THERE are all sorts of ways to be eco warriors. You don’t necessarily have to live in trees, nurture dreadlocks or make your feelings felt through peaceful protests.
You can do your bit for the planet by simply thinking green – on a grand scale.
That’s what Felicity and David Brown are doing at Hoe Grange Holidays in Brassington – and it is reaping rewards.
As well as providing them with a livelihood, they have lost count of the awards they have received for their eco-friendly holiday log cabins at their farm.
Frankly, the efforts they make to put the environment first would shame most of us, which is why they are now winning national recognition.
For example, they have a sun-tracking photovoltaic solar system and 10kwh wind turbine to create renewable electricity. And, naturally, they buy energy from a green tariff supplier. Meanwhile, Hoe Grange water is drawn direct from its very own borehole.
“Water miles are worse than food miles,” says David. “No need for plastic bottles and their associated problems, our water is clear and clean with nothing added. A pure taste of Derbyshire.”
The log cabins are heated using the latest ground source heating technology, helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
“The cabins are even insulated with sheep wool,” David chuckled.
The green thinking doesn’t stop there. The holiday homes are equipped with eco-friendly phosphate and chlorine-free cleaning materials and detergents. And, whenever practical, linen and towels are dried on the line outside, rather than in the tumble dryer.
Low-energy light bulbs are used and guests are encouraged to turn off lights and appliances before going out.
But it’s not all about saving the earth, they care about people, too. They do their utmost to make their holidays and the countryside accessible to the disabled.
This includes having an off-road wheelchair to allow people with disabilities to explore the Peak District countryside. So, it should come as no surprise to learn the Browns picked up a silver Sustainable Tourism Award at both 2011 and 2012’s VisitEngland Awards for Excellence. The honours keep coming thick and fast. In fact, if they displayed all their accolades in their farmhouse kitchen, they would run out of wall space.
“We are quite proud,” said Felicity. “We’ve come to realise that we are definitely doing something very right and that makes us really happy. It’s very hard work and we have to be a solid team, but we’re loving every second.”
The couple’s holiday retreat sits within the 250-acre grounds of their beef and sheep farm. On the edge of the Peak District National Park, it has been in David’s family for more than 60 years. But when the couple’s accountant sat them down to talk money, they knew it was time to diversify and bring something new to the area. David said: “I remember the conversation well. He said we were probably going to start losing money in the next couple of years.
“He made us feel slightly worried about the farming industry and it was around that time we talked about building log cabins on the site. Years back, my dad had the same dream. He wanted to build a log cabin but he simply never got round to it. He was extremely busy with the farm and there was never time to do anything else.”
David’s dad would be proud of what his son and daughter-in-law have achieved. Their four-star self-catering cabins are never empty and people are coming from all over the UK to sample the delights of Derbyshire.
But what makes this venture special is the attention to detail David and Felicity have put into creating the cabins.
Hours of planning and preparation was how it all started. They wanted each log cabin to be in a spot where visitors could enjoy stunning views from every window. “I’d like to think that the log cabins are more cosy than a traditional cottage,” said Felicity. “They are fully centrally heated and double-glazed. There’s a television, DVD player, dishwasher, fridge and freezer. And from the windows, you can enjoy views of the striking limestone rocks and rolling hills of farmland.”
Hoe Grange Holidays has been awarded gold from the Green Tourism Business Scheme and is now rated in the top 20 green businesses in the UK. Members must meet tough standards to get anywhere near an honour of this sort. A wide range of environmental factors, from efficient lighting and heating, to nature conservation and renewable energy, are considered.
“This has been great news for us,” said David, who has worked incredibly hard to win this award. He is the one who has turned his traditional farm into a carbon neutral tourist hotspot and he’s thrilled about the national accolades, which include being gold Access for All winners in 2011.
Initially, they built one log cabin. They decided to move slowly and make sure everything was right before ploughing on and creating more.
It is Felicity’s attention to detail and David’s natural fix-it ability which has served them well. Rushing in and creating all four cabins at the same time would not have worked as each time the pair built a new one, they made it better.
“After the first one we knew what to do to improve the next one,” said Felicity. “What we did was very simple – we listened to the people who came and stayed in it. We asked for feedback from disabled guests and they helped us understand what’s important when you use a wheelchair. They gave us so many tips and pointers it made creating the other cabins a lot easier.”
Many guests return time after time, and it has become a hotspot for disabled people who need to find the right kind of place before they can enjoy a stress-free holiday. The Brown’s £9,000 off-road, all-terrain wheelchair, a Boma 7, is available to hire.
“It’s going down a treat,” said David, who chats happily about the times he’s given it a try and set off for the High Peak Trail.
“One week, an elderly lady arrived and she was a wheelchair-user. I was telling her about the Boma 7 and asked if she wanted a go.
“She was in her 80s and was a bit unsure. Then she agreed to get in it. I’ve never seen such a happy face. She went all round the fields in it and says she loved every minute.”
The couple have tried to think of everything and the work they’ve done to improve and conserve the local environment is impressive. Plus, since they’ve been open, they say they’ve met some wonderful people, dogs and horses.
“We have facilities for people to bring their horses and dogs are welcome, too,” said Felicity.
“And if our holidaymakers turn up on foot, they receive 10 per cent off their bill.”
The couple say they couldn’t ask for more and at the moment have no plans to expand. They want to focus on what they’re doing best – giving people from all over the UK a wonderful base to enjoy Derbyshire.
“It’s hard work,” said Felicity. “We’re never off duty, but it gives you such a good feeling when you know that someone has enjoyed their stay. It makes the long hours worth it.”