A story of biodiversity and a family pulling together to create a luxurious, adults only retreat. We talk to Katie Rixon.
Having spent their whole working life in the fruit industry, Pam and Mark Grinsted decided to retire and turn their attentions to rewilding a 10 acre plot of land they had been renting out for arable. Situated at the origins of Suffolk’s River Blyth, things started on the site in 2008, many years before the conception of Blyth Rise Stays, with the creation of a two acre lake. Over the next 12 years, 2,500 trees and hedges were planted and thoughts turned to what the newly biodiverse land could be used for.
“The original idea was to create lodges for long term let,” says daughter Katie. “The plan was for six lodges, one for the parents, then one each for us five children.”
Katie, who had worked in London in travel and marketing for 18 years, returned to Suffolk and started working with her parents on the creation of Blyth Rise Stays. They quickly decided that short term lets might be the better alternative. “We all loved travel and getting off the beaten track, and looking around there really wasn’t anything like that in our area. Suffolk is popular along the coast, particularly in summer, but we thought there was an opportunity to bring people here to enjoy what Mum and Mark had created.”
One initial idea was for shepherd huts dotted around the site, to complement the yet-to-be-built lodges, but having visited the Holiday Park & Resort Innovation Show, the family decided on a combination of six timber lodges and six Igluhuts, along with two Igluhut saunas
“My brother James is an architect and helped design the lodges with manufacturer Logspan. We wanted them to be as spacious and light-filled as possible while maintaining the ‘back to nature’ vibe. They feature floor to ceiling glazing at the front, two double bedrooms and a living space with double doors to access a private terrace. We’ve kept things really luxurious with underfloor heating in the bathrooms, high quality furnishings and kitchens with dishwashers.”
The Igluhuts complement the lodges, offering a quirky structure for couples along with two saunas, which can be booked in the honesty shop. Each accommodation also has a private terrace with a firepit, BBQ and outdoor dining area.
“We are a child and dog free site,” says Katie. “We are a huge family with lots of kids between us and when we were first discussing this I was worried we were cutting out a huge part of our market. However, it has worked really well. We major on the fact we are a quiet site and we have lots of young couples who leave their children at home and come to enjoy genuine peace and quiet.
“We are so fortunate that we have very little light pollution, are well away from the road and attract lots of wildlife. We ask people to keep the noise down after 10pm, and we don’t really have any problems. We can be full, with 36 people on site, and you wouldn’t know it – only from the smell of the BBQs.”
“We always knew we’d be building in 2020 but lockdown didn’t help us,” says Katie. “We had a very different lockdown to most as we were allowed to be on site but Covid did delay us by about six months thanks to availability of things like cement from builders’ merchants etc.”
Most of the infrastructure was in place by the end of 2019, with a 1km track laid, all the trenches for the cabling and the connection to the grid. “We made the decision to be ‘on-grid’ although we certainly considered the alternatives. All our electricity is from sustainable suppliers. We have an ethos of wanting to conserve heat and power, and this is part of the reason why we aren’t offering hot tubs. We are considering sunken outdoor baths for the future, but have no plans just yet.”
Getting the guests
“We use Canopy & Stars – as a new site they have given us a great start to help get our name out. We are also listed with Cool Places, Cool Stays, Unique Hideaways and a great female-owned business called Kip Hideaways. They hand-pick properties and now have about 120 ‘small places with soul’.”
As a marketeer, Katie has also created partnerships with influential brands such as Whistles as well as small local businesses. “I like what a partnership arrangement can bring and am looking to work with other brands that reflect our ethos.”
A family business
The creation of Blyth Rise Stays has been a family affair, with all five of Pam and Mark’s children helping at some point – James with the lodge design, Laura with site maintenance, Jake with the website and Billy with events. Katie handles sales and marketing and also runs on site yoga classes and retreats.
“I live about 20 minutes away and used to be on site all day, five days a week in the office. But people just didn’t need me! Because of Covid, we set things up to be contactless. We have electric gates with a code that’s changed once a week, and each lodge or hut has a coded key box outside. There is an emergency 24 hour mobile phone number that we take turns to man, but we’ve only had that ring once!” There is always someone either on site or nearby – it is still a seven-day a week business, but the busiest days are changeover days, and a lot of the day-to-day management can be done from home.
Changeover is managed with the help of a local cleaning company and a local laundry.
The site closes after New Year and reopens at the start of March. In this downtime, the family takes a well-earned rest before attentions are turned to essential site maintenance.
“We need this time to recharge,” says Katie. “Then it’s back to site and a whole lot of maintenance to keep things looking great – we have a lot of wood to oil!”
Blyth Rise Stays