The old saying goes ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’, but we can delight rural wanderers at any time, with our pick of the best shepherd’s hut stays in the UK.
Just in time for the Easter holidays, let us pull the wool off your eyes and open them to the thrilling prospects of the best places to stay in a shepherd’s hut. Get a jump(er) on it…
Elmley Nature Reserve
Who’d have thunk you could drive just an hour outside of London, and come across such a glorious swathe of countryside? Where the Thames and Medway estuaries meet, on the Isle of Sheppey. Elmley Nature Reserve spans 3,300 acres of wilderness, wetlands and waterways, where animal and birdlife thrive. Whether by walks at dusk, Land Rover jaunts or butterfly and owl safari, this is the UK’s circle of life – more Bearded Reedlings and swooping Peregrine Falcons than lions, but awe-inspiring nonetheless.
And of the shepherd’s hut UK stays, the two here might be some of the cosiest at just 10 square metres, but they pack in a lot of charm. You’ll find a wood-burning stove for warmth, and vintage binoculars and a Swarovski telescope for spotting wildfowl frolicking in the Swale Estuary, or low-flying short-eared owls.
Stay out in the sticks and no-one will give a damn if you rock up with a menagerie of your own. Or – hold it there, Dr Doolittle – maybe just your dog. Retreat East in Suffolk has some of the UK’s most pet-friendly shepherd’s huts. A flock, in fact, with a choice of five stylishly diminutive dwellings. Your little angel fur baby will love his snuggly bed and treats, and you’ll love taking afternoon tea on your terrace while looking out over the expanse of green; days idled by in wellie-clad rambles, village-hopping and crabbing along the coast; and wood-burner-warmed snoozes.
There’s plenty of refinement to this rusticity, with bespoke spa treatments fragrant with site-picked botanicals, and fruity cocktails to kick off a dinner that makes elegant use of the region’s bounty and keeps things Earth-kind: perhaps sherry-slugged Baron Bigod from Fen Farm Dairy with brioche for dipping; carrot pastrami with yoghurt and lovage; or crispy cauliflower with zero-waste kimchi. Woof, indeed.
Glance at the Artist Residence Oxfordshire and it looks like your typical British countryside idyll: thatched roof, check; honey-hued stone, check… But venture in and you’ll quickly spot the signs that this 16th-century darling is more where you come after you’ve slammed your MacBook shut for the day than toiling the fields. Funky florals adorn the dining room, Andy Doig’s What Did I Do Last Night? neon sign hangs over the hearth, and the Connor Brothers’ re-tooled book covers and Lucy Sparrow’s felted-snack sculptures are displayed throughout.
At the bottom of the garden, the hotel’s coolly eccentric attitude is rolled out to the shepherd’s hut without reinventing it too much (yes, there’s more log-burning fun to be had). There are covetable ceramic tiles and a minibar with a fittingly cool snack selection, an art edit, and Bramley bath products. It’s a mere waddle from the main house, but there’s an extra sense of seclusion and you’ll get to know what’s growing in the neighbouring garden (staff are happy to give a tour too).
The one that started a boutique-hotel revolution back in 2011, the Pig’s Hampshire outpost moulded a winning model for urbane country minibreaks. In fact, we’ve sung its praises so often that we’ve run out of porcine puns and have to resort to the classics (after all, with the hotel’s famously 25-mile menu championing sustainability, it won’t mind a little recycling).
So, trotter along to the New Forest for a mighty swine time swanning about the lush kitchen gardens (and saying hello to the chickens and actual pigs that live here); go hog wild for ingredients that have been grown in the on-site polytunnels, mushroom hut and fruit cages (or pulled from the smokehouse); get dr-oink in the bar on cocktails with foraged fixings and English wines. And then it’s lights out in Bert’s Box (a garden hideaway dressed by UK designers Bert & May) or the adorable Forest Hut – both modern, designer interpretations of the shepherd’s hut stay.
Aller Dorset has a quartet of colourful, impeccably dressed shepherd’s huts. The feel here is definitely more Brokeback Pasture than ‘oo arr’, largely due to the sheltered alfresco bath tubs set alongside each of the huts, strung with fairylights for very romantic dips à deux after dark.
You might sling your suitcases in a wheelbarrow for the walk to your hut from your car, wellies abound and the descriptor ‘rural’ is apt for this grass-is-greener spot, but within these chic microcosmic cabins – built by renowned carpentry firm Plankbridge – there’s Farrow & Ball hot pink, yellows and blues, and sage green; mod chintzes; and covetable Bettina Ceramica plates, Maddie Dunning cushions, Bias Editions glassware and more thanks to owner Cat’s design nous. But, amid all this comfort, a little of that latent ruggedness will come back out as you’re clipping herbs for a dinner (sent over in a hamper) you cook over your fire pit.
The Pig on the Beach
Close by in coastal Studland, another little piggy goes to the seaside, and the Pig on the Beach is filled with such fairy-tale whimsy – from the turreted façade that greets you onwards – that we needn’t resort to cheap word-play to enchant you in. Wander through the lived-in interiors of this mellow-yellow-hued manor, past the fertile kitchen gardens and panoramic conservatory, and at the far end of the grounds you’ll find the two shepherd’s huts with sea views.
Glamping in its purest form, both have separate cabins for a bedroom and bathroom, and are decorously vintage in style, with a bed snuggled into a nook, a trusty log-burner, larder and even a Victorian freestanding bath tub squeezed in. Plus steamer chairs out front for drinks till after dark. Sow does that grab you? (Soz, we told a porkie.)
You might look on 18th-century Devonshire country house Lympstone Manor’s carved portico, ginormous beds with padded silken headboards, marble and parquet, chandeliers and decades-accrued artwork, and think ‘isn’t staying outside in a hut a touch déclassé?’ Well, not here. First of all, you’ll be surrounded by vineyards, which means there’s wine in the near vicinity; secondly you’ll have an alfresco bath or hot tub to enjoy in leafy serenity; and lastly, these shepherd hut stays are ‘huts’ in the way a Porsche is a runaround.
Each is beautifully styled in rich tones and bold patterns, with a handy kitchenette, G&Ts on arrival, and all the sylvanian comforts you could need. There’s a fleet of bikes for easy ferrying back and forth, the Exe Estuary close by for Austen-esque hand-in-hand strolls, and hut-dwellers are more than welcome in the Michelin-starred eatery, helmed by lord of the manor himself, Micheal Caines (the acclaimed chef one).
Middleton Lodge Estate
But what of Northern UK’s shepherd’s huts, we hear you ask? It may be a touch colder at times, but that’s what the log-burning lifestyle is all about. Let us transport you to the misty and magical North Yorkshire Moors for wild Wuthering Heights-style (but a bit more upbeat) romance at Middleton Lodge Estate. This 200-acre livestock-roamed farm has a Georgian Palladian mansion at its heart, which is rather lovely. But wait – what’s that there yonder in the orchard? Is that the distant scent of wood a’burning we smell?
It is indeed – tucked away in long grasses and calm copses – far enough from the main house for you to belt out ‘Heathcliff…’ without disturbing anyone except your fellow Smith – are shepherd’s huts that have taken the English country garden theme and run with it, using botanical prints on textiles and tiling, seedling trays for coffee in bed and nature as art. But, with a bath tub to soak in, Nespresso machine and other mod-cons, these pastoral pads are cosmopolitan, too.