Think of ‘eco-holidays’ in a log cabin and what springs to mind? Earth closet toilets? A damp draughty hostel, with nature getting just a bit too close for comfort?
Well think again, because Natural Retreats have taken the idea of sustainable breaks and supercharged them with luxury accommodation in spectacular settings.
And their Yorkshire Dales site, just 90 minutes’ drive from Halifax is just that - spectacular.
Only a five-minute drive (or 20-minute walk) from Richmond, and lying in a hidden valley, the site is home to fewer than 20 lodges, all of which are quite simply gorgeous. If you’ve stayed in a log cabin before, you’ll know it’s a pretty safe bet for a family break.
This, however, is in a different league.
Each lodge is a showpiece of contemporary wood and glass design, with high quality furnishings and open plan layouts.
A totally glazed front wall brings the landscape right to you - we woke up on the first morning to a misty Yorkshire day, with a view across the stream and pond in front of the lodge, stretching across green acres to miles of hills beyond. It was magnificent.
And even though it was only 6.30am, my son was straight into his wellies and out exploring, wading in the spring, and trying to creep up on some of the hundreds of rabbits who scamper about yards from the lodge fronts.
We were less adventurous, but happy to watch him playing safely, from the centrally heated comfort of the lodge, on big leather sofas. There were the frequent April downpours, but it didn’t matter because when you’re watching it chuck it down from a boutique hotel-style room, that just happens to be in the woods, you can feel pretty smug about being on an ‘eco-break’.
Other top comforts included a cavernous en suite wet room with power shower, granite-topped designer kitchen, barbecue, wood burning stove (with complimentary logs), complimentary hamper of organic produce . . . and Sky TV.
When the rain finally calmed down we set off to explore the 60-acre site and its woodland trail. This part of North Yorkshire, on the edge of the Dales National Park is great walking country - the coast-to-coast route passes by the south of the site - and the Natural Retreats people provide route maps for different levels of dedication.
We trekked on out across the fields and took the cross-country downhill route to Richmond, pausing only for my son to collect the decaying legbone of a passed-on rabbit and chase his disgusted sister about, waving it around and giggling hysterically.
Just an hour and a half from home, we were out in splendid country, enjoying fresh air and nature, a world away from the worries of work and everyday life.
Richmond is pretty good too - its ancient market square and Georgian streets being the very definition of the word quaint and we can recommend the Kings Head for late morning coffee in front of a log fire (not an eyebrow raised at the sight of four pairs of wellies in the lounge bar).
The Norman edifice of Richmond Castle, perched on what looks like a sheer cliff, is also a big draw, with spectacular views across the Dales and, on the day we were there, a medieval re-enactment camp complete with authentic noblemen, armourers and some stinking peasants. I could go on about the attractions of the Dales - Hawes with its Wensleydale cheese factory and merchandise bonanza is only half an hour away - but what we really wanted to do was get back to the lodge.
We lit the barbecue and threw on king prawns and venison burgers from Richmond farmers’ market and watched the sun go slowly down over the Dales, listening to the calls of pheasants from the woods and watching those rabbits running around.
Short breaks in this country - and in this county - do not get much better than this.
The Natural Retreats lodges have won awards for their design and the way they complement their surroundings. But there’s no skimping on home comforts and you do get the feeling they really want you to relax and enjoy yourself.
There is a full concierge service to answer your every need at the end of the phone and a friendly on-site manager to greet you.
The site has also partnered with caterers who, for an extra charge, will come and cook a slap-up dinner for you and the family- and even do the washing up.
We’re looking forward to getting back to nature again very soon.
How to book
* Tim was a guest of Natural Retreats in the Yorkshire Dales.
* Two-night breaks for up to six people sharing a lodge cost from £330 in low season and £660 in high season. * Seven-night breaks for six people sharing cost from £560 in low season and from £1,510 in high season. * Further information from www.naturalretreats.co.uk or call 0844 3843166