‘You’ll be in the UFO tomorrow but for tonight you’re in a bell tent,’ says the girl behind the counter in a sort of tent down a country lane a ten-minute drive from Frome – pronounced Froome – somewhere Glastonbury-adjacent in Somerset. It’s not going to be a normal weekend away, and that’s for sure.
Taking a handy wheelbarrow for our stuff (has anyone ever actually worked a wheelbarrow before? Fun!), we clump down a piece of grass past other bell tents, little smoking chrome chimneys sticking out of them, to Tent No. 6, so close by the Victorian lake that at one point during the evening a duck will wander in.
Unzipping the tent – and then the double bit inside the tent, perhaps to keep ducks out while you’re sleeping – you realise this is not a tent as you know tents. A proper bed with a mosquito net, five vintage lampshades strung haphazardly across the ceiling, the wood-burner that the chrome chimneys are for, carpeting, a clothes rail, a couple of chairs, a chest, another chest, a guitar, a blank canvas, some paints and paintbrushes… We’ve lived in flats with less stuff than this.
The reason for the guitar and the paints is that Marston Park is here to re-ignite your creativity. Or just provide somewhere beautiful to drink if you really can’t be arsed. We fall into group 2, in case you were wondering. There are life-drawing classes (we missed those), yoga (turned up late), meditation (too hungover) all listed on a chalk board by the reception-in-a-tent, which is the hub of this two-wing set-up.
Down the side with the tents are showers (nice actually: ‘We were keen to provide proper hot showers and good water pressure!’ says Imogen, one of the lucky keepers of this place, later over a bottle of rosé), toilets, hand-washing, lots of little fire-pits by the lake, even an al fresco make-up room with mirrors and hairdryers.
Down the other side, past reception and through a door, you’ll find The Hideout, where those activities we missed are held and a horsebox that has been converted into our new favourite little bar in the world, stacked with premium liquors so they can magic up pretty much anything you ask for. Beyond the horsebox bar is a dance tent with the most amazing acoustics built into the roof, meaning the sound inside the tent is supersonic but as soon as you step out, you can’t hear it. We suspect witchcraft.
Beyond that is a little food set-up where you can get sausage baps for breakfast (even vegan ones!) and where the food is actually taken really seriously – kudos to on-site chef Gareth Oates – and never mind that you’re basically camping. It’s imaginative and healthy and tasty with plenty for veggies and vegans and gluten-frees and everyone!
You eat at little tables by the lake or in under the dance tent where, if it’s early, the DJ – Chico, hello! – might be playing something esoteric and listenable. The deeper you get into the evening, the more dance-y it gets. Come on a weekend when they’re doing an Ibiza special, it gets very dance-y indeed.
And that is all very well, but it’s not a UFO, is it? Which is why we’re walking back towards reception to get our key then go off, past the Jacuzzi and wild pool (too cold for us!), and around to what is exactly like a spaceship landed in the woods. A spaceship as imagined by someone in the 60s, futuristic but in a retro way.
The drawbridge door comes down to reveal white steps which you climb to enter a Jetsons fantasy world: two little cabins with weird-shaped beds, a bunch of loungers that look like something on a private jet in an episode of Mad Men, a 60s-looking table and chairs and a little room with tea- and coffee-making stuff and a mini-fridge. The shower – your own shower with nice products and everything – and the loo are just down those steps. The windows of the UFO are like portholes, the kind they have on, well, spaceships and you can barely ever look out of them without seeing someone ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking pictures, it’s that much of a wow moment to come across.
For those taking notes, the spaceship of our tale is the original 1960’s handy-work of Matti Suuronen, a Finnish architect who dreamt of the perfect rural retreat, a pick-up-and-go bolthole that could be transported to anywhere that tickles one’s fancy – even yours! – around the world. Less that 100 were produced, only 68 are known to still exist, and only two are currently live-in-able. This is one of them! And the person you need to send expensive bouquets in order to thank for its current sparkle is British artist Craig Barnes, who found this Futuro lolling around in a terrible state in South Africa, bought the thing, then brought it back to this green and pleasant land and restored and reimagined it for our very own pleasure. You’ll be glad you read this when it comes up on Tipping Point.
And so your life at Marston Park goes something like this… You go to the horsebox, get some rosé, kick back with Chico and his recherché tunes, go back for more, line your stomach with a bit of vegan nosh, ride a white swan on the lake, chat to some people round the fire-pit on the jetty, go back for another bottle (when in Somerset!) and get treated to some shots. Then stumble back to your spaceship for a surprisingly comfy night’s sleep followed by the odd sausage bap round your table in the morning. And if there’s any rosé left, so be it. (There won’t be.) Surreal, a whole load of off-the-beaten fun, and utterly perfect!
Don’t beam us up, Scotty, we’re thinking we might stay.