so when we both had the opportunity to voluntary departure two months apart, having not been particularly happy for a few years, we thought, what’s next? We knew we didn’t want to return to our careers and that we had to take time and leave behind London and the financial burden of a big mortgage.
“So we took a long trip together: India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, house-sitting in the middle of the rice fields in Bali, Colombia, Costa Rica… Then the Covid hit. I had to jump on the last return flight, the day before confinement. We ended up moving into Ollie’s old family home in Essex, which had just vacated, with the idea of building a cabin to rent out as a business. There are three acres of land that had been neglected for many years, so it needed a lot of work. We set up a vegetable garden and adopted old caged hens to be more independent, and we dug the pond for wild swimming.
“We did the classic Grand Designs thing – I went from banking to building a shepherd’s hut. The tradesmen were so busy that I decided to try it myself and did everything from scratch – wiring, plumbing… I think you can pretty much do anything after watching videos Youtube. We clad it in larch and reclaimed wood – I spent many hours with a torch burning endless amounts of wood, to give it that charred look, which was fun at first but turned into a chore at the end. But it was a good experience.