Made in Devon: Compact rural dwellings on wheels

PUBLISHED: 15:27 25 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:27 25 September 2015

Although still a young company, Exmoor Huts has got off to a flying start

Although still a young company, Exmoor Huts has got off to a flying start


Debbie Manners discovers a North Devon business which has gone back in time to reproduce Exmoor shepherd huts

Nostalgia is making a comeback. You must have noticed. Not least in the current fascination with all things vintage and retro. There is, it seems, a distinct appeal in products that hark back to a time when life was simpler.

So it is no big surprise that the traditional shepherd hut is enjoying new popularity as a delightful, personalised space where we can momentarily step off the treadmill of modern life. Plenty of celebrities have succumbed to the charms of this time-honoured mobile home, with devotees including Elizabeth Hurley, Kate Humble and the late Terry Pratchett.

These compact rural dwellings on wheels, dating back to Victorian times, were once the temporary hillside homes of farmers during lambing time. As recently as the 1960s they were still in use in rural areas. Currently enjoying a new lease of life, the 21st century shepherd hut combines a traditional style exterior with a luxurious interior fitted with all the comforts you could wish for.

A new North Devon company, Exmoor Huts, is now offering these charismatic little huts for sale, hand-built to their customers’ specifications. Based at Filleigh, near Barnstaple, the business was set up earlier this year by local builder and former soldier Paul Hackman who admits that he had become “somewhat obsessed” with shepherd huts.

Busy at work on another production at Exmoor HutsBusy at work on another production at Exmoor Huts

“It all started when I was researching designs for a hut to build in the garden for my family,” explains Paul. “I came across a picture of a shepherd hut and loved it. The more I found out about these huts, the more interested I became. I love the fact that each one can be personalised, and that they can be used for so many different things.”

Certainly, the shepherd hut does seem to be endlessly versatile. It can sit in a secluded spot in the garden providing an extra bedroom or outdoor room (cosy all year round thanks to the wood-burning stove). Alternatively, the hut can be used as a painter’s or artist’s studio, or it can take on a business role as an office or fishing or shooting lodge. Shepherd huts are also becoming increasingly popular as holiday lets, helped by the fact that, in most cases, planning permission is not needed.

When Paul decided to set up Exmoor Huts, he had been looking for a change of direction. After working in general building for ten years, and serving on operations with the Army Reserve, he wanted a job with new challenges that also offered him a chance to be creative. “I enjoy making things that are beautiful, and that last. I also like the satisfaction of making something by hand, using traditional craftsmanship. Building shepherd huts seemed to tick these boxes,” he explains.

Working with his close friend and skilled builder Alex Ingleton, and history enthusiast Joey Kennedy-Brown, (who joined on work experience and never left), Paul ensures all

Exmoor Huts are popular with young and old alikeExmoor Huts are popular with young and old alike

the huts built by Exmoor Huts reach the same high standard. All the ironwork, including the wheels, is hand-forged, and wherever possible the materials are reclaimed. “The detail is important to us. For example we use original stained glass windows and genuine Bakelite switches. Our huts have a heritage feel that is in keeping with the spirit and romance of the original designs.”

People love the quirkiness of the huts, according to Paul. “Each hut is individual and each one has its own story. For example in one of our recent huts, the floorboards come from an old house overlooking Saunton Sands on the North Devon coast. When prospective buyers looked at this hut, they loved that detail.”

Although still a young company, Exmoor Huts has got off to a flying start. “We are getting enquiries from all over the country, including Scotland, Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Wight. I think the message is getting round that our huts are really authentic, and built by hand. We have met some really interesting people who share our love of shepherd huts and often have their own stories to tell. We have also been contacted by people who own original shepherd huts and want us to do restoration work on them.

“We feel that in our own way we are doing an important job. We live and work in a rural area, and we are honouring the role that the shepherd huts played in places such as this in the past. It is good to know that we are helping to give shepherd huts a future too.”

Although still a young company, Exmoor Huts has got off to a flying startAlthough still a young company, Exmoor Huts has got off to a flying start

Huts can be used for:

- Office

- Garden room

-Spare bedroom

- Holiday let

- Fishing lodge

- Shooting lodge

- Crafting room

- Painting studio

- Children’s playroom

- Peaceful retreat

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