SORREL DOWNER

Journalist, film producer, and media consultant, mixing it up for TV, online, newspapers and magazines. I cover travel & tourism, lifestyle, and design. Mainly. This is the HQ for previous work, and an introduction to current projects. I work all over the world and live on a farm in Cadiz which I write about at www.somewheresville.org.

Great Green British Breaks | Homes & Interiors

VisitScotland

Sea Kayaking In Scotland: There can be no better way to explore remote stretches of Scotland’s beautiful, mountainous coastline than to glide along it silently in a kayak. Further rewards of paddling include the chance to explore uninhabited islands, to observe wildlife – sea eagles, dolphins, occasionally whales – all oblivious to your presence, and for wild camping on isolated white sand beaches. Wilderness Scotland leads kayak and camping expeditions in some of the UK’s finest sea kayaking waters, most 6-days, 5-nights long and moderately easy. This month beginners can take a short training course up at Loch Torridon to master essential skills; while those with a minimum of 4 days of sea kayaking experience can paddle and camp around the Summer Isles and Achiltibuie. Trips are offered through to the last week of September. Tel 0131 625 6635; wildernessscotland.com     

WWOOFING: Ever gazed at a field from a commuter train and felt you’d like to be out there, sleeves rolled up, being productive? That urge, and the desire to contribute more to the organic movement than eat the produce spurred a London secretary, Sue Coppard to set up WWOOF in 1971. Now standing for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms it’s essentially a matchmaking service, enabling people (usually single or couples) to give practical help to families on farms and smallholdings in return for food and accommodation. Opportunities listed online range from a weekend mending fences to several months tending flocks. On a warm June day all sound enticing, but few more so than Wallabarrow, a 467-acre National Trust hill farm in the Lake District made up of hills, woods, pastures, meadows, rocky crags, bees, cows and Herdwick sheep, where the new tenants are establishing organic gardens and orchard looking for someone to help with a spot of stonewalling and woodland work. www.wwoof.org.uk

 Camping in a Yurt, Cornwall: Yurts are springing up like mushrooms across British fields, but for idyllic location, these set alone in fields among gnarly oaks, vibrant gorse, late bluebells and tormentil with views of moors and sea take some beating. Each jolly yurt is designed for comfort with rugs, lanterns, futons and big cushions, and, despite the splendid isolation, for truly civilised living with rolltop baths in the bathroom yurts and compost toilets in nearby yurtlets. Organic eggs and meat can be provided for cooking on the wood-burning stove or Mongolian barbecue and eating by a crackling campfire. Lovely walks are to be had along the River Camel, and to the village pub 10 minutes away. At the time of going to press there are just two yurts (although plans to add a third), each much in demand throughout the Easter to mid-October season, but you could always ask Yurtworks to build you a yurt of your own which they will for a very reasonable fee. Cornish Yurt Holidays, Greyhayes, St Breward, Bodmin; Min stay 1 week, shorter breaks considered if booked well in advance. Tel 01208 850670; yurtworks.co.uk

Gracious Green Living at Strattons Hotel, Norfolk: A green holiday doesn’t have to involve physical exertion and mucking out. Here you can demonstrate your support for environmentally sensitive restoration work and organic farming while lolling in comfort and over-indulging. This small boutique hotel insulated with lamb’s wool and coated in environmentally-friendly paint was the first in the UK to receive the  Queen’s Award for ‘Outstanding Environmental Performance’ and recently won Considerate Hotel of the Year Awards’ Best of British Food for its commitment to sourcing local, ethical produce. A trip to the nearby Ecotech Centre dedicated to renewable energy, sustainable business practices, organic horticulture is also inspiring, as is walking or riding through the  peaceful forest trails and ancient track ways of the Brecks and visiting the wild bird reserves of the nearby Norfolk coast. Strattons Hotel, 4 Ash Close, Swaffham; Tel 01760 723845, strattonshotel.com. Ecotech Centre: Tel 01760 726 100; ecotech.org.uk/tourism

