There’s no question that this has been a surprising year. But aside from the mammoth curveball of a global pandemic, when I look back on 2020, I will always think of the many smaller revelations that peppered its trajectory.
Everyone will have these personal reflections, different though they may be.
When it comes to travel, I’ve learned how restorative the great outdoors can be. I had thought that what I would crave most post-lockdown would be the hum of a seductive city, swirling with creative minds, blinking skyscrapers and blurred traffic. And yet both in July and December, that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Instead I sought remote spaces in the British countryside, where simple details could bring disproportionate joy. In Scotland, I delighted in being lost in the Cairngorms surrounded by pretty-in-purple heather; in the Lakes, I felt my heart flutter as blue skies broke above after torrential rain; and in Cornwall, time slipped away as I watched listerine-green waves break on the rugged coast.
And so, exiting lockdown two, I was all too happy to be headed to the Hampshire Downs for two nights in a treehouse where the rural location was the raison d’etre.
We were the first weekend guests and having seen few photos, I had let my Tarzan-style preconceptions get the better of me, picturing rope ladders and freezing nights. Luckily, I had seriously underestimated master craftsman Will Hardy, who built The Damselfly along with three others during lockdown, and has spent a decade bringing private treehouses to life.
The Damselfly and its sisters sit on the edge of woodlands on Fullerton Farm in the Test Valley, six metres above ground and overlooking Black Chalk Wine’s vineyards. Trunks are intertwined into the fabric of the building and long wooden walkways lead you up into the leaves. Inside is a seriously souped-up treehouse that combines the cosy feeling of a cabin with a minimalist modern look and muted colour scheme. Huge windows let daylight flood in and capitalise on the views, while carefully selected furniture gives each its own stamp of personality, ranging from Scandi cool to rustic warmth.
Outdoor bathtubs are a huge part of the allure here; there’s something particularly special about sinking into hot water when the temperature outside is so low. In the Damselfly, it’s a palatial copper iteration with an outdoor shower in the shade of a sycamore, and heavy curtains for drawing round. Better though to be bold and keep them open, toasting the horizon with a glass of English sparkling wine made from the vines in front.
I visited with my housemate, Hannah, and we spent so many hours drinking and chatting in our swimsuits that by the time we retreated inside, the skin of our fingers looked like grapes that had been left out in the sun too long. We enjoyed it so much we spent the following evening the same way, with red wine and soggy crisps, listening to the sounds of twigs rustling in the wind before succumbing to festive songs.
The other terrace is much larger, with barbecue and bar stools – a prime setting for more local fizz as the sky turns a dusty pink. Inside, there’s a decent kitchen, a sofa for nights in front of the log burner, a corner snug for dogs to curl up in, and a master bedroom with king-sized bed and more of those large windows for watching squirrels scurry about. Two of the other treehouses are suited to families, with a bunk room instead of room for the dog. Electric heating, a flushing toilet, indoor shower and plug sockets all come as standard. There’s also a breakfast hamper of grade-a eggs, butter, coffee and milk to set you up for the day.
A few added touches like clothing hangers for the cupboards and a torch for evening strolls wouldn’t be remiss at this price-point, but these are minor quibbles that will likely be ironed out before long and little impact the overall excellent experience.
In fact, it would have been easy to spend the entire weekend within the treehouse, such is the appeal, but mini adventures on the doorstep all up its staycation status. You can meander over to Black Chalk Wine to learn more about how this small-batch family-run vineyard operates, hand selecting the finest grapes for lovely crisp English wines, and stay for a tasting with moreish meats and cheese (£28, blackchalkwine.co.uk). For a more substantial meal out, The Greyhound on The Test in Stockbridge (a 90-minute walk along the Test Way; thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk) is serious about serving excellent set menus (three courses for £35) and has quite possibly been one of my favourite pub lunches of the year; think ‘nduja and aged cheddar scotch egg followed by rich and tender glazed beef feather blade with hazelnuts, parsley and horseradish.
Guests staying in autumn should also opt for joining an entertaining truffle hunting tour (£30) with the farm’s friendly father and son team and their dogs Rudy and Bruno. You’ll feel like a part of the family before long, and the excitement of the dogs as they hurtle about every which way on the hunt for truffles is practically contagious.
Whatever you do, the finer details will remain in your memory long after you leave. The sight of steam billowing up and out into the night sky from the alluring tub. The dirt that flies up into your face as one of the Lagotto Romagnolos inches in on his truffle prey. The delicate fizz of English bubbles on your tongue as you watch the sun slip away. The joy of small things.
Wild Escapes treehouses for two cost from £260 per night (canopyandstars.co.uk).