Muddy stays: Wind in the Willows
There’s something magical about staying somewhere that little bit different – whether it’s a lighthouse, a boat or a windmill, a quirky stay blows the cobwebs away (or something a little less, erm, corny!). So it was with great excitment when a last-minute cancellation lead me to Wind in the Willows, a brightly-painted red and blue shepherd’s hut on a farm in the tiny village of East Ruston, two miles from Happisburgh (don’t even get me started on how you people pronounce this place!).
I love spontaneous opportunities like this, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the car with gusto whilst trying to remember what you need for a camping trip with a bit of glamour (wet wipes, kitchen roll…). East Ruston is just 40 minutes from Norwich and, on the short, traffic-less drive, fond memories of family camping trips fill my mind.
Our destination couldn’t be more different from our starting place – the smell of freshly-dug up manure hitting our nostrils as soon as we park up. “It smells of poo,” exclaims my four-year-old crinkling up her nose. “Ooh look… chickens!”
Wind in the Willows is a hand-crafted gypsy van with all the folksy vintage style you could wish for – gingham curtains, buttons and hearts aplenty, there’s even a stained glass window designed to match the hut’s colour scheme, as well as framed ode to the hut’s name.
Homely comforts include a 6′ bed on a raised platform (it’s honestly comfier than mine at home – damn you IKEA), a sink with running water, a very effective heater for those chilly mornings and evenings, rattan chairs and a fold out table and stool. The owners have thought of everything, too: a radio, a mirror, games, maps, binoculars, first aid kit, books, blankets, daffodils and a guest book all present and correct.
Like every good shepherd’s hut, Wind in the Willows has a stable-style door: unlock the bolt and throw the top section open – particularly lovely in the morning sunshine or in the evening when the stars twinkle – cuddle up in bed and let nature in.
There’s also a small veranda at the top of the steps with two seats, perfect for watching the sunset. Guests have an entire section of farden (farm-cum-garden) to themselves, with a duck-egg blue wooden table and chairs for al fresco breakfasts or evening meals, a sectioned-off chicken hutch and a modern shower block with a power shower and flushable loo – this is more like glamping, after all.
I adored the cutesy kitchen next door, with its Baby Beling oven, kettle, toaster, fridge, sink with running hot water and all the equipment you could need – think polka dot mugs, wine glasses and a cheese grater. Susan, the lovely owner, makes homemade flapjacks for guests (all gooey and nutty), leaves a jug of milk in the fridge and puts fresh eggs from the chickens on the side. There’s also kitchen roll, a cafetiere for fresh coffee in the morning (bring your own coffee) and a dustpan and brush for when the morning’s dewy grass inevitably ends up inside.
With the weather a little chillier than predicted, we head to the Waybridge Inn in Stalham – a pub near the river that has recently undergone a refurbishment – for a pint and a bag of crisps before heading back to make pizza in the tiny oven and grab an early night.
Despite the chickens, the occasional siting of a pheasant and the odd glimpse of a tiny deer, it’s a peaceful night that’s surprisingly comfy.
The next morning, I switch the fire on and pad outside in my dressing gown and flip flops to make a pot of coffee and put a pan on for dippy eggs and toast. Crawling back into bed – child amazingly still snoring – I sip my coffee and look out at an already blue sky. The eggs are far tastier than any supermarket’s offering, with a bright yellow yolk that Dulux would doubtless describe as ‘Canary Yellow’.
It’s a beautiful April day, so we pack a picnic blanket (found in the kitchen), some sandwiches and a bucket and spade and head to Happisburgh for a day on the beach, followed by lunch at the nearby – and well-revered, Ingham Swan (the equally well-revered Gunton Arms is also nearby and highly recommended for an evening meal).
That evening, with the weather much nicer, we eat pasta outdoors, drink wine (don’t panic: the fridge is big enough to chill a bottle of fizz or plonk) and chat to the owners who introduce us to their dog, Poppy, and tell us more about the hut. Craig shows me a pull down section at the back which has a dog’s bed already in situ, while a tin of dog biscuits can be found inside.
That evening, the stars come out and I sit on the steps, glass of wine in hand, blanket wrapped around me and ponder at how deliciously far away from city life this feels, yet only a short drive away.
Saying goodbye to the lovely Susan the next morning – who not only invites us in to pet Poppy one last time but let’s me play a record on her original 1970s jukebox – I realise that I’ve no idea why the shepherd hut is called Wind in the Willows. But perhaps its simply because they have a best-seller on their hands.
Wind in the Willows, Bristow’s Farm, Chequers Street, East Ruston, Norfolk, NR12. eastrustoncottages.co.uk