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.

Fling open the stable door and breathe in the fresh country air

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.

The shower/kitchen block

The modern shower and flushable loo

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.

Susan makes flapjacks for guests

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.

We cook homemade pizza in the Baby Beling

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’.

Put the fire on first thing and get back into bed

Morning coffee

Dippy eggs with soldiers

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).

Happisburgh beach

Happy child

Happy feet

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

 

 

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