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.
15 March, 2021
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
The Treehouses at Lanrick Near, Doune FK16 6HJ
Wild Escapes at Fullerton Farm
2 Frogmore Cottages, Norleywood, Lymington SO41 5RX