Living in a log cabin - the couple who swapped high-flying careers for a new life in Derbyshire

Richard and Leigh at home

Richard and Leigh at home - Credit: Archant

When Richard and Leigh Woods ‘fell for each other’ – literally as they are part of the UK’s elite sky diving fraternity – little did they know that they would live a life with their feet planted firmly on the ground growing rare lilies and unusual perennial plants as well as breeding prize-winning Suri alpacas

Waiting for a new home

Waiting for a new home - Credit: Archant

Richard was a mining engineer in the gold mines of South Africa and Leigh was the International Sales and Marketing Manager for a US-based adhesives manufacturer but on Leigh’s 48th birthday the couple decided to make a complete lifestyle change. They were already interested in horticulture, especially in growing lilies, and had opened their own garden as part of the ‘Yellow Book’ National Gardens Scheme, so decided to take this hobby to the next level and grow plants commercially, selling them at various horticultural shows across the UK.

Giving up their corporate salaries and shrugging off the shackles of conformity, Richard and Leigh started to grow plants in their garden at home for their first sale at Easter in 2008. At the same time they began the search for some land where they could build a nursery. Eventually they settled on four acres – really no more than a farmer’s field – in South Derbyshire and the smallholding they run today was born.

It was in 2009 that the first polytunnel arrived on the field they had bought and the scale of production increased with the larger growing area. Production scaled up again when in 2011 a second polytunnel was installed.

As the smallholding developed, it was apparent that there was a lot of open grassland yearning to be grazed and the idea of livestock was appealing. However, the livestock had to be rare breed, high quality and high value and after much research Suri Alpacas were a natural choice. In 2010, starting with a group of three breeding females, the herd was established and now all newly born alpacas are named after lilies, the flower that started the whole project.

Photogenic alpacas

Photogenic alpacas - Credit: Archant

Living on the land

Initially Richard and Leigh had no intention of living on the land, but it became increasingly apparent that as the livestock herd grew, living close to the animals was the only solution. So, as Christmas 2012 approached, after seven weeks of waiting, the Woods were granted planning permission to put a temporary building on the site to serve as a home until planning permission could be secured for a permanent structure.

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The land threshold for temporary buildings in the rural community is generally based on 7.5 acres as a minimum, however, in the case of Richard and Leigh whose land only extended to four acres, they could demonstrate that their business was active before moving to the site and was sustainable.

Looking at the possibilities for a temporary home, the Woods discovered Norwegian Log Buildings, a company with a 25-year history in designing and building traditional log homes for the rural environment. Considering the alternative of living in a tin caravan for three years while waiting for planning permission to build a permanent structure, Richard and Leigh decided on a log building as their permanent home.

Richard and Leigh Woods' Norwegian Log Building home

Richard and Leigh Woods' Norwegian Log Building home - Credit: Archant

Fully transportable, Norwegian Log Buildings are constructed throughout from solid log, including all the internal walls. This means they comply with the Caravan Act requirements to qualify as a mobile home. Built to BS3632 (the specification for a Park Home construction), they are exempt from VAT and are not subject to Building Regulations. They also meet the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Paragraph 55 for rural development and the right to have an agricultural building on a farm or smallholding to accommodate rural workers.

Norwegian Log Buildings’ experience in these matters was key to the success of the planning and installation, and once the process was implemented everything happened relatively quickly. In December 2012 planning permission was granted for a temporary dwelling. In March 2013 the site foundation commenced and in April the main building work commenced. Just eight weeks later the Woods’ new home was completed and finished.

Richard couldn’t quite believe how straightforward it had all been: ‘Working with Norwegian Log Buildings was a big step for us and we didn’t know what to expect. We were delighted with the overall experience as not only could we plan our own building but we were also part of the overall design process. In addition we were able to talk to other owners and look round their homes as part of the decision making process.’

The resulting log home is 16.8m long by 6.8m wide (the maximum width allowed), offering ample accommodation that comprises a farm office/home study, a large open-plan family room with kitchen, two well-appointed bedrooms and fully equipped bathrooms plus a utility room, services control room and cloak room.

One issue that threatened to thwart the project was the lack of power on the site, which was totally off the grid. Following a quotation from the local power utility supplier that providing electricity services from the main road to the log cabin would cost £40,000, the Woods decided to go ‘off grid’. They installed photovoltaic solar panels on the roof which are capable of providing 20kW of power per day, ample for the overall needs of the building and the site. The heating and hot water supply was boosted by using thermal tubes on the roof and a log burner with a back boiler for the winter. Again Norwegian Log Buildings responded to a design change when the weight of the wood burner necessitated strengthening the floor to support the increased weight.

To complete the self-sufficiency angle, fresh water for the whole site is drawn from its own 250-foot bore hole. This incorporates a desalination and purification plant and irrigates all the polytunnels as well as providing water for domestic and alpaca use.

Whistling Duck Alpacas

and Lilies and Chillies

Nearly two years on, ‘Whistling Duck Alpacas’ is now home to 17 Suri alpacas with a string of awards between them. ‘Whistling Miss Lily’ was the Champion White Female in the British Alpaca Futurity 2012, ‘Whistling Arabian Night’ was the Champion Brown Male at Alpaca 2012, and last year ‘Whistling Miss Feya’ won the Champion Brown Female at the 2014 Alpaca Show Time event. The herd has also brought numerous awards and championships from national and regional fleece shows back to Derbyshire. The nursery, ‘Lilies and Chillies’, is expanding, the Woods have developed the smallholding that they desired, and life in a log cabin is good.

For information on Norwegian Log Buildings visit or call 0118 966 9236.

For details of the range of specialist plants and lilies available and alpacas visit or