For us, a really great cabin takes you somewhere, both literally and figuratively. The two cabins designed, built and moved around the Lake District by John Graham capture that idea perfectly, lifting you above the valley floor, or taking you down to the river, while also spiriting you away from the modern world and making you reconsider what luxury really means. We caught up with John to talk about the challenges and rewards of making mobile cabins in the Lakes.
We're based in one of the quieter parts of the Lake District, the Lorton Valley. There aren’t many opportunities to stay anywhere round here, so I had the idea of making cabins on trailers so they could move to different locations. None of the locations we use are anywhere near another building. You might see a stray walker or two but nobody else. One is down by the river at the moment and another right on top of a fell, looking all the way down the valley. Then there’s the bus.
It's a short American school bus with half a VW camper on the top, which forms a sort of bedroom area. The two were welded together. Basically, you've got your living space downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. There's a little winch so when you're downstairs you can wind the ladder back up. The ladder took a lot of thought and lots of little pulleys and cables to get it to go up and down. In the living space downstairs is a little shower area. We tried to make it feels as if you're at home. There's two wood burning stoves and one of those is like an Aga, that you can cook off as well. It's got to be the only bus with an Aga in it!
The location and the design of our cabins are both really important. Together they form a whole experience. You have to walk a little way to most of them, 20 minutes in some cases, so that forces people to pack light. Also, coming through the terrain orientates you and gives you an idea of the space and the view. It builds to the moment you arrive rather than just driving up, especially when we’ve got the little cabin at the mountaintop site. So you can stay in these locations in relative luxury, although I don't really like using that term, because they're not luxurious, but they've got everything you need. There's no TVs or anything like that, because you want to sort of be close to nature. There’s the Aga, wood-burning stoves, and other than that they're totally off grid.
We didn't want to lose that feeling of wildness by adding too many niceties. Luxury is the simple things, really. You kind of realise what the luxuries are when you strip your life back a little bit. So luxuries become chopping wood to make heat and freshwater, or a fridge to chill food. Those things, when you're in that exposed environment, become luxurious. If you're in a cabin, or even the bus, those simple things like when it's cold, it's not just a case of flipping a button, you've got to chop the wood and light the fire. And when that's hard, that becomes a sort of luxury, if you know what I mean, a really rewarding one.
When I was first working on the bus, we rented our house out for a year and lived in it while we built it. We still talk about how that was the best period of our lives, living in the bus in the middle of nowhere. Being somewhere like that just slows your life down. We hardly had anything, just the absolute basics because there isn't a huge amount of space. We cooked everything from scratch. Life was a lot calmer. We played board games, built a little vegetable patch. It was like the good life, just being in that environment, you naturally slow down. At home, you've got a computer on the go all the time, phones going off, people outside people knocking at the door. There's a constant buzz in the background, but when we were there, everything filtered out and that remoteness, being able to get away from everything, is brilliant.
Some people stay and they’re very active. They bring bikes and paddleboards and don't spend much time at the cabin. But other people will go to the cabin or the bus and that's them. They bring a lot of books to read, or finish off a book they’re writing and they just want some peace to just do that. There was actually a local person from 10 minutes away that wanted somewhere to go and finish a book. They just wanted solitude and a good cabin offers that to people, that freedom to disappear into something.