Dining at Austwick Traddock, Yorkshire: The Traddock  in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is much-loved by walkers who build up healthy appetites by tromping through the fresh air of the wild dales. Its organic, local and seasonal fare won it the title of Best Organic Restaurant of the Year 2006 and owners Bruce and Jane Reynolds take great care to ensure ecologically sound principles are put into practice where possible throughout. This is a peaceful, romantic place, candlelit at night, and popular with honeymooners and weekenders escaping the city. It’s a relaxing retreat, but those in need of something a little more energetic than gazing at the garden from the deck, can set off from the door and head up the three peaks – Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, Ingleborough. The views from the summits (or even, speaking from personal experience, from slightly above the bottom) are sufficiently overwhelming to make you redouble your efforts to protect England’s wild spaces. Austwick Traddock, Austwick, North Yorkshire; Min 2-night stay at weekends; Tel: 01524 251224; austwicktraddock.co.ukWalking the West Highland Way, Scotland: Hoofing across an area of outstanding natural beauty on foot is incontrovertibly easier on the environment than driving across it, but long-distance hiking is not without its problems. Even the lightest packs feel heavy on 1:3 uphill gradients and then, unless you are doing a circular route, there’s the little matter of getting back. In short, it’s not for everyone hence the traffic bottlenecks. The Sherpa Van Project aims to reduce the numbers of cars in protected areas and encourage people to explore on foot by providing a support service, transporting every walker’s baggage between overnight stops – which they will recommend and book on request – on 8 or 9 of the UK’s most popular trails. Use it and you’ll be able to be able to walk the 92-mile West Highland Way from Drymen through Loch Lomond to Fort William and Glen Nevis, perhaps even up Ben Nevis for example, with a spring in your step. A nice summer stroll. Tel 0871 520 0124; sherpavan.com.

Self-Catering at Treshnish & Haunn Cottages, Isle of Mull: These self-catering cottages on a working farm are proof that the simple pleasures of life can be very exciting indeed. No noise or distraction, just deer, eagles and otters, spectacular views of neighbouring islands of Coll, Tiree, Rum, Skye, Canna, Muick, Eigg and Staffa on clear, sunny days, and white shell sand beaches lapped by turquoise sea three miles away. Given the Gold Award by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, Treshnish works hard to minimise its impact through recycling, composting, and the use of eco-friendly products, low energy bulbs, solar panels and local services. They have a tree planting programme, and there are bird boxes for swallows in the new farm buildings, all a reminder that a long journey starts with little steps. There are eight cottages sleeping between 2 and six people, those at Haunn, two miles further down a farm track for people in search of splendid isolation. Treshnish Point, near Calgary, Isle of Mull, Tel: 0845 458 1971; treshnish.co.uk

Sailing, Norfolk Broads: For the halcyon life of the Swallows and Amazons, hire a mahogany yacht from the Hunter Fleet and sail at least some of the 120 safely navigable miles of the Norfolk Broads. These yachts aren’t motor cruisers with sails as optional accessories but proper boats without engines and electricity offering an authentic 1930s sailing experience that’s greener than green, as they rightly say. So, as they are also much loved and admired, unless you are a highly experienced sailor, opt for the half-day skippered jaunt or take advantage of Hunter’s training course first. The Lullaby class will accommodate a party of four – if you have teenagers take them. True sailing offers endless opportunities for building self-reliance and self-confidence, and you’ll need someone to swim to shore for help when the wind drops. Hunter’s Yard, Horsefen Road, Ludham, Norfolk; Tel 01 692 678 263 ; huntersyard.co.uk

Volunteering: Turtle tagging in the Caribbean is useful, but here in the UK thousands of miles of hedgerows have been lost as a result of urban development, stonewalls are crumbling, waterways are clogged up and our own wildlife threatened by habitat pollution. So for a feel good, do good holiday, why not look for voluntary work closer to home (particularly while the weather’s good)? BTCV Conservation Holidays generally run from 3-10 days and involve teamwork on projects in national parks, or on land owned by wildlife trusts or the National Trust. There is a wide range on offer over the summer including the chance to learn about footings, cams and noggins and build the dry stone wall along the Witton Weavers’ Way in the Lancashire Hills. It’s not all bunk beds in dorms these days either – on most you have the alternative option of staying at cottages, hotels or field studies centres. General enquiries: Tel 01302 388 888; btcv.org   

 Camping at Feather Down Farms: If you have ever arrived at a farmer’s field in the drizzling dusk and grappled with wet canvas and poles, treat yourself to a visit to one of the Feather Down Farms. Erected in ten locations on or near protected areas, on working farms where the farmers and family are passionate guardians of the countryside, Feather Down’s tents come fully furnished in a style ‘reflecting the honest rural life of yesteryear’ complete with paraffin lamps and wood-burning stove but with the added joys of thick mattresses and duvets. Local produce is available from the honesty shops and campers can gather eggs from the henhouse, roast chickens and bake bread in a great wood-fired traditional oven – a gathering point at each campsite in the evenings – stroke animals in the paddock and borrow bikes to pedal off for the day. Sites range from Lincolnshire and Lancashire to Cornwall and Dolgoch Farm in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, the country’s first organic demonstration dairy farm in Wales, nestled in a wooded valley near the sea, and inhabited by happy cows. Season runs from end of March to mid-October. Tel 01420 80804; featherdownfarms.co.uk

