Words & Photography: Jacob Little
It's early February, and the smallest signs that winter might be waning are evident. From the smallest of wild flowers to a greening of the trees where the sun manages to cast its weak rays, the natural world is slowly waking up. For the most part however, the frost still bites. It's still cold at night, and darkness prevails, even during the day.
Mrs Higgs Lodge is nestled in dense woodland on the border between England and Wales amongst 3000 acres of estate land. Not far from Hereford, but equally not far from the magical Hay-on-Wye and stunning Welsh landscape, it was a originally a hunting lodge until about 60 years ago, the forest reclaimed it as its own. Mrs. Higgs left, and the landscape took over. It’s since been unearthed, and sensitively restored to a usable form of accommodation.
Picture an idyllic off-grid lodge and it's easy to be romantic. An outdoor life, surrounded by trees, working on the land in perfect isolation. There are many truths to this, of course, but staying at Mrs Higgs Lodge was first and foremost a practical experience. Tasks need to be measured according to basic instinct and human need, and it wasn't long before I was raiding the woodshed for kindling and logs to light the fires. One downstairs and one in the bedroom and both needing constant attention to ensure I didn't go to bed cold. What first feels onerous becomes enjoyable and routine, and the quicker you adopt an instinctive and habitual attitude towards keeping the fires stoked at all times of the day, the quicker you get into the slower rhythm of life and atmosphere here.
The rhythm of the natural world is one of the biggest draws of this way of living. You settle into a routine that's ingrained into the fabric of what's around you. Instead of observing your surroundings, you work with them, establishing a relationship that's more akin to wild camping than it is to cottage or B&B stays. You have to be sympathetic to your environment, taking into account the time of day, temperature and weather at every turn. Just as camping, it's important to stay one step ahead.
It's easy to get into the rhythm of having next to nothing in the way of creature-comforts when you are staying somewhere as impressive and calming as Mrs Higgs Lodge. It's close to some of South Wales' most impressive landscapes, and is nestled unassumingly in a forest - otherwise going unnoticed. There’s a stillness here and an atmosphere that is hard to replicate when surrounded by the sub-conscious buzz of modern technology.
The luxury of waking up to the sounds of birds and a crackling fire is far more luxurious than any number of spa visits or hotel breakfasts. This is luxurious living at its most natural and basic, but it is luxury nonetheless. It's a privileged experience being situated in isolation, and all that's required is a little bit of extra work.
Modern living is measured in our relationship to our accessories. When life's accessories were what you needed to survive, like an axe, or a knife, for example, a new relationship with what you own and how you use it comes into being. Staying off-grid not only teaches you this and clears your mind, it also helps establish your relationship with what it means to be relaxed. Relaxation in this instance is keeping busy - it's chopping wood, stoking the fire, lighting the stove - but it's a connection and an instant relationship to the outdoors that is what relaxes you. Lounging in the wood fired hot tub as the sun sinks and the grip of February cold and darkness once again fills the atmosphere is a true pleasure. More of this, I think, and it’s hard not to imagine the world being a much happier place.