London couple transform Suffolk home into an 'intimate' lifestyle retreat
- Credit: Daniel Ian Photography
A couple from London have transformed their second home near Southwold into a lifestyle and health retreat.
It all started a couple of years ago when Londoner Gavin Crossland was taking part in an ultra marathon at Dunwich Forest.
30 miles in, he got lost. He’d missed one of the arrows, he says, and instead ended up off-course and in Walberswick.
“I was delirious and my hips were hurting so I went and sat in the pub,” he says. “Typical foreigner to the area, I thought ‘I’ll go and get a cab’. The barman laughed at me. You won’t get a cab in Walberswick.”
Instead, Gavin finished his pint and decided to complete the race. He says that although the beer went straight to his head he continued on for another six miles, running down the beach. "I did more miles than anybody in the race that day and got disqualified because I didn’t go the proper route.”
Instead, he fell in love with the area.
Later on, he brought his partner, Emma, to the area for a day out exploring Walberswick and Southwold and, over a bottle of wine, they decided to buy a house nearby.
Their property search led them to Toad Hall, nestled in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It wasn’t the grand home Gavin expected, from the name, but rather two early 20th century cottages, which had been brought together as a single home two decades before.
“The estate agent showed us Toad Hall and told us we couldn’t have it because 10 people were interested in it, so that made us want it more. The next morning we put an offer in and, by luck, the person who was winning the race was a property developer and the guy who was selling the house didn’t want to sell to a developer – he’d gotten married in the garden and didn’t want it to change.
“He spent an hour on the phone to my other half and said ‘I really like what you want to do, we’ll go with you’. We were shocked. He gave us the keys before buying it, said ‘try before you buy’ – we felt like squatters. But we fell in love with it and the sale went through.”
That was around three years ago. The couple, who were based in London, had intended for Toad Hall to become their second home. But when the pandemic started they ended up staying at Toad Hall, solidly, for almost a year. Suddenly, they found themselves asking each other how they might be able to make the move sooner.
They decided to create Toad Hall Lodges, a kind of lifestyle retreat which centres around five timber lodges, each sleeping two adults.
They’ve also converted the double garage into a gym and exercise space, but Gavin says this could be used for a variety of events, from creative gatherings to bridal parties.
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“It’s not glamping as you know it because it’s all hotel standard,” he says. “You’ve got a real luxury feel in the lodges. It’s all panelled, with memory foam mattresses and Nespresso machines. You do have to walk to the toilet, but when you get to it, they’re luxury as well – fully tiled, power shower – and we’ve got one en suite.”
Online reviews have likened the site to the private member’s club Soho Farmhouse. It’s luxurious and peaceful, within walking distance of Southwold and Hen Reedbeds Nature Reserve.
“The goal when we started the project was to create a comfortable base to explore the coast,” says Gavin. “It’s not a site like Henham Park – it hasn’t got acres of land where you can just roam. It’s quite an intimate site but I think we’ve cleverly given each lodge enough privacy, with the planting of certain trees, and we’ve turned one of the lodges sideways, so it gets more privacy.
“They’ve all got little gardens where you can have a little breakout space and behind the gym there’s a decking area which is amazing in the morning or, because the sun always sets in front of it, it’s a great sort of sundown area as well.”
Going forward, the couple hope to turn Toad Hall Lodges into more of a health and wellness retreat. “I want to be doing running weekends and guided cycling tours,” Gavin says. “I want to get yoga teachers here so they can bring their yogis here as well. I really want it to be a lifestyle brand.”
They’ve put around half a million into it, which Gavin calls an “educated investment.” They sold their property in London and now rent in the area instead, while Emma continues to work in the city and their daughter finishes secondary school.
Gavin now spends most of his time in Suffolk, getting the business up and running. Bookings are coming in, their home is nearly complete and they have big plans for the future.
“I’m setting up our forever home,” Gavin says.
Visit toadhall.life or follow @toadhalllodges on Instagram.