Boosting local countryside economies is to be applauded and that’s partly why the Fawcett brothers and their team received the Ryedale Business Award for rural diversification recently.
Three years ago the pair opened Studford Luxury Lodges in what was and still is a private woodland two miles from Ampleforth and four miles from Helmsley, comprising of six lodges and opulent tree houses.
The woodland had been part of elder brother Tony’s 300-acre farm where he ran a deer and venison enterprise for several years as well as owning racehorses. Before he sold up he offered the woods to younger brother and builder Rob. Tony’s instinct was that if planning permission, which went to appeal, was granted the lodges would work well alongside Rob’s and his other brother Ed’s existing hospitality businesses - the Fairfax Arms in Gilling East, The White Swan in Ampleforth and renting The White Horse also in Ampleforth.
Rob didn’t initially possess Tony’s confidence.
“I wasn’t that keen at first because I’m a builder of houses not lodges, but then the recession hit and instead of selling what we were building we were renting. It was then that I thought we could do far better by aiming high and designing fabulous holiday lodges with everything top of the range, attracting people who wanted that something different and classy, and hopefully achieve a far better return. We also knew that it could have a great knock-on effect for the country pubs we have too. Anyone who stays at our lodges and books in for food at the Fairfax gets picked up by a complimentary minibus.
“We brought in Simon Spence, the top eco lodge designer in the UK, and we’ve spared nothing on ensuring every visitor has a wonderful experience. The woodland itself offers that unique atmosphere and the first time we had guests here it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
“We used to shoot in these woods and at times the undergrowth was so thick you could hardly walk through it. Seeing what we have done and people enjoying being here is a real thrill. We’ve really created something special.
“In bringing more people we are promoting the shops and businesses in villages and towns such as Ampleforth, Gilling East and Helmsley. Attractions such as Rievaulx Abbey, Helmsley Castle, North York Moors Railway at Pickering and the outdoor companies such as cycle hires and Yorkshire Outdoors 4x4 pick up more trade too. Some larger forest lodge parks try to keep all your money, at least in our way we’re bringing a share to others.”
Every one of their lodges has three double rooms each with en-suite facilities, a hot tub and sauna, Smart TVs, underfloor heating powered by a biomass boiler and a wood-burning stove.
“It’s the little things that I believe set us apart from others, as well as hopefully all of the bigger things too. The little touches like Emma Bridgewater crockery, toiletries from The White Company, Nespresso coffee machine and dedicated wine fridge just add to the experience of indulging in what you might not have at home.
“We’ve sourced where we can from local companies such as Beever Beds in Whitby. Paul Souter of Ampleforth has provided all our bathroom cabinets and Scawton Kitchens near Thirsk made sure that every time anyone walks in to the lodge there’s the wow factor.
“Everyone seems to be going away for short breaks and when they do it’s nice to feel you’re somewhere they want to be. Coming here to a tree house appeals to that kid in us all, except ours are more luxury apartments than tree houses.
“We’re all proud of what we have achieved here and set ourselves immensely high standards in cleanliness and providing a great stay.”
The Fairfax Arms at Gilling East has 12 letting rooms and the country pub is renowned for its cuisine.
“You can go to holiday lodges in woodland and have a McDonald’s, but if you come here we will take you down to the Fairfax and you can taste one of the best dry-aged steaks you will ever have.”