Sitting on a log with a book in hand, a view of a sun-dappled duck pond, and the sound of chickens gently clucking in the background, I feel the most peaceful I have in ages.

That’s something I’ve needed desperately thanks to spending months lockdown-ing in London in 2020, with the mad rush of working from home (where working in the day can easily slide into working long evenings, because what else am I doing? We’re in lockdown. Might as well work), constant notifications from Slack, social media, and breaking news alerts, and the general dread of living through a pandemic having made me feel a strange combination of on high alert, with endless anxious energy, and completely depleted.

Staying in a shepherd’s hut in Essex, where the phone signal is unreliable and the wifi nonexistent, has let me finally shut off.

The zen idyll is not what I expected from Essex, which for many people (including me) brings up images of fake tan and vajazzles.

But this part of Essex, Thorrington, is the perfect spot for a UK holiday – and something that anyone stressed out by the daily hustle and bustle desperately needs.

The shepherd’s hut at Mill Farm

Let’s start with the place to stay. My boyfriend and I headed along to Wigeon, one of two shepherd’s huts at Mill Farm, in Colchester.

With staycations, glamping, and caravans all becoming major trends this year – thanks in part to the grounding of international travel, part to our need to go back to basics and reconnect with nature – it’s a smart move on the owners’ part to have got these mini homes back up and running with Covid-friendly restrictions.

The farm has a duck pond, chickens (who lay fresh eggs for our welcome basket, delivered the morning after our first night), and two glamping spots, named Teal and Wigeon.

Each shepherd’s hide has a kitchen, a cosy double bed, and a bathroom, with clever storage making the most of a small space.

Outside, we have our own patio and bench, where we play cards and Bananagrams as curious chickens hop up to take a look at our letters.

As I mentioned above, there’s no wifi here, and the signal is spotty. This is not somewhere to go if you’re planning to WFH (work from holiday), but the place you need for a proper digital detox, with the location providing more than enough to keep you entertained.

What to do in Essex

I’ll be blunt: there’s not much to do in Thorrington itself. It’s a small, sleepy town with a pub up the road (The Red Lion, where we head for tasty fish and chips and pints of local ales).

But venture out a little further from the shepherd’s hut – if you have a car, drive, but a bike ride or bus trip is super easy and quick, too – and you’ll find Brightlingsea, a stone beach where you can stroll the promenade to pick out your favourite brightly painted beach hut, do a spot of crabbing, or enjoy delicious fresh seafood at The Rosebud. Make sure to pick up some Colchester oysters while you’re there.

If you’re up for a quick boat trip, you can make your way over to East Mersea, home to another, bigger beach and even more seafood stalls and restaurants, where you can eat cockles and crevettes to your heart’s content.

Schedule in one day for the beaches and seafood, and one for Wivenhoe.

Pack comfy shoes for a good hour and a half walk from Mill Farm to Wivenhoe, a riverside town home to two cracking bookshops (go to the one selling used books, Colne Bookshop, first, to pick up some bargains, then to Wivenhoe Bookshop to pick up the latest releases), cute cafes, and The Black Buoy, where you can refuel after your hike with burgers, scampi, or sandwiches.


Return back to base and spend the evenings bathing in the joy of doing nothing. Look out at the pond and meditate on the movement of the water. Do some stretches on your patio. Snuggle up in bed and watch a film (that you should download to your laptop long before setting off to Essex).

Go on a walk by the river. Lie in and lounge or wake up early and breathe in the taste of the morning air. You need this. You need to take an actual, proper break, that isn’t all about ticking off a travel to-do list or catching up on emails with a new backdrop. I definitely did.

How to get there

So this is why this cosy corner of Essex is my number one spot for Londoners to retreat to – it’s so, so easy to get there.

Take a train to Colchester, then another to Alresford. Book a taxi to take you up to Mill Farm. The total journey is under two hours.

Where to stay in Essex

Obviously, my top recommendation is Wigeon, the shepherd’s hide at Mill Farm, in Thorrington.

You can book it through Canopy & Stars for £100 a night for two people.

If you don’t fancy the shepherd’s hut or Mill Farm is all booked up, don’t panic, here are some similar cosy cabins and glamping spots in the same area.

Digital Detox Cabin

Checking in here requires locking away your phone in a sealed box, so run, don’t walk if you’re tackling a hardwired tech addiction.

The cabin for two is available from £130 a night.

Grebe’s Nest, Chigborough Farm

Wake up on a private lake in this gorgeous curved pod.

Pod for two from £100 a night.

Samphire

This simple weather-boarded cabin-on-stilts has presided over the marshes of the Ray Channel from its spot on the sea wall for over 35 years.

Cabin for two adults and two children from £100 a night.

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