At 400 metres up on the north Pennines, in one of most spectacular areas of outstanding natural beauty, you can find one of the country’s few – perhaps only – “off-grid” B&Bs. Ellie and Phil Langley have taken eco-tourism to the limit in their smallholding – a true model of self-sufficiency.
For just GBP27 $59) a night you can experience a home powered by a wind turbine, solar panels and biomass-fuelled Rayburn. And if you’ve ever wanted to try a composting loo, well, you’ve found the right place too.
“We do have to warn people when they make a booking just in case they don’t like the idea of going without, say, a kettle in their room,” says Ellie, 40. “But most people love the idea of staying somewhere that doesn’t have any mains electricity and instead produces all its own energy. We did once have someone say that their wife wouldn’t be able to go without her hairdryer, though.”
The Langleys bought the smallholding four years ago. Phil, 43, is a researcher at Newcastle University and Ellie runs a series of workshops at the farm, including felt and basket making. After three years struggling to pay for all the renovations, they decided to start offering B&B accommodation to help with the costs.
“When we first moved in we were living with our twin sons (now aged eight) in a single room for nine months,” says Phil. “But over time we have achieved most of our goals. The next thing on our list is to install a rain harvesting system to flush the loos as we still rely on mains water. I have also collected waste cooking oil ready to convert into biodiesel to power our car.”
The two bedrooms are in a simple style – stripped floors and whitewashed walls – containing little more than the beds, each made with reclaimed timber and dressed with organic and Fairtrade linen. In the morning, guests enjoy a vegetarian breakfast including eggs from hens scrabbling around in the farmyard outside. (Ellie, being a strict vegetarian, says she would not be able to serve someone bacon, but she lets people know this in advance.)
Although many guests come to attend one of Ellie’s courses, they are not stuck for choice when it comes to things to do in the area. High Force waterfall is close by, the towns of Hexham and Penrith are easily reachable, and the vicinity is blessed with a feast of walking, cycling and wildlife-spotting opportunities.
“The birdlife here is stunning. We have snipe, curlew, lapwings and red shanks; pied wagtails are nesting in the eves of the byre; we even have black grouse nesting in our meadow, which is one of the rarest birds in the UK.”
The smallholding acts as a magnet for wildlife. In the summer, Ellie says the hay meadow is awash with the bloom of wild flowers such as marsh marigold, orchids and yellow rattle. She has also built up a herb garden, which, she says, some guests say is an attraction in itself. Meanwhile, Phil has planted a coppice of willow to provide a constant source of biomass for the Rayburn. And, although not strictly wildlife, any children staying are always curious to visit the smallholding’s flock of 15 sheep which provide the fleeces for Ellie’s felt making.
“Funnily enough, one of the biggest attractions for our guests is our wind turbine,” says Phil. “People are always fascinated to see how it works. Our one produces 2.5 kilowatts and, along with our photovoltaic solar panels, we can produce most of the electricity we need. It doesn’t mean we have to go without – I still use my guitar amp – but it means you just have to think before using any appliances. When we explain all this to guests they understand why we place a flask of hot water in their room instead of a kettle.”
Slack House Farm, Ireshopeburn, Weardale, County Durham DL13 1HL, 01388 537292, www.slack housefarm.co.uk
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