Luxury off-grid cabin experience | Out of the Valley

“The structure is not overlooked by a soul, and as soon as we step out of the car we know we’ve found somewhere very special.” Sam Peters, co-founder of the new carbon neutral design show, Planted, explains his first impression of the Out of the Valley off-grid cabin.

The story of Out of the Valley begins with Founding Director Rupert McKelvie’s desire to embrace off-grid cabin living in close connection with nature. He constructed a single cabin as a home for himself, where he could enjoy a simpler way of living from its deep wooded valley setting along the River Teign in Devon. His background in sustainable design and classical boatbuilding gave him a solid understanding of traditional craftsmanship and the value in building with longevity in mind. 

Since founding Out of the Valley in 2016, the team has grown and now comprises architects, designers, and craftspeople, all of whom are experts in timber construction and knowledgable in the principles of biophilic design and off-grid technologies. 

It seems wonderfully serendipitous that award-winning journalist and nature lover, Sam Peters, and his wife Deborah Spencer, both founders of zero-waste design show Planted, are now working in collaboration with Rupert McKelvie and Out of the Valley. Over the summer, Sam and Deborah took the opportunity to meet Rupert in rural Devon, stepping out of the city smoke to spend an unforgettable night in one of the bespoke off-grid cabins. 

Sam Peters takes us on their journey and captures the memorable experience… 

The three-way sign at the crossroads at the foot of the weaving hedge-lined track says Dunsford is two miles east and Fingle Bridge is two miles west. We’re in Wallon, on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, barely half an hour’s drive west of Exeter. 

It’s a hot evening in late July and I’m thankful we brought the four-by-four. After leaving the main road, we’ve descended several hundred feet into an idyllic valley surrounded by dense woodland and currently engulfed by a high-pitched cacophony of cricket and birdsong. If it’s possible to descend into heaven, we just have. 

We’re searching for the office of one of Planted’s principle partners – Out of the Valley – owned by an up-and-coming young artisan craftsman named Rupert McKelvie. 

Rupert (or Ru, as he prefers) approached us earlier this year to enquire about showcasing one of his bespoke off-grid cabins at our flagship launch event this September.

“I’ve always dreamed of putting one of my cabins into central London”, he told us early in the first conversation.

At Planted we set ourselves high standards. But it took the team just a few short minutes examining Ru’s meticulous drawings, beautifully presented website and hearing his passion for high-quality pared-back design to conclude Out of the Valley was a perfect match. 

We didn’t hesitate in commissioning a Nomad Cabin to sit at the centre of our flagship London event at King’s Cross and here we are, about to meet its maker and see how our off-grid cabin project is progressing.

We know we’re close but our Sat Nav has taken us as far as it can. My Ordnance Survey map indicates we’re barely half a kilometre away, but it’s unclear how we complete our journey. 

I phone Ru. One bar of reception. Phew!

“Ru, it’s Sam. We’re a bit lost,” I explain. 

“Hi Sam, go left at the crossroads and then immediately right down the track. I think it’s signed but it may be a bit overgrown by now.”

There’s little to indicate a commercial enterprise and I wonder how on earth Ru and his team move their kit in and out of the steep sided valley. For now, we need to find Ru and the cabin we’ll be calling home for the next 24 hours.

I edge our wagon down the track and the burble of the river is now audible beneath us.

Eventually, we reach the valley floor and in front of us is a workshop which appears slightly Heath Robinson at first sight. On closer inspection, the inside is the picture of order, precision, and attention to detail with huge oak beams and vaulted ceilings speaking of craftsmanship passed down the years.

Ru is taller than I’d imagined, having only met previously on Zoom, but he’s warm, friendly and looks every inch the artisan craftsman in his leather boots and hitched up trousers. 

He explains that he has a big call with the US coming up and points us in the direction of a distant wood cabin which is reached via a pristinely mown track through the field behind the workshop.

“Just take it steady through the mud at the top,” he urges. “I’ll come and find you in a bit.”

There’s a gentle grass bank as we approach the discreet wooden off-grid cabin which is setback into the hillside and enveloped by woodland to its rear and one side. There are solar panels on the pitched roof and an awning provides shade to a little terrace outside. The structure is not overlooked by a soul, and as soon as we step out of the car we know we’ve found somewhere very special. 

We step inside and we are greeted by an image of cabin perfection. A friend recently bought me the enchanting little book ‘Cabin Porn’, and it feels like we’ve walked into the centre spread.

The space feels cosy but spacious, somehow striking the perfect balance between an absolute lack of fuss and total comfort. No detail is too small to be overlooked but, with a stunningly simple piece of artwork hung on the wall, depicting the concentric growth rings on a tree trunk, it’s clear this cabin was built with utmost respect for its most important component part: wood.

There is a kitchenette with a small but modern oven and two hobs with more than enough work surface along with a fridge, basin, and plenty of storage. The bed is beyond comfortable with a small cabin window adjacent, allowing air flow and stunning views from the glass doors back across the valley towards the river. The dining table and chairs are sympathetic to the surroundings, while the bathroom is small but functional, with a compostable toilet and shower unit providing everything we need.

The entire space is cool and spotlessly clean and my wife Debs – a city girl at heart and only a relatively recent convert to the mental and physical health benefits of being immersed in the great outdoors – is clearly smitten by our home away from home.

We unpack the car, fire pit and all, before sitting down and breathing in the surroundings. With the river calling, I decide to explore while Debs puts her head down for an afternoon nap.

I amble down to the wood-lined banks of the River Teign. There’s an access point via a small sandy beach at the back of a farmhouse and I promise myself I’ll return for a dip in the morning.

Debs is awake as I sit down on the terrace and to my amazement a dog otter appears out of nowhere and canters across the field in front of the cabin, before disappearing into the long grass. I quietly call Debs but before we know it, the otter has gone. It is a magical moment which I will never forget.

Ru joins us for a sundowner. He tells us the cabin we’re in took him six months to build and it’s the project that started Out of the Valley. “We’re now working on commissions from the outer reaches of Cornwall, to the windswept coastline of Scotland, and more recently we are branching into the US and beyond”. He speaks with pride about the arcing green oak internal frame and the all wood interior. He suggests we head to the workshop to take our first proper look at the Nomad cabin in construction for the event.

Seeing it up close for the first time is a thrill; even though it is still a long way from finished at this point. But Ru’s love of his craft and eye for detail are evident as he proudly walks us around the site of his business. He is generous with his time and we thank him profusely before wishing him well and a good evening, and then returning to the off-grid cabin.

Before long the fire is glowing and the bats flitting overhead as a rib of local beef spits at from a pan above the fire pit. We eat under the star-studded sky and agree that as nature experiences in the UK go, this is as good as it gets. 

The thermometer says 72 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s almost midnight. It’s only 10 hours since we left our office, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Content, I douse the fire before we retire to the comfort of our cabin.  

After a blissful night’s sleep in the off-grid cabin, I wake early and head straight for the river to clear my head after one too many ciders. It’s chilly in the River Teign, but it’s just what I need. 10 minutes is enough and I clamber out of the water feeling invigorated and alive. 

We pack up the car and before we know it our 24-hour immersion in nature is over. We’ll never forget it.  

To discover more about the sustainable off-grid cabins by Out of the Valley.

Stay up-to-date with what to look out for at Planted Cities via enki magazine online.

Register for Planted Cities, taking place at King’s Cross in London, 23rd-26th September 2021.

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