Alison and Scott bought the Devon property that would become Big Sky Retreat in 1990, after travelling all over the world. They have a passion for sustainability, but recognise the constraints of practicality they need to work within. This is how they do it:  

The build

Both of our spaces have been built using mostly recycled materials: old scaffold boards, floor boards, pallets and even redundant fence posts. We’ve used driftwood and shells as door and cabinet handles, twisted copper pipes and gas taps in place of standard sink taps, and both a washing machine door and a bicycle wheel as windows. When we do buy new, we like to buy locally, like we did with the signage, hand painted by a local artist, and wood-burning stoves from a local and traditional smithy.  Our normal windows (for admiring the amazing view) are double-glazed and we insulated with sheep’s wool.

We’re trying to reduce grass cutting by sowing more areas of wild flowers – specifically for birds & insects – with paths mown through for guests to wander.

 Fun stuff

For entertainment (outside toys) it’s nice to provide something quirky and different. We like to change what we have for guests every other year or so. At the moment, we’ve got an upside-down trampoline hung from a tree and re-purposed as a giant swing, a washing machine drum used as a fire pit and a couple of other swings scattered around.

 The loo

We do use a composting loo, but it is not self composting and this does require a certain commitment. It is also very difficult for children to use the separator, and it’s easy to block up. This was part of our consideration when we decided not to accommodate children at Big Sky.

The lights on

We have solar ceiling lights made by a company called Sundaya. They are effective but limited. 

It’s easy for a guest to leave all the lights on some nights and then after cloudy days the following guests have no lights at all. We do now also provide windup torches as backup, avoiding battery power as the sheer amount of batteries required became unsustainable.

 Rubbish problems

Rubbish is probably our biggest concern at Big Sky. It is also the most work as it all has to be taken back up to the road. We have just started a new “recycling” facility for both properties in an old field shelter, but have been a bit horrified at what one person has dumped in there…

We would so love to be plastic free, but do not see this as being possible. Most of our rubbish is plastic and food wrapping is not recycled at the moment in our part of Devon.

 Water preservation

We didn’t want to leave too big a footprint on the earth – hence no septic tank and no foundations, extensive drainage or any services apart from water. We decided against hot tubs or baths, even though they are very fashionable. To us it seems an excessive use of our natural resources and we’re not about luxury. There are plenty of places in Devon that do that sort of thing much better than we could ever do. 

Introducing people to nature and the community

We want to offer other people not so lucky as ourselves the chance to be outside and enjoy the countryside, hence our plethora of seats, viewing platforms, swings etc. All to enjoy the big sky – night or day. When the weather is wet or cold – at least guests can sit inside (comfortable and warm), admire the view and still feel surrounded by nature. We have just taken down the fences to the fields besides both The Lookout and The Retreat – so that the wildflower meadows become more ingrained in our guest’s experience.

To get people exploring the area, we offer a well planned & “documented” walk that takes in the village shop. I like to encourage all our guests to visit. It is a community shop but offers everything needed for a short stay. 

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.