An architect-designed, off-grid retreat that challenges all who visit with its bold and visionary concept of staying in the wilds.
Words by Hannah Tapping
Cornish for hideout, Kudhva was born from a 45-acre acre disused and abandoned quarry, overlooking the sea on the north Cornish coast. With a 999 year leasehold and a peppercorn rent of a daffodil a year to be sent to Highgrove House, even the inauguration of this ‘campsite with a difference’ is something of a fairytale. In conversation with founder Louise Middleton, I was intrigued as to how this impenetrable piece of land, whose only access was a single, permissive pathway, came to be tamed and turned into the most visually arresting and design-led coastal camping hideout. “The land came first. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but knew I needed to make some money from it and to future-proof it, with a view to being able to live there part time or in some kind of way in years to come. The open-cast slate quarry on the site hadn’t been used since 1870 with its legacy being a deep cave cut into the land that’s home to Kudhva’s 40-foot waterfall. It is also home to a habitat mosaic of five different habitats, making it ecologically diverse and representing the whole of Cornwall’s landscapes in one site,” explains Louise. The habitats include two water sources, a quarter of an acre reservoir and the waterfall; bare rock and stone which is covered in lichen and low lying plants; a willow woodland; traditional heathland which is home to orchids, cottongrass and molinia; and finally a deciduous woodland with oak and ash trees and carpets of bluebells in spring.
Louise co-designed the original Kudhva with architect Ben Huggins of New British Design, choosing him because he had a similar, very fun way of working to herself: “We printed out a massive topographical map of the very diverse site. We then walked around Kudhva with a ladder, cutting pathways as we went and climbing up to find the best position for the raised structures; being able to undertake a project that’s that creative is very rare.”
“The slate quarry can feel a little ominous depending on the time of year and so we felt that by having accommodation up high, there would be a feeling of safety and enjoyment from being elevated. I realised in the first year that people’s experiences were not only mimicking the landscape and the value systems, but that they also came from the design aspects.” The seven-metre high Kudhva were intentionally designed to be striking pieces of architecture in their own right. The flat planes made from larch were designed to reflect the slate piles and, with both the material palette and the material structure, a sense of style was important. Each Kudhva has an area with a sofa at the bottom that looks out through a large triangular window to the landscape beyond and a sleeping platform above. There are no curtains in the hope that visitors will link up with their circadian rhythms, sleeping and waking to the natural dark and light: “Many of our guests wake up quite early, but will then go back to sleep again. They’ll then come in to breakfast, pronouncing that they’ve had the best sleep ever! I hear that time and time again.”
With such an original project, it was important that Kudhva didn’t just tick the boxes in terms of natural authenticity but that the experience was also a luxurious one. Louise terms it as ‘raw luxe’, combining both ends of the spectrum in terms of experience. There’s no electricity in the Kudhva themselves, instead you’ll find a beautiful soy candle with Kudhva’s own special scent. The interiors are stripped back, but what is provided is carefully curated from the luxury towels and bed linen to an abundance of fresh flowers and some of Louise’s favourite architecture, agricultural, and environmental books.
The four Kudhva, the Danish cabin which sleeps six, the tree tents and the four clifftop tipis are served by an inviting reception building where guests will find toilets and showers stocked with natural bath and body products from Cornish company land&water. In fact, wherever possible Louise sources locally, from all the fresh produce to the Yallah coffee that is served, in order to maintain a circular economic value system. Electric points are available for charging and there is a communal cooking area with gas rings and fridges. Guests are welcome to bring their own or they can order a sumptuous Kudhva breakfast hamper. The same attention to detail is given to the service offered by Kudhva staff – each one is mentored by Louise to ensure that guest satisfaction is of the highest order. Mabel heads up the front of house, working there while studying for a horticulture degree at Eden. The site is vast and there are views and a connection with water at every turn. From reception you can see through the willow grove to the sea or soak in the hot tub for restorative warmth. There is only one bumpy road into Kudhva and it is as much a metaphorical journey to the site as it is physical. “It’s like entering an ultra-world,” says Louise. “Its elevated location and the fact that you are almost totally off-grid affects our guests in a very deep way. They find themselves starting to read books and maps. They don’t look at their phones, not even being bothered to charge them, and tend to revert to using the basic senses. In our communal spaces you’ll find people having off-grid conversations where they’re looking people directly in the eye.”
It’s just a short walk from the Kudhva to the closest beach which is Trebarwith Strand and there is endless coastal path in both directions for adventurers and wanderers alike. Cold water enthusiasts can immerse in the on-site reservoir or join one of the regular workshops with breathwork and cold water specialist Anthony Mullally. A series of events is held throughout the year named Curated Kudhva; think communal feasts with guest chefs, exhibitions in the engine house, music nights, wellbeing workshops and more. All are welcome to the events and to explore the site, whether you are staying at Kudhva or just visiting for the day.
There are many strings to both Kudhva’s and Louise’s bow. Four lucky couples a year are married at Kudhva where they have full and private use of the site. Kudhva products are also available to buy, selected for their link to the elements, alongside a sensual organic limited edition scent, Golden Lixx, a perfume designed by Louise herself.
Kudhva is more than a place to camp, rather it’s the most unique of landscape hotels. It challenges perception in every way as guests are forced to live hand in hand with nature. Their reward is a special place that has a lasting effect on all those who visit.