Youth Hostelling: For those under 12, just being in a vast green space isn’t enough. It’s all about what you can do in it. Happily, Kielder Forest in Northumberland is sufficiently huge to absorb several adventure centres and a great big lake – Kielder Water – and still remain a place of peace and beauty. The Youth Hostel Association’s rather smart 41-bed hostel is a fine base for the riding, fishing, climbing, swimming, pioneering, dinghy sailing and watersports offered there and at centres nearby, and paths for hikers and cycle trails raiate from its very door. Small children will appreciate the crazy golf and Kielder Castle’s maze; urban escapees will appreciate the clean air and spectacular stargazing in this almost forgotten, unpolluted spot. Butteryhaugh, Kielder Village, Hexham, Northumberland; Tel 0870 770 5898; General YHA enquiries – Tel 0870 770 8868; yha.org.uk

 Eco-Living in an Ecocabin, Shropshire: Last year, people were escaping to rural boutique hotels offering urban chic. This year there’s big demand for glorified tents and sheds. Ecocabin is the latter, built of wood, stylishly furnished with second-hand bits and bobs, and well-positioned for splendid views of the rolling Shropshire Hills from the veranda. Part-funded through Defra’s Rural Enterprise Scheme, and designed according to ecological principles, the Ecocabin is not only a nice spot for a cup of tea or BBQ but, with its solar power, stringent recycling, wood pellet heating, organic wool towels and ‘buy local’ shopping system, an appealing taster for comfortably attainable eco-living. Tel 01547 530183; ecocabin.co.uk

 

Green Cuisine At Penrhos, Herefordshire: This rambling, old manor farm on the Welsh borders is the glorious setting for utterly relaxing weekends, but also a wide range of residential courses (including organic gardening with Bob Flowerdew) and retreats. Owner Daphne Lambert is a firm believer that food should be organic, local and as near to its natural state as possible. All guests get the benefit of this philosophy. The hotel was among the first in Britain to have a restaurant offering topnotch organic cuisine and the breakfasts (yoghurt with rhubarb, ginger miso broth, poached egg on sourdough toast) are worth the trip alone but attending one of Daphne’s green cuisine courses – many running through August-November – means you can attempt to put it into practise yourself. Interestingly, this is also the place to come if you are planning a green eco-wedding.

Penrhos Court Hotel, Kington, Herefordshire; Tel 01544 230720; penrhos.co.uk

 

Up a Tree at The Tree House, Castle Cottage, Sussex: You don’t need to shin up a knotted rope to get to this tree house. This luxurious, secluded thatched nest for two built in the branches of a living sweet chestnut tree not only has substantial wooden steps, but comes complete with a sauna, an en-suite shower room and balcony with swing seats overlooking the garden. Nothing could be more summery. Close by below there are footpaths into local woods and the South Downs. Local and where possible organic food is served up at breakfast in the conservatory.

This is one of several unusual and green options hand-picked by Natural Discovery. To book or to ask about other options Tel 0845 458 2799; naturaldiscovery.co.uk

Unwinding At Old Country House Farm, Worcestershire: If you don’t have family with a bucolic country farm, unwind at this one. This 600-year old friendly, family home sits in flower-filled gardens surrounded by tussocky grassland, and ancient woods all managed for the benefit of wildlife and to encourage the understanding of our relationship, – physical, spiritual and creative – with the natural world, hence its Gold Wildlife Award. It has also won a Herefordshire Nature Trust Green Business Award for its ecologically sound ethos which governs everything here. As well as accommodating B&B guests in the main house, there’s a new green oak building in the orchards, the Lighthouse, available in its entirety with a double-height music room with piano, studio, oodles of space for extended families, and views of the Malvern Hills. Organic and local produce provided. Old Country House Farm, Mathon, Malvern, Worcestershire; Tel 01886 880867; oldcountryhouse.co.uk

Cycling, the South Downs: It’s the cycling equivalent of flotilla sailing: a convivial group (usually 16-28 people) travelling in roughly the same direction at varying pace, and meeting for lunch, a swim, dinner, a pint. Bicycle Beano carefully select attractive green spots (a watermill, Georgian mansion or medieval manor house) as the pivotal point for daily sortees into deeply rural locations that include Snowdonia & the Lleyn Peninsula, the Welsh Borders, the Vale of the White Horse and the South Downs with its rippling trout streams and alluring thatched pubs. Normal pace is 3 days of 35-40 miles, but 7-day breaks are also offered throughout the summer. Tel: 01982 560471; bicycle-beano.co.uk;

SORREL DOWNER. COUNTRY HOMES & INTERIORS

This is the HQ for archive features, and an introduction to current projects. See also somewheresville, the travel blog; Vimeo for videos, LinkedIn for skills and contact details. 

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2008 by in Travel, Travel with Children, UK, Writing.

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