I’m swinging on a chair suspended from the rafters of a small log cabin in a quiet glade on the North Cornwall coast. The fire is crackling nicely, there’s a craft beer in my hand and I’m being serenaded by the soothing sounds of a kora. It’s quite possibly the most hipster moment of my life.
While ‘hipster’ is not a word that I can carry off – at all – ‘camper’ is. It’s something I do every year. My version involves open fields by the sea, tents that threaten to be whipped away by strong coastal winds, cooking over a gas stove, walking along the headland to the local store and showers that produce hot water in exchange for a pound coin.
Kudhva, on the other hand, is an entirely different experience – teetering on the border between glamping and hippy commune, it promises not only a digital detox, but a detox from the fetters of modern life. And it very nearly works.
The approach to the site, found in a disused slate quarry three miles inland from Tintagel, sets the scene for your stay. It’s a long walk up a muddy track (wellies recommended, wheelie suitcases not), where you’ll likely be greeted by an excitable dog or a friendly goat before you spot any people.
The reception/kitchen area is a barn-like structure topped with corrugated iron. It is kitted out with a long, communal table supported by hay bales, benches, a fridge-freezer, four gas rings, two sinks and two much-coveted plug sockets. Opposite the entrance are the site’s only two plumbed toilets and showers (often cold). Glamping it is not.
I’m met by Louise Middleton, the owner and designer, who tells me more about the concept. “Don’t expect luxury”, she warns me, “expect original design. Kudhva is all about getting out of your comfort zone and back into the wild.”
Sporting a pair of mismatched Havaiana flip-flops and the blonde tousled locks of someone who lives and breathes the outdoors, Louise leads me around the site. “It’s all about respecting the space and the environment. What little electricity we have comes predominantly from solar power and when that runs out, there’s a generator.”
The generator, it seems, is something of a sore spot. “The physical act of having to take a can, go and fill it with fuel and then pour it into the generator before tugging on the chord to get power gives you a completely different perspective on your energy use”, Louise explains.
“I’d love to not need it. We can connect to the grid here, but it won’t be easy as we’re so isolated and it would cost around £40,000”. Instead, Louise has her sights set on hydropower. Her hope is that hydro (more reasonably priced at £9,000), will work alongside the solar panels which struggle to supply the site’s current needs.
The newest addition to Kudhva already harnesses the power of water. While accomodation options last year included six tentsiles (tents suspended a couple of feet from the ground) and four Kudhva (three-legged, asymmetrical hideaway camping pods designed by Ben Huggins that wouldn’t look out of place in a H. G. Wells novel), this summer saw the introduction of the hydro-powered ‘Danish Cabin’.
Hygge was everywhere you looked last winter, and this addition seeks to bring the concept to Cornwall. Access to the cabin, which sleeps up to six, involves a walk (and if you’re not careful, a slide) past an 1870s engine house and down a rather steep slope. You also pass the wood-fired standing hot tub – a small luxury in this earthy wilderness.
Arriving at the cabin feels like you’ve stepped straight into a fairytale. Found in a shaded corner at the top of the flooded quarry – a good spot for a bit of wild swimming if the conditions allow – the cabin houses four bunk beds, two sofa beds, a ‘bar’ area, two suspended chairs and a large deck with a tree growing through it.
To build it, Louise enlisted architect Ben Huggins, along with Carlsberg Export, who came on board to help create “the world's first pub powered by a waterfall”.
While the word “pub” is a bit of a stretch (it’s one pump, one fridge and can only be used by those actually staying in the cabin), the allure is difficult to deny. “The inspiration for the design of the Carlsberg Cabin is a ‘Danish’ re-imagining of the iconic Cornish engine houses you see in Poldark”, says Huggins.
Powered by solar and hydro, the cabin is also the only accommodation on site with electric lights (it’s all torches and candles in the eco-friendly Kudhvas) and the rare luxury of a power socket. But the wild gives with one hand and takes away with the other. To get to the toilets, it’s a hike back up the steep, slippery slope and along the pathway – that is unless you’re happy to brave the dark drop toilet, where you’re provided with loo roll and a bucket of sawdust.
It’s also a bit of a hike to the kitchen, so come evening, Louise has invited local chef Andrew Tuck from Tan&Mor down to the cabin with his wood-fired barbecue to cook us a locally-sourced feast. We’re treated to a fresh, delicious menu including crab tacos, smoked aubergine and mackerel beneath the stars – it’s way better than Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in nearby Padstow.
For breakfast, we get a basket full of locally-sourced seasonal goodies – fresh bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, asparagus, fresh rosemary, vine tomatoes and focaccia. While the basket is packed with enough goodies to feed two people for two mornings, it isn’t cheap at £40 – and, of course, you have to cook it yourself.
It’s another example of the unusual juxtaposition of rustic living and something bordering on luxury that exists in Kudhva. And it really shouldn’t work, but somehow does.
While both the staff and guests have all been lured by the promise of a detox from modern life, it’s all done in a decidedly British way and it’s definitely more Glastonbury than Burning Man. No one will call you “dude”, but they may pull out a kora and treat you to some traditional West African music.
So is this the UK’s most hipster campsite? Quite possibly, but it’s also a very British sense of the hipster – down-to-earth and incredibly friendly. For Louise, “Kudhva is about accessing a feeling, it’s an exciting feeling, like when you were a kid and went on a big adventure.” I’ll drink to that.
A stay in the Danish (or Carlsberg) Cabin costs from £366 per night and sleeps up to six people. The cabin can be booked through Airbnb.