In the pitch-black depths of a winter night, we pull off a deserted lane in the north-west of the Lake District and swerve into a deeply muddy farm field, wheels spinning in the gloop.
Stepping out into the blackness I kick myself for not having my headtorch to hand – only occasionally does drizzly light from the crescent moon break through to illuminate the outline of the Lorton Valley hills above.
It is the first weekend of January, bitterly cold, and after many hours of driving cross country through snow, ice and hour-long traffic jams, my friend Charlie and I have followed a location code on the What3Words app to find an isolated shearing shed. Arriving here is just the start of the adventure. Our accommodation, the Hidden Hut, lies in a secret location somewhere up on the fell and we must find it with only an aerial photo marked with the route to guide us.
Owners John and Hannah Graham usually lead guests, but it’s so late I’ve assured them we’re adventurous sorts, happy to find our way.
Are we though? I’m soon re-evaluating when wet mud, heavy rucksacks and steep sections make tough work of the challenge. Pairs of red, robotic-looking sheep eyes reflect our torchlight, and as city folk unused to total darkness, our creeped-out minds fly immediately to Blair Witch.
Yet with a few steers by text from John (there is phone signal) the cabin finally appears and inside it’s a different world – cosy, safe and stylish too.
The Hidden Hut is the latest addition to Hinterlandes, the Grahams’ Lakes-based self-catering collection, launched in 2018, including a converted American school bus with hot tub and a family-sized black timber cabin. All are self-contained and transportable, moving from location to location every 28 days around local farmland that John leases from a friend who owns 200 acres. John also founded (and recently sold) the Lakes’ coolest cafe, Merienda, in Keswick, and has a 1958 Airstream, coastal yacht and more off-grid huts in the pipeline.
In a land of a thousand cabins and glamping pods, it’s the element of adventure and challenge that makes the Hidden Hut something different. Sleeping in such an isolated hilltop position usually requires camping or roughing it in a bothy, but making the cabin small (7ft x 12ft) and movable gets around building regulations.
“It’s probably one of the highest cabins in the UK, at about 1,000ft,” says John. “It’s not for everyone, but for someone who wants to get right into the depths of the countryside, it’s ideal.”
It’s comfy too. The Scandi-ish interior is styled with a cutesy quilt, black wooden stools, industrial solar lighting and shelves of books and games. There’s a separate composting loo and marble shower and a wood-burning stove keeping it sauna-toasty. We warm a tagine we’ve brought on the hotplate and fall asleep top-to-tail in the double bed, nestling against a picture window.
I wake with my face pressed against an incredible view, a restless expanse of hillocks and peaks rolling towards the coast. On a nearby hillock, two designer Hay chairs are arranged for admiring the raw splendour of the sheer-sided peaks around Loweswater and Buttermere to the south.
Morning people would have risen before dawn to light the stove, but we are not them, so potter around the immediate private landscape waiting hours for the kettle to boil. It doesn’t. We wish we’d brought a camping gas stove for quick cuppas and resort to filling flasks at night for morning and infusing coffee bags in cold water. It’s our only complaint, though the “small hamper with wine and beer” containing two Tunnock’s wafers and one small can of sauvignon blanc is somewhat disappointing (the inclusion of oat milk saves it). But these are minor in the grand scheme of the surroundings.
A short drive south past Loweswater and Crummock Water finds us in Buttermere, where imposing mist-wreathed giants – Kirk Fell, High Stile, Great Gable, Hay Stacks – that are immensely satisfying to scale are topped with snow. Given the scant daylight hours, we opt for a shorter run up Whiteless Pike, where strong winds nearly flatten us, finishing with an ecstatic sprint along the grassy lakeside ridge of Low Bank as the sun sets, gabbling idiotically about how we must become serious fell runners and should plan a hardcore expedition, perhaps to the Arctic.
The overambition of this idea is pulled into focus when we’re hiking back up the vertical mud bath to the hut later that ink-dark night.
The hut has an outdoor pizza oven, and provides dough ingredients and passata, so while climbing we plot the most efficient timing for the tasks ahead: firing the stove, making dough, breaking firewood into tiny pieces, lighting the oven, brewing coffee for tomorrow.
The route is wetter and muddier, the wind insane, but finally, sweatily, we reach the hut. It starts to rain. And then it dawns on me. The key. We’ve left the goddamn key in the car.
Such absentmindedness would be no big deal elsewhere; here it means an hour and a half’s hike back down and up again. Somehow, we don’t mind. We take beer and embrace the thrill of being outside on a wild winter night, and our own form of shambolic adventuring.
At 1am, after burning through an entire box of matches, succeeding in lighting the oven only by using an emergency foil blanket as a windshield, we sit on the low tree trunk that wraps around the outdoor table like a bench, eating our delicious pizza (minus spinach, which blew away). Maybe we can hack the Arctic after all.
The next day we seem to only have time for a brief, invigorating swim in freezing Crummock Water (something I agree to reluctantly, letting the Guardian side down by wearing a thick wetsuit), and a long warm-up in Buttermere’s Croft House Farm Cafe, before night falls again.
But the winter darkness feels joyful now. We hike an hour down the road with head torches to Loweswater’s Kirkstile Inn, the best of Lake District pubs (an alternative route goes over the fell), for a superb dinner of Loweswater Gold tempura monkfish and nightcaps of salted caramel vodka from the brilliant Lakes Distillery. No cars pass by and the sky is extraordinarily clear, the stars brighter and more abundant than I’ve seen them in years. Blair Witch doesn’t cross my mind and the robo-sheep even look friendly.
Our intention to go fell-running at dawn before leaving is reneged upon, but we are armed with cold coffee and feel shaken awake by this break, uplifted and fortified, with new goals and positivity. The cabin has been perfect for half-baked adventurers like us, the right mix of challenge and comfort. Making such a trip at the very start of January is a revelation. Christmas and New Year are left for dust and when I get home, it already feels like spring.
Gemma Bowes was a guest of Canopy and Stars. A stay in the Hinterlandes Hidden Hut costs from £190 per night sleeping two; Hinterlandes Cabin costs from £155 per night for two adults, two children; the school bus costs from £145 per night sleeping two