Meet the owners: Cloud Cabin and The Old Stout House
We love our owners and their unique places to stay and two of our most unique and stylish places to stay – Cloud Cabin in Camber Sands and The Old Stout House in Rye – are owned and run by the charming Nicola. In the latest of our “Meet the owners” blogs, learn how she came to run these great places to stay in East Sussex and what motivates her to create these fabulous places to stay.
Are you East Sussex born and breed?
I’m a Londoner by birth and upbringing but I moved to Hastings in the mid-2000s, at the start of its current renaissance, and lived there for many years. I loved getting to know East Sussex and fell in love with its incredible mixture of picture-perfect villages, stunning rural landscapes and gorgeous beaches – with the county bookended at edges by the edgier, arty and urban feel of Brighton in the west and Hastings and Rye in the east.
Ultimately, I moved back to London for lots of reasons, but I have kept the friendships and my deep love of the county, travelling up and down frequently – not least to spend as much time as possible in summer on the beautiful beach at Camber Sands!
What made you decide to invest in your beautiful houses?
A good portion of my journalistic career was spent travel writing, plus I have always had a passion for independent travel too, starting when I was 17 and spent the school summer holidays backpacking around Israel. Most of my family is spread around the globe and my mother grew up in Venezuela and Barbados – so one way and another travel has been an integral part of my life. Whether through many incredible press trips, backpacking, family and business travel, and everything in between, I have stayed in the full range of accommodation from bed-bug infested bunk houses in Goa, to historic home stays in Havana and five-star suites in Hong Kong.
What I learned along the way is that style, character, cleanliness and location were what really mattered to me. I don’t remember a lot of the internationally bland 5*s, and I’ve tried to forget the worst of the backpacking hostels. The ones I remember with misty-eyed fondness are the modest but beautiful Balinese tree house set in gorgeous gardens and the crumbling, but amazingly furnished, colonial mansion in a town outside Havana. I wanted to offer guests something akin to these, where they could make memories.
I wanted to get a place in Camber as soon as I set eyes on the beach and knew I could make it work as a business as I regularly rented places there myself and was shocked at what I was paying for a bog standard property. I thought I could create somewhere really nice and charge just a little more, and people could enjoy both the beach and the area and love the place they were staying and that’s how Cloud Cabin (below) came to be.
I’m both a journalist/content editor and interior designer by trade and felt I could combine all my skills with renovating houses to create really beautiful holiday lets. A stylist friend with great taste told me that when she rents a holiday property, she’s looking for something completely different to what she has at home, something that probably wouldn’t work as a full-time home in fact because of all the practicalities that usually have to be incorporated. I took that and ran with it! What I’m really doing is setting a gorgeous scene, a fantastic backdrop – almost a glamorous working film set – for people to escape for a while and write their own story against with their friends. I guess I’m just a romantic!
On a practical point I hated it when I rented in a group and here was just one small saucepan and not even a cheese grater, never mind more. I wanted to cook feasts and have a stylish home from home but so often it was either a bland, cookie-cutter, corporate experience or a slightly shabby, dirty, only too homely one! I’ve always been a hard worker and when I started in national newspapers as a news reporter, evening and weekend hours were the norm, plus always being ‘on duty’ even when you weren’t in the office. So, it wasn’t a big shock to me to be communicating with guests on Friday nights at check in and through the weekends and so on. I also quite like the excuse to ‘have’ to go to Rye and Camber at least once a week to keep an eye on the properties and stay overnight!
Tell us a bit about the what’s on offer in and around Rye and Camber
Camber is very much about being in the wild, raw beauty of nature and the ever-changing sky through the seasons. Even though it’s only 1.5 hours from London it feels like it’s much further away – there’s a time warp quality about it and an oddness in it feeling so remote when it really isn’t at all. You can spend a weekend here and feel you have completely got away from it all as though you had been to Land’s End.
People get addicted to the beach as well. The tide range is so huge – one of the biggest in Europe – that combined with the majestic sand dunes which separate it from the village, and the beach being seven miles wide, it’s like visiting a self-contained and constantly changing continent. You can walk it every day and it will be different. I have visited early on a calm, hot summer’s morning when it has been literally carpeted in hatching baby starfish. That was magical. Another time on a freezing New Year’s Eve after a massive storm, when it was covered in huge chunks of driftwood, all sorts of sea creatures and tens of thousands of giant horse neck clams, which you don’t usually see. The next day all that can be gone, sucked back out to sea. Camber is its own universe in that way.
Rye (above), where The Two Sawyers is, is very different. Even 10 years ago it was still quite twee. Beautiful, with its medieval houses and perfect old town, but every other shop was ‘Ye Olde’ something. Now, with an influx of Londoners who have moved down, plus lots of locals opening great independent businesses, it’s super cool. The foodie scene is excellent, there’s dozens of gorgeous homeware, clothing and vintage/antiques boutiques plus all sorts of other interesting shops.
The RSPB nature reserve at Rye Harbour (above), a five-minute drive away, is a very accessible and beautiful day out, even if you couldn’t care less about birds! Rye has a strong arts community too and there’s some great contemporary galleries, year-round arts festivals and lots of other events too. Once you’re out into the surrounding countryside there’s organic vineyards, stately homes, castles, perfect English villages and more. I go wild swimming and paddle boarding in the River Rother with the kingfishers and swans from April to October too – and if you like water there’s not much in it or on it you can’t do close to Rye. It really does have everything plus a balmy microclimate!
Do you have a favorite pub / bar or restaurant nearby?
I’m a big fan of The Union in Rye for inventive, but accessible and reasonably priced, fantastic quality food in very lovely surroundings.
If there was one thing, you’d say was unmissable for your guests what would it be?
That’s a tough one! It is hard to beat a long, low tide walk at Camber Sands (which is only a ten minute drive from Rye). I have yet to meet anyone who wasn’t blown away by its beauty, whatever the time of year.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
It’s impossible not to sound cliched, but I really do get a thrill when people have loved staying in the properties and had a great time trying out any of my recommendations.