Interiors: living the high life
PUBLISHED: 12:41 19 June 2017
When it comes to enjoying a spectacular view over the Devon countryside, the only way is up. Chrissy Harris visits a clever tree top house, built with romance in mind...
Living on the ground is great and everything but it can get a bit flat.
Don’t you ever just want to take to the trees, sit in a hot tub with a glass of Champers and gaze at the stars?
The thought crossed my mind while looking around Tree Top Escape, a seriously special house perched six-metres up, overlooking 32 acres of hills, woodland and meadows on the Millbrook Estate in North Devon.
The eco-friendly hideaway in High Bickington is the height of luxury, built with all mod-cons, including under floor heating and mood lighting.
This is definitely not the kind of treehouse your dad once offered to build with a few planks of wood and a bit of tarpaulin.
“It’s a bit different, isn’t it?” says owner Bob Boothby. “Those views – that’s what get people.”
It’s true. The landscape hits you like a branch in the face as soon as you walk in: the woods, the wildlife, it’s beautiful even in the rain. What a top spot.
“We didn’t actually realise the view was here,” says Bob, 56. “It was only when the build progressed and we were getting higher off the ground that the view just kept getting better and better.”
Bob came up with the idea of Tree Top Escape as part of a plan to create the ultimate place to tie the knot.
He and wife Kate, 36, have spent the past 12 years steadily building up a successful wedding venue business on the Millbrook Estate, where they live with children Iszi, four and Louie, 19 months.
They have already converted other buildings into profitable accommodation for guests and holidaymakers but former telecommunications business owner Bob was on the lookout for a fresh challenge. Inspiration came, as all the best ideas do, during the wee small hours.
“Kate woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down on a piece of paper: runaway weddings. That was it,” says Bob, who wanted to create a haven for a more intimate do; a place to rival Gretna Green and Las Vegas for couples who wanted to tie the knot on their own or with a few onlookers but who were looking for a little luxury, too.
Where better than a house in the trees?
Once they had the idea, Bob and Kate trawled the country, staying in other treehouses, working out what worked and what didn’t before starting to create their own version.
“I said to Kate that I wouldn’t get involved with the build,” says Bob, who moved to this quiet corner of North Devon from Somerset to semi-retire and relax after a bout of ill health.
“Kate was pregnant with our second child and she didn’t want me to have the extra stress. I made a promise that I wouldn’t get involved.”
“Yes, and then he broke that promise!” says Kate, explaining how Bob had to step in when the build started to go drastically wrong.
When all of the furniture, fixtures and fittings didn’t turn up, the couple spent a frantic two weeks trying to organise replacements.
“The local people here – the tradesmen – were absolutely fantastic,” says Bob.
“Steve Galliver, the carpenter up the road, made quite a few things within two days. Other people worked weekends or late into the night, sometimes until 2am to get it ready. It was incredible and we’ll always be grateful.”
The first wedding was booked for 17 July 2016. And when was Tree Top Escape finished?
“Er... 17th July!” says Bob (cue much hilarity around the office). It’s ok to laugh now because everything has worked out so well.
Tree Top Escape been pretty much fully booked ever since, with couples clamouring to get hitched up high.
As well as the house itself, there is The Nest, the wedding venue linked to the tree house by a wooden walkway and a separate room overlooking the fields where the bride and groom can have a pre or post-nuptial cream tea.
“We took 21 bookings on the first day we put the details on the website,” says Kate. “We just had a little sketch and a video taken from a drone – that’s all we had. People booked without really having a clue what they were booking.”
The website gives you an idea but it’s not until you arrive that you appreciate just how much thought and hard work has gone into making this house the perfect retreat.
“We still have more to do,” says Bob, who admits they budgeted £325,000 and spent more like £600,000.
“We’ve completed the first part of the snagging list, which is not bad going, but we still have another set of things to do.”
Bob and Kate are true perfectionists but I can’t see any snags up here– just a fabulous building, miles of open countryside and a hot tub. Treehouses don’t come much better than that.
Bob and Kate would like to thank their team at Millbrook, especially Lisa Avery and Collette Short.
Bob says: “They spent many hours helping and providing support for the project. Without them, it would just not have been a success.”
To find out more, see treetopescape.co.uk
The Christmas trees:
The land just beneath Tree Top Escape is peppered with pine trees.
“These are all of our ex-Christmas trees,” says Bob. “We’ve bought all sorts of different kinds over the years and just planted them. It’s incredible how big they’ve grown.”