Experience the simplicity of back-to-basics living during an overnight stay in a stone hut tucked away in A secluded valley in North Devon
By Zoe Hill
We didn’t officially invite Katie to our bothy sleepover. But at 2am she arrived. And she certainly made her presence well and truly noticed.
When we decided to spend a night in a stone hut hidden away in a remote wooded valley in North Devon, we hadn’t expected Storm Katie to arrive in the middle of the night. As strong winds whistled around the bothy and heavy rain clattered on the tin roof, I lay tucked up inside my sleeping bag eternally grateful to be safely enclosed by four sturdy walls and a roof, rather than a flimsy sheet of canvas, on my wild night outdoors.
For those unfamiliar with a bothy, it’s a basic shelter used for overnight stays by outdoor lovers as they journey through the wilderness. Essentially a stone tent, these shelters are more at home in the wilds of Scotland and Wales and remote areas of Northern England. But here in the South West the National Trust in North Devon has converted an old piggery (built in the early 1900s) into a shelter for those wishing to enjoy the simplicity of life in the great outdoors.
You certainly don’t opt for a night in a bothy if you’re expecting luxury. With no heating or electricity and only cold running water it’s the essence of back-to-basics living. However, there is one thankful luxury at this bothy: a flushing toilet. Located in a small wooden lean-to on the side of the building it has, quite possibly, the best view from a loo I’ve ever experienced.
We arrived prepared for spending a night in an unheated hut with warm clothes, woolly hats and socks, and 3-season sleeping bags. As part of our 3-night walking adventure along the North Devon coast the Slow Adventure Company provided everything else for our overnight stay: super comfy sleeping mats, proper pillows and thick blankets were laid out on the two raised wooden sleeping platforms; under the sink was a cool box full of our food supplies (much of it locally sourced) and a box of cooking equipment, utensils and essentials for a night in a bothy; and a pile of dried wood and kindling was awaiting us to build a fire in the designated area outside.
But this back-to-basics living need not be without style. There’s a disheveled country cottage feel to this bothy, with a traditional stable door leading you inside, floral curtains draped from the windows, freshly cut flowers in small glass bottles on the window sills and, as the light faded, flickering candles and tealights created a cosy living space.
With no WiFi, no 3/4G and no phone signal it was a delight not to be distracted by digital devices and fully embrace being in a natural environment with only the sounds of nature interrupting our thoughts — vocal male pheasants echoed in the distance, while the high-pitched mewing of a buzzard had us craning our necks skyward for a glimpse of this graceful bird of prey gliding and soaring in the thermals above.
Book-ended by two days’ walking along the rugged South West Coast Path between Hartland and Westward Ho!, our time at the bothy was a unique experience. We relived our childhoods: rockpooling at Peppercombe Beach (a 5 minute walk from the bothy) and toasting marshmallows on sticks over the fire at night as the rain began to fall. We built an impressive fire outside, made cups of tea the outdoors way with a traditional Kelly Kettle (a portable metal container fuelled by twigs and dry grass that boils water in minutes), and sat whittling a stick into… well, something, before giving up and chucking it on the fire.
Our time at Peppercombe bothy included four seasons in one day; we went from basking in the sunshine while admiring the glorious view across Bideford Bay to Lundy Island, to hiding from the rain inside the bothy reading by candlelight with a glass of wine in hand.
We played at being Ray Mears, we quietly read, we listened to the natural world around us, we gossiped, we laughed and we slept (well, until Katie woke us up). We had a fabulous and memorable time briefly living a simple outdoor life. And we’d certainly do it again.