Somewhere in the wilds of Cumbria there is a bus, and above that bus is another slightly smaller bus. This ungodly splicing – the soft bump of a VW motorhome merged with the hulking cuboid of an American community coach – is characteristic of the off-grid “Skoolie” movement in the US, which sees people swapping bricks and mortar against life on the road in a converted municipal vehicle. But that has to be where the similarity ends, because there can’t be many Skoolies with an Aga.
You can hire this mega-bus through Hinterlandes, a company established in the Lake District by Hannah and John Graham. They have a portfolio of remote abodes scattered across the lakes – including a Cabin, Cabin, and Jetstream Trailer – all of which are in semi-secret locations that change regularly. You won’t know exactly where they are until you book.
The Hinterlandes portfolio is indicative of a new wave of exceptionally well-appointed off-grid accommodation that is available in the UK. The company’s “hidden shack,” currently located somewhere near Crummock Water, has a marble-topped shower, Egyptian cotton sheets, and a pizza oven. The phrase “off-the-grid cabin” might conjure up images of a damp, flea-ridden cabin in the Adirondacks, but it’s far from it.
“Really, it’s like a hotel room,” says John Graham. “That’s all you need and nothing else. No TV or anything like that, but the stuff there is a bit more organized and there for a purpose. Things can get quite luxurious when you’re on top of a mountain…but not luxurious luxurious.
“The difference with our accommodations is that you’re off the grid and completely in the middle of nowhere,” he continues. “I think people have gotten a little bit hung up on that – getting away from civilization or the daily grind, especially in the last year.”
About 70% of Hinterland’s customers come from London and below. Southerners, it seems, are the most eager to reset, which is why entrepreneurs Ben Elliott and Hector Hughes launched Unplugged in 2021. The company targets those looking to escape “endless Zoom calls” and the like , and insists that guests staying in one of its 11 secluded cabins (all less than an hour’s drive from London) must lock their phones and devices when checking in.
“We’re not just a cabin company,” Elliott tells me. “We really see ourselves as an offline experience that’s in a cool cabin in the countryside.” Unplugged cabins are designed for people who don’t just want to get out of town, but actively want to detach from the world for a few days. One of the company’s early guests said it was “like camping, but not shit,” and that seems to be the meaning of this new movement. Attentive, but not ascetic.
In operation for only a year, Unplugged has already noted three key guest subsets. The majority of bookings are made by couples who need to spend time together. “Maybe one person is annoyed that the other is always on their phone,” Elliott suggests. Then there are families with young children looking to get away from it all for some quality time. And, perhaps most intriguing, there are lonely businessmen who need space to think. “They’ll just come for three nights and really shut down, but also to reflect and focus on [the problem] they want to solve.
There is, of course, another group of shack hunters: those who want to stay algorithmically in touch with society. In the east of Scotland, on the 15,000-acre Glen Dye estate, entrepreneur Charlie Gladstone has installed rustic accommodation to complement, not replace, the estate’s brick-and-mortar rentals. The North Lodge, which sleeps six, offers all the comforts of a very well-appointed home – vinyl collection, Japanese kitchen knives, unlimited firewood, library of books – but if guests feel the call of the nature, they can venture through the trees to the River Cabin, which features a wood-fired hot tub and Big Green Egg BBQ. “Notions of the good life,” he says, explaining Glen Dye’s philosophy, “and by the good life I mean beautifully prepared food, artistry, provenance, quality, nature – all things which are simple and less complicated than an international jet set life.
Gladstone compares the concept to a business class cabin. High-flying passengers may claim they need a big desk to work, but in reality, they only stare at their laptops for about an hour before they settle in and watch a movie. At Glen Dye, guests can walk through the woods, swim in the rivers or even try their hand at bushcraft – “but I don’t think people actually want to be really off the grid,” he says. “We find that people want WiFi.”