The Inspector visits a stately home off the M25 that's been turned into an 'off-grid hideout'


The Inspector visits a shabby-chic stately home near the M25 that’s been turned into an ‘off-grid hideout’ – and he’s smitten

  • Birch in Hertfordshire is set in a stately home with just enough dilapidation to fit the shabby-chic mould
  • The Inspector says it’s billed as a ‘community’ and an ‘escape from urban living’, ‘time off for the always on’
  • He writes: ‘I am expecting hipster pretension, when actually it’s a music festival without the music’

Advertisement

Birch does not see itself as a hotel. It’s a ‘community’, an ‘off-grid hideout’, an ‘escape from urban living’, ‘time off for the always on’.

All of which sounds like the creatives, with their skinny lattes and skinny jeans, have been let loose. But to my surprise, Birch (brainchild of Chris Penn, who launched the trendy Ace Hotel in Shoreditch) is all these things and more — although the ‘escape from urban living’ happens to be just off the M25 in Hertfordshire.

I am expecting hipster pretension, when actually it’s a music festival without the music: 55 acres to rock and roam, build dens, snooze in hammocks, swim in a fresh-water lido, learn to make sourdough bread, join a breathing class, sit around a fire pit, watch a movie in the screening room, eat well — all without feeling that you’re being fleeced.

Birch - brainchild of Chris Penn, who launched the trendy Ace Hotel in Shoreditch - is an ‘escape from urban living’

Birch – brainchild of Chris Penn, who launched the trendy Ace Hotel in Shoreditch – is an ‘escape from urban living’

The Inspector says he was'expecting hipster pretension' but discovered Birch is actually'a music festival without the music'

The Inspector says he was ‘expecting hipster pretension’ but discovered Birch is actually ‘a music festival without the music’

The rooms at Birch are simple, with no TV, no phone, no directory, no fluffy bath robe, and no tea or coffee-making apparatus

The rooms at Birch are simple, with no TV, no phone, no directory, no fluffy bath robe, and no tea or coffee-making apparatus

It helps that central to this is a magnificent Georgian stately home with just enough dilapidation to fit the shabby-chic mould, and so much space that you’re invited to work at one end of the building and play in the other, while children and dogs are positively encouraged. You can become a member of this ‘community’ and get a 15 per cent discount on a room and 10 per cent off food and drink. 

And anyone booking a Friday and Saturday night is given Sunday night for free.

‘Hey babe, how are you settling in?’ asks a member of staff when I turn up at the lido. Very well indeed, thank you.

At Birch, explains the Inspector, you can build dens, snooze in hammocks, swim in a fresh-water lido, learn to make sourdough bread, join a breathing class, sit around a fire pit, watch a movie in the screening room and eat well

At Birch, explains the Inspector, you can build dens, snooze in hammocks, swim in a fresh-water lido, learn to make sourdough bread, join a breathing class, sit around a fire pit, watch a movie in the screening room and eat well

At Birch everything is pay-as-you-go, ‘to avoid a hassle when you leave’. Pictured is Valeries restaurant

At Birch everything is pay-as-you-go, ‘to avoid a hassle when you leave’. Pictured is Valeries restaurant

Become a member of the Birch community and you get a 15 per cent discount on a room and 10 per cent off food and drink

Become a member of the Birch community and you get a 15 per cent discount on a room and 10 per cent off food and drink

My room is on the top floor with views of the parkland. The stairs leading to it are bare concrete, chipped in places. The room itself is simple: no TV, no phone, no directory, no fluffy bath robe, nothing on the walls and absolutely no tea or coffee-making apparatus.

The fancy restaurant in the former stable block is called The Zebra Riding Club, where £48 gets you six courses. No space there, so I eat outside at Valeries. What I had not appreciated is that everything is pay-as-you-go, ‘to avoid a hassle when you leave’, as my new friend puts it.

I pick up a flat white and croissant at the coffee shop in the morning, where a notice tells guests what’s going on during the day. There’s ‘toning’, pottery, candle-making, dance, ‘gentle flow’ and you can always pop into the bakery to practice your kneading.

‘You’re with us for a week, aren’t you?’ asks the young thing at reception. If only.

TRAVEL FACTS

Birch, Lieutenant Ellis Way, Cheshunt, Waltham Cross, EN7 5HW. Doubles from £150 room only. For more information call 0199 263 3375 or visit  birchcommunity.com.  

Rating:

 

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.