Humble Roots: The UK's Eco-Conscious Treehouses

From turrets and trapdoors to al fresco bathtubs and showers, tree houses are branching out. Take a peek inside the UK’s most eco-conscious dwellings.

This article first appears in Volume 32: Homegrown.

When Princess Elizabeth clambered into Treetops Hotel in Kenya's Aberdare National Park in 1952, she had no idea she'd climb down as Queen. She was sleeping among the branches when the news broke that her father had died. Some 400 years prior, her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, dined in the canopy in a house that could be dismantled so as to not stunt the tree's growth. History has credited the Tudors with a lot of things (the flushing loo, for instance), but who knew they were such pioneers of sustainability?

Despite its historic royal roots, most of us probably associate the tree house with more humble beginnings. It was our childhood kingdom, those ramshackle planks and MDF boards strung together by ambitious (or perhaps exasperated) grown-ups.

Today, many of us cling on to that desire to seek sanctuary in the canopy. Whether you're five or 55, tree houses present an escape from the mundane. It doesn't matter if you were lucky enough to have a treetop den in your garden as a child. There's something about these retreats that, as adults, kindle feelings of nostalgia. They're a chance to switch off. Putting distance between us and that which grounds us, they immerse us in a simpler world governed by birds, bees and branches.

Back to nature doesn't have to mean back to basics, however. Forget rusty nails and ropey ladders; a forest of design-driven dwellings are taking root across the UK. Thanks to the addition of turrets and trapdoors, al fresco bathtubs and views across bucolic pastures, going off-grid has never been more attractive. Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree pales in comparison.

Instead, these sprawling tree houses pander to our penchants for Scandi-minimalism, foraging experiences and delivered-to-the-door hampers. It's no wonder that the tree-house trend is growing. According to Canopy & Stars, a booking platform which brings together a curated selection of some of the UK's best tree-house holidays, online searches have soared over the last decade - a 67-per-cent increase in the last year alone.

Yet it's not just the outdoor tubs that draw us to these arboreal abodes. Unlike many fleeting travel trends, this is one you can feel good about climbing on, thanks to a raft of eco-credentials. Many tree houses are built in harmony with the landscape, harnessing the local crop of sustainable materials and using methods such as prefabrication and special screws that protect the plants while keeping carbon footprints low.

Simon Parfett is considered the messiah of tree-house construction, having built award-winning structures across the globe - including one constructed around a crane on Bristol's Harbourside. His creative process is one that reflects and protects the landscape. Sitting in the space ahead of design is like asking for permission, he says. "When built correctly, it should be impossible to see how the tree house was placed in its location." Using computer-aided design, he pre-manufactures the majority of the elements in his workshop, alleviating any need for heavy machinery which could damage the tree.

As long as innovative architects and eco-conscious hoteliers continue to build whimsical tree houses that pull on our heartstrings, we'll keep shouting from the tree tops that luxury travel doesn't have to cost the Earth.


The Bower Treehouse

Simon Parfett spent his career building other people's tree houses. By the time he turned his hand to building his own, he'd spent years collecting materials and planning what it would look like. For Parfett, finding a connection with nature is paramount. Inspired by some of the creations he built as a boy, Bower Treehouse is as romantic as it is rustic. The king-size bed is whittled from stag oak and a bathtub sits outside, as does a firepit for over-the-coal cooking and starlit s'mores. If you can pull yourself away from the magical setting, then the creative hub of Bruton is a just a short ramble from here.


North Brewham, BA10 0JS


The Treehouses at Lanrick

Husband-and-wife team Simon and Louisa Dickson knew the time was right to diversify their farmland when a large number of their mature larch trees were due to be harvested. Calling upon Simon’s design experience and making use of the timber where possible, the five treehouses at Lanrick were born. Inside you’ll find a mishmash of upcycled copper piping, industrial lighting and fittingly knotted wood cladding. While families or groups will enjoy the Flycatcher and Willow Warbler, two tree houses connected by a rope bridge, our favourite has to be the Treecreeper – find us in the rear deck’s bathtub overlooking fields felted with moss.


The Treehouses at Lanrick Near, Doune FK16 6HJ


Rufus Roost

More akin to a castle than a treehouse, Rufus’s Roost has turrets that can be seen peeping through the forests from the other side of the estate. Owner Barney Smith let his imagination run wild here: the tree house is equipped with a hot tub, pizza oven and a secret tunnel that leads to a reading nook. The surrounding farm and woodland of Baxby Manor has been in his family for generations and the tree house is an extension of his efforts to preserve the land – fallen sticks form spindles in the staircase and an oak beam came from an on-site barn.


Cleave Treehouse

What started as a quick sketch on a scrap of paper grew into an undisturbed hideaway peering through the tree canopy several metres above the forest floor. Sam and Felicity Ursell decided to escape the grind of farming after the success of their first cottage venture, The Old Piggery. Their self-built tree-top sanctuary is a Nordic-meets-nature affair with a bathtub for two on the outdoor deck and a bedroom designed for snuggling up and stargazing. Aside from the farm-fresh eggs and milk delivered to the door, along with the odd flock of sheep pootling past or the grumble of a nearby tractor, you’re largely left alone – and it’s in this sweet seclusion that Cleave Treehouse’s allure lies.


Wild Escapes at Fullerton Farm

Set on a working farm and vineyard in the Hampshire Downs, Wild Escapes’ individually crafted, low-impact tree houses each have their own character. Choose from a black, Scandi-mod outfit; a rustic bolthole wrapped in salvaged barn cladding; a more traditional set-up that gazes across vine- strewn hills; or a modern build outside which you can shower beneath a leafy sycamore tree. The surrounding area is best explored by bike. Take a spin to the Black Chalk Vineyard, stock up on picnic provisions at much-loved Thyme and Tides deli or hunker down at The Mayfly pub in Stockbridge.


2 Frogmore Cottages, Norleywood, Lymington SO41 5RX

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