“I’d love to potter about, grow flowers and share this beautiful place with others. I just want to be happy on the hill”, said Susan Piers-Mantell when her son Jake asked what she really wanted to do with her days.
At that time, Susan (the loveliest lady you’ll ever meet by the way), was thinking about a change of career… a different way of life and in that one moment, in that tiny snippet of conversation, ‘Happy on the hill’ was imagined.
We’re so so happy it was!
We’ve recently come back from a little stay in this truly special spot, tucked away high on Creech Hill in the village of Lanyatt. It’s a stones throw from Bruton and Batcombe, with an awesome view of the stunning Somerset countryside...
...and not only do we feel happy, we also feel incredibly privileged to have been able to take our two doggies (Petal and Flower) and hide out at Gabriel’s Wagon – a beautifully restored railway carriage with a rustic, bohemian feel.
Inside and out, it's very Somerset cool...
You can feel the weight lifting from your shoulders as soon as you open the Happy on the hill gate, sit back and chill out on the wagon verandah - whether you're human or hound ;).
It’s a magical place that feels miles away from any worries, or any of those nasty niggles that have a habit of lurking at the back of your mind and as Susan tells me,
“sometimes when people come to stay they’re quite fragile, but after spending time here I can literally see the change in their faces”.
Well, we can totally understand that. When we arrived we were probably stressed and a bit preoccupied. On the hill, we were in our own little world where we just let our thoughts drift. We genuinely relaxed and simply appreciated the joy of pottering about. The power of pottering is huge... especially when you have such a beautiful view and the biggest decision you have to make is when to have your next walk or cuppa! Absolute heaven.
The wagon is beautifully kitted out with everything you need to rustle up a fab dinner too - inside if it’s a bit chilly (the wagon has electricity, running hot and cold water, a baby belling cooker/oven, toaster and small fridge), or outside under the starry sky if you want to put the fire pit and fire wok to good use. You’ll definitely hear the owls hooting words of encouragement!
For us, although we had some lovely September days with only a tiny hint of Autumn in the air, we decided to light the cosy woodburner and snuggle up with pizza from nearby At the Chapel, a few glasses of wine and two very knackered doggies! After exploring the fantastic walks on the doorstep and having a run around in the fields, they loved curling up by the fire to dream of more stays here… or probably the treat box Susan left out for them!
Susan left us some awesome locally produced treats too – a delicious sponge cake, Bullbeggar cider (made with apples from the village) and all the ingredients for a great breakfast - Happy on the Hill homemade jams and marmalades, fresh bread, eggs, juice and Bruton Dairy milk. YEAH!! Anyway, enough about the treats ;).
The story behind this unique retreat is really special and Susan and her husband Neil fell in love with the hill before they’d actually bought a house on it! As Susan tells me, she used to drive past the hill most days, look up and dream about what it would be like to live here, so when the house on the top of it went up for sale, the couple knew they had to make it their home – when you know, you just know:
“We didn’t have a survey, didn’t realise there wasn’t any running water then (only a well) and until we moved in, we didn’t even notice there was no upstairs toilet!”
At that time they had a young family of four boys, and the wagon, originally part of the milk train that carried the churns to Somerset dairies, was already there. As Susan says,
“I’ve no idea how anyone ever got it up the hill”,
and looking at the original part of it (the rust-coloured section in the picture below), that’s a very good point!
Anyway, in the early days they really used the carriage for storage but as the kids grew older and their son Gabriel became a musician, the wagon became his bedroom so he could make music in peace! ;)
When he got married a couple of years later, Susan and Neil turned the wagon in to a bit of a love nest! Neil had experience working with stained glass and wood. He'd already handcrafted the beautiful interiors of the wagon, and added to it the stained glass insets the sun hits to create colourful shadows on the translucent arched roof. With the help of some very skilled friends (a big shout out to another woodworking guru, the man they call Merlin), they built the gorgeous bathroom, complete with freestanding bath, that has those views of the vale beyond - sigh.
