A lovely new wagon and a lovely Telegraph article



Room with a view.. our latest wagon in place and almost ready for tourists

Room with a view.. our latest wagon in place and almost ready for tourists









We haven’t just been wafting around opening unique tourism accommodation facilities… Crikey no! We were asked to write something earlier this year for The Telegraph business section who wanted tales of interesting small businesses, read it here.

This year has seen us carry out four planning applications for clients, all of which were successful which means we continue with a 100% success rate, even gaining permission for a cabin to be sited in a grade 2 listed garden. We put a lot of effort into our planning applications and have a serious vested interest in getting the right result. The likelihood is, if a client is granted permission, we make a sale. A planning consultant – unless they are operating on a no win, no fee – will not have that motivation. So if you have a project you would like planning help with, get in touch.

Mr and Mrs P's new self-contained, 25ft living wagon

Mr and Mrs P’s new self-contained, 25ft living wagon

Mr and Mrs P saw us at Chagford show last year. They farm here in Devon and wanted to diversify into tourism. We went through options with them, carried out a site visit, designed a 3D computer drawing and created a brochure for a structure they both liked. We then proceeded with a planning application which went smoothly, and started their wagon on 1st August this year.

New wagon (minus the veranda) being delivered

New wagon (minus the veranda) being delivered



Today, 31st October, Mr and Mrs P took possession of their gorgeous, self-contained wagon which will be listed with one of the top glamping agents, Classic Glamping, providing extraordinary holiday accommodation with views looking straight out to Dartmoor.  As soon as the website gets created we will share the link. This is a realistic time frame from enquiry to delivery – around a year – especially if there’s planning required.

Now we’re moving onto the next wagon – another tourism offering this time for Mr and Mrs DM, and then it’s a lovely cabin in Cornwall to house the lucky daughter of a family near Wadebridge, and then another wagon, and then a cabin, and so on… We still put so much love, care, attention to detail and thought into our work and we’re still so excited discussing plans and projects with clients. If you have a project you’d like to discuss or you’d like to come and see our work up close, get in touch.


Devon Dens…. Our off-grid sanctuary is OPEN (or why I haven’t written anything here for a year)

Our beautiful, solid cabin in the woods

Our beautiful, solid cabin in the woods

WE DID IT! Five years, quite a lot of money, sweat and some tears, and we are OPEN! In 2011 we bought a pretty and private small piece of woodland here in West Devon. After enjoying it ourselves for a year, and watching the groundswell of interest in staycations and glamping (I know, those words make me feel a little queasy too), we looked at our work, looked at our site, looked at our skills and thought “We can do that – and we can do it damn well”.

Mezzanine bed with chunky ladders, table and solar light.

Mezzanine bed with chunky ladders, table and solar light.

And so, after an eighteen month planning “journey”, permission was granted for Devon Dens, six, off-grid mobile structures – cabins and wagons – with a workshop and office, communal space, reed bed system for dealing with grey water, compost toilets, poly tunnel, raised beds and pond. Cue small celebration, then the realisation that the hard work was yet to begin.

The next two years were spent counting pennies and building up Barrel Top Wagons, then we started to see an opportunity, a window during which the ground works could be done. Plans were made, digger drivers arranged, stone chosen, a team assembled, and in June this year it began. Of course, it then rained heavily for several weeks, but the boys ploughed on. Car parks appeared, terraces were created, reed beds were planted (strangely, an emotional milestone), the pond dug and lined, dry stone walls laid and the cabin that had been made to go to The Royal Cornwall show (made from timber grown only fifteen miles away) was assembled on site.

It is a fact within BTW’s that Ben is the visionary. He understands the industry, knows what designs will and won’t work, can apply lateral thinking and look at things from a practical perspective. And so it was with Devon Dens. Of course, I had contributed. The plans were a combination of ideas from us both (and others) and I have my uses. But the vision is most definitely him. So, when this, the first stage of the vision was realised, the day the team left site, with a cabin up, ground works all done, compost toilet in place, I have to say I was truly speechless. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought it would look so ….. Wonderful. Unique. Appealing. Smart. Tidy. And ready for me to do my bit…

Games, jigsaws, books, guitar...

Games, jigsaws, books, guitar…

The next month or so was spent getting the site and cabin ready for guests. We are keen to stay one step sideways from the glamping hoo-ha (and after a visit from Canopy & Stars, who suggest the market is crowded with lots of sub-standard, generic offerings, this would seem wise) It’s wonderful, but ours is a very different beast. A boutique, fluffy offering, it ain’t (you won’t find any bunting here…). We like to think this is grown up camping for the clever crowd. Jigsaws, really good books, interesting magazines about the environment, games, a box full of writing things – cards, notebooks, stