Helen McGrath Doherty is owner and manager of Albion Nights, an off grid luxury cabin retreat which has attracted national media attention of late – involving her posing in a swimsuit in the outdoor bath! Here she explains how it’s all come about
My life has been full to the brim! I’ve done many different things and have had lots of adventures along the way so far; a recurring theme throughout is friendship, music, connection and community.
At the start of the pandemic, I was on course to launch Albion Nights on April 1st. The world then had other ideas for us all, without any sign of an April Fool. A TV show that Pete, my husband, and I had appeared on aired at the end of March and that was to be the platform I hoped would help get Albion Nights ‘out there’ and springboard me into business. The show followed us and the cabin build. Life was busy and came to quite a sudden stop, as it did for so many.
About eight years ago, for various reasons, I started throwing around the idea of leaving London, which had been my home for almost 30 years, and starting some kind of glamping business. I come from a family of camping festival goers and this trait continued when I started my own family with Pete. We’re very outdoorsy and most of our holidays have been camping with the kids, plus lots of festivals.
When we finally took the plunge and moved to Norfolk, which made sense as my Mum is in Suffolk, I found a barn with planning permission with this incredible parcel of land that we now own. It was this that sealed the deal and the fact that we’d need to convert a barn to become our home just sort of faded into the background.
As we were doing the conversion, there was an ever-increasing amount of materials that were either surplus or were part of the dismantling we’d had to do. Things like old, corrugated tin and roof trusses. It was this pile that started my imagination rolling and the idea of a cabin built from these materials began to form.
I had imagined that I’d have a gentle launch into the world of running a holiday business, but I’ve had to hit the ground running. All of a sudden, the idea of holidaying in an off-grid cabin set in six acres of wildflower meadow became the ideal holiday during a pandemic and bookings went through the roof. It has been quite incredible. I’ve had numerous repeat bookings with guests coming again during the same year, including one couple who are coming THREE times this year! I’ve also had some unbelievable press coverage which has included being listed in The Guardian’s Top 10 Best Cosy Cabins in the UK, The Times Top 30 UK Autumn Staycations, Elle Magazine Top 34 UK Staycations and The Simple Things ran an article all about the cabin. I think it’s fair to say that the cabin at Albion Nights has been received pretty well!
My impression so far, bearing in mind that I’ve only been open for 12 months, is that folk are definitely putting a higher value on the idea of UK based holidays. And why not?! It’s certainly a much greener alternative and there is so much of this country to explore. Interestingly I’ve had a much higher proportion of local guests than I’d anticipated. Possibly due to people not wanting to travel far. A stay here really does prove that you don’t have to go far to do something completely different and feel that you’ve travelled much further.
When guests come for a stay, they can expect to find a magical and tranquil space to relax in and disconnect from the 24/7 lives we all seem to have stepped into. The cabin is furnished simply with a luxurious feel. Guests often comment on how well they’ve slept and leave feeling relaxed and revived.
Given where the cabin is situated, it made sense to create an off-grid space. It shows off how simply one can live and in doing so we’ve also created a place for people to come and switch off, quite literally.
The next stage of my business is to begin hosting workshops and retreats here. I’m dipping my toe in this October with a series of events over the same weekend working in partnership with Polly from @jollyallotment. We’ll be hosting a Wild Autumn Supper, A Gutsy Gathering and a Yoga and Brunch morning. I’m super excited about this; they’re going to be very special gatherings. I’m looking at hosting a series of events next year, some of which will be stand-alone as these ones, and others with overnight options, where they’ll be a choice of accommodation in the cabin, bell tents and rooms in the barn.
There is a real need for connection with others at the moment, in quite a back-to-basics way. We’re all craving to be with others and so these events will create a safe space for that to happen. We’ll gather around fires, eat incredible food outside which has been cooked over open fires.
I’m also hoping to get Albion Nights Kitchen Gigs up and running. Pre-pandemic, I had a gig a month booked over seven months to be held here in our vaulted barn kitchen, akin to the Sofar Sounds gigs: 25 people per gig, simple veggie food, bring your own drinks and hear some wonderful live acoustic music in our home. How lovely to be able to stroll down from the cabin for an intimate gig if you happen to be staying there at the right time?
I think 2022 will be super busy for me but in a really nourishing and fulfilling way.
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