A Norfolk couple has used a spark of inspiration and a great deal of hard work to build a luxurious off-grid eco-cabin in a six-acre wildflower meadow in Woodton, between Norwich and Bungay. Albion Nights is now open for bookings.
Helen McGrath-Doherty has always had a passion for design and had been building the cabin in her head for some time. ‘I’ve always loved the idea of reusing and recycling materials,’ she says, ‘as I think that humans tend to throw away so much stuff that could be given a new lease of life. My husband Pete works in the construction trade, so we combined my ideas with his practical skills and set to work.’
However, shortly after the project began, Pete discovered that he was being made redundant, and although this allowed him more time to work on the cabin, it had a profound effect on his and Helen’s ability to provide for themselves and their two children.
Helen had the creative idea of running a Crowdfunding campaign and successfully raised several thousand pounds towards completing the project. At the same time, Helen and Pete were given the unique opportunity to feature on a new TV series called Cash in the Spare Room. The show is hosted by Sarah Moore, who is best-known for her lead role on the BBC One show Money for Nothing.
‘Sarah was a revelation,’ says Helen. ‘She really instilled a new lease of life in the project, and came up with a fantastic idea for an outdoor bathtub on the veranda. The team from Cash in the Spare Room then built the bath for us, while we carried on working on the interior.’
Almost all of the materials used are either reclaimed or recycled, many being left over from a barn conversion Helen and Pete had previously undertaken. The internal cladding uses a mixture of corrugated tin, and hundreds of wood panels that were removed from dozens of pallets and individually sanded.
The cabin’s electricity is provided by a 12-volt solar battery, with a wood-burning stove providing the heat. The stove has a back burner, which provides hot water for the shower and outdoor bath. ‘It’s been a real journey,’ says Helen, ‘with all kinds of challenges along the way, but looking at the finished product, we really couldn’t be happier.’
Just before the end of the build, Pete was finally successful in finding himself a new job, which enabled the couple to employ specialists to add the last finishing touches to the cabin.
‘The sense of relief was palpable,’ says Pete. ‘Although it was positive to be able to escape down to the cabin and put in a day’s hard work, it’s awful to feel that you’re not able to provide for your family. And then, of course, we’ve had the coronavirus pandemic on top of everything else; it’s been a really challenging period.’
Helen believes that Albion Nights is an ideal location for couples who need to get away from it all after the trials of lockdown. ‘We’re so hyper-connected nowadays, and while we’ve been locked indoors most of us have been staring at screens more than ever. I think it could provide a really valuable experience for couples to hit the reset button, reconnect with nature and get ‘off the grid’ for a couple of days.’