In search of ‘The Other’

The view from a treehouse, at Perche dans Le Perche, France

Greeny holiday makers are grinning more than non-greenies, a recent holiday survey suggested. I am not sure what I’m meant to do with that information, except feel slightly smug about the fact that I might be contributing just a little to this holiday happiness factor.  It’s all a load of nonsense of course, because a person’s holiday experience is affected by so much more than their shower being heated by the sun, or their meals all being locally sourced. The simple fact is that the majority of people I have met who run green tourism businesses, are not only wholly committed to protecting the landscape they are trying to promote, and sustain their local community, but are also good people. Their passion is infectious, and they know how to live life.  They are also people who like to do things a little differently from the norm, and want to share some of that with visitors. And this is, for the most part, what lots of holiday makers are after. Something different from their everyday norm. What  philosophers call ‘The Other’.

So if you are after that ‘Other’, you are spoilt for choice out there. There are grinning greenies sleeping in treetops, tipis, boats, railway carriages and mud huts in some of the most fantastic locations around the world. There are converted containers at Cove Park in Scotland (, run by a charity offering residencies to artists. When they don’t have residencies, they hire  their self-catering turf rooved ‘Cubes’, overlooking Gare Lough,  to people passing through this stunning, remote hideaway on the West coast’s Rosneath peninsula.

Still in Scotland, you can join the Mountain Bothy Association (, a charity which looks after 100 remote stone shelters for hikers who want to lay their heads down for the night. They are totally basic, with no water, altough there is usually a fireplace, and a platform to lay out your sleeping bag. You don’t book, you don’t get a key, and just like the bears, you do it in the woods. Camping without the tent, really, and of course, you don’t pay.

On to warmer climes,  check out the wonderful treehouse I stayed in Normandy last year (www.perchedansleperche). This is all mod-cons, and showering in a tree is something you must try sometime. The best bit is getting a picnic breakfast delivered to your door, so you can enjoy flaskfuls of hot coffee, homemade bread, and other local delights, with infinite views over the surrounding hills. Staying in Normandy, you won’t get too chilly at the Earthship Perrine (, a glasshouse attached to a mound of earth, heated by solar thermal dynamics.  The pile of earth conceals hundreds of tyres, bottles, reclaimed wood, Sounds weird, but it is brilliant, and one of those places that

The shepherd's hut at Mandinam,

makes me think, ‘How come we all can’t live like this?’

If trains are your thing, check out the converted railway carriages from award-winning Welsh responsible tourism company, Under The Thatch. They did start putting people up ‘under the thatch’, and then developed the concept to a converted Edwardian railway carriage, a circus wagon, a romany caravan, and many more (

My two favourites for green quirkiness, however, take me back to the silence of the woods. In Sweden, you can stay in a forest hut based on the structure of a traditional charcoal maker’s hut. It looks like something children would construct in the woods, except they have fireplaces and a sleeping space, although the hardness of the ‘bed’ might not leave many greenies grinning in the morning ( On Vancouver Island, Canada, you will not be able to wipe the grin off yourself when you see the wooden spheres suspended in the canopy of Douglas firs in a private forest. This is arborial art at its finest and, even better, you can sleep in them. Aptly called Free Spirit Spheres, if you aren’t going to free it here, you aren’t going to do it anywhere (

Free Spirit Spheres

This article was first published in The Irish Times 22 August 2009. For more ideas on going in search of ‘The Other’, check out gorgeous book, Bed in a Tree, by Bettina Kowalewski,  published by DK Eyewitness Travel.

Going Under the Thatch in Wales

Trehilyn UchafLooking through the visitors’ book at a stunning Welsh farmhouse in the hills overlooking Fishguard Harbour, words like ‘bliss’, ‘peaceful’, ‘stylish’ and, of course, ‘eco’ jump off the page.  What strikes me as strange, however, is that apart from me, none of these happy holiday makers is Irish. And yet, Rosslare is only two hours away on the express ferry from Fishguard. For 35 ash cloud safe Euros (plus 8 euros to take your bike) you can walk off the gangplank and straight onto the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, with its 300kms of secret coves and infinitesimal seascapes. Stena Line also does very good combined sail and rail deals (, with a station at the port for onward travel.

This 1830’s farmhouse, called Trehilyn Uchaf (meaning Upper Heulyn’s Town), has been restored with care and expertise, retaining original qualities, as well as sustaining it into the future with renewable energy, reed bed waste system, sheepswool insulation, and many other natural attributes. Because restoration and sustainability is what Under the Thatch is all about, a Welsh company set up to do just that, and the source of our weekend’s escape. It is also about quality and quirkiness and has won sustainability awards, thanks to the passion of it’s owner, architectural historian Greg Stevenson, who not only likes to see such buildings being used, but used all year round. Thus, he keeps prices affordable so they are always in demand, and remote villages benefit from tourism for more than two months of the year. Such as Fishguard, where he has a few gorgeous places to stay, some walkable from the ferry.

Trehilyn Uchaf itself is pure eye candy for the urban dweller who dreams of a rural retreat. Falling down with Farrow and Ballness, a bathroom that is bigger than my flat, antique furniture, it’s a fusion of classic and contemporary done without a bother. It is also a walkers’ dream. We walk overland to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, starting at Carregwasted Point, and follow the Path for about 9k.It’s a great place for spotting bottle nosed dolphins too, although a bit early in the year for us, sadly. Later in the season you can do ‘Strumble Watches’ for marine life with Seatrust. A couple of pints and great chips at Goodwick’s Rose and Crown pub at the end of the walk, we collapse onto the Strumble Shuttle bus, which takes us back to the farm.

We have no need for our car, getting supplies at the supermarket twenty minutes’ walk from the port, and then a 7k taxi ride to the farm.  Later in the weekend, we head off on a walking trail over the fields to Fishguard, with its variety of small shops for local produce. If you do want to bring a car, there are three other converted buildings on this farm, including an eco-chic converted mill. The whole farm sleeps nineteen people, great for a big getaway, and only one party needs bring a car.

You could extend your stay and take a train or bus to one of Under the Thatch’s other quirky offerings, such as a railway carriage in Cardigan, a romany caravan in Llangrannog, or a shepherd’s hut in the foothills of the Black Mountains. Ironically, Stevenson’s favourite thatched one is in Ireland, a cottage with vintage caravan, called Geaglum, in Fermanagh, also on the website.

Green and gorgeous, these breaks are just across the water, accessible by public transport, sustainability at their core and, most importantly,  in locations where the wilderness, and often the wind, will not only blow off the cobwebs, but blow you away too.

Chilling on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

This article was first published in The Irish Times.