When the wedding celebrations were over, Susan felt it would be lovely to share this happy place on this happy hill with like-minded guests – and the rest is pretty much history, as people escape everyday life, stay and experience the gentle beauty of this unforgettable corner of Somerset.
You can definitely feel the love that’s been poured in to making Gabriel’s Wagon the place it is - and the music in there too, as it goes. In fact, one of the guests gifted the wagon a guitar, which now hangs proudly on the wall, tempting you to sit back on the wooden porch and have a strum.
There’s another family connection too. Susan tells me about her mum, Constance - an amazing lady who went out to Africa after the war and worked for a mission, in the middle of nowhere, to help families in need. That’s where she met Susan’s father, but the most amazing thing of all? Whilst out there, Constance lived in… yep you guessed it… a railway wagon! You can imagine how it felt when Susan and her family moved to the hill and found their own railway carriage waiting for them. Some things are simply meant to be.
It’s a funny thing discovering somewhere genuinely special isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but when I do I get goosebumps and feel a bit teary! I know I’m a soppy soul, but certain places do that to you and chatting to Susan about the story of Gabriel’s Wagon, on the porch with a pot of tea, was really moving. Not only is Susan amazingly easy to talk to, she’s also full of kindness and one thing she says during our chat really strikes a chord with me:
“I don’t feel like we own the land here”. I feel as though we’re taking care of it”,
and when you’re somewhere truly special, I honestly believe that’s the feeling the land around you inspires.
There’s not many hideaways more inspiring than a wagon nestled under ancient woodland on an old pilgrims path, where you can watch the birds soar over the valley and feel truly connected to nature.
And it's not just us that thinks so. The guest book is full to the brim with so many lovely messages, sketches, poems and big love! Definitely check it out when you stay, and add your own to this precious collection.
And, if one beautiful hideaway isn’t enough for you, Gabriel’s Wagon now has a friend… Jake’s cabin. This cabin on the hill has just been finished and the guys who’ve stayed in it so far are mainly guests who’ve spent time in Gabriel’s, seen the cabin and fallen in love with it too… so stays have either been extended, or guests have come back for more. It's very easy to see why...
The cabin’s absolutely stunning. Made from local cedar and larch and hidden away for a truly secluded escape, there are different vistas to fall in love with. Can you spot the little village church in the valley below?
It’s also dog friendly and like Gabriel's Wagon, there's a fantastic verandah for relaxing outside. We feel really lucky to be able to step inside and share what we find with you:
From the stunning handcrafted kitchen to the beautiful roll-top bath (we'd love a soak in that tub!), no detail has been overlooked and like Gabriel's Wagon, it has that magical feel of a place that's been created completely from the heart.
As Susan tells me, there was no argument when it came to naming the new retreat. There's a bit of a family joke that her son, Jake, was always last when it came to choices of bedroom growing up, so all the sons agreed this should be his cabin. We love that story :). When he comes home, that's where Jake will hide out and when he's away, guests can book it, retreat, revive and have some fun!
Ok, so I couldn’t fit our usual 'review in three words' into three words for Happy on the hill, so I’m using four (although technically one of the words is the same but repeated, so I’ll let myself off ;))
Our review in four words: Special place, special people.
It’s definitely “a little place to feel on top of the world” and if you couldn't tell as you were reading, we flipping love it! It's definitely touched all our hearts at Somerset cool.
And finally… check out the Happy on the Hill Instagram feed. We love seeing all the happy people that have stayed here and hope to see you in the photo gallery soon too! :)
Garbriel's Wagon and Jake's Cabin are 2 miles from Bruton Station (London Waterloo weekdays direct line), 3 miles from Castle Cary Station (London Paddington to Castle Cary direct line). Both sleep 2, plus a babe in arms and are genuinely dog friendly. Petal and Flower can vouch for that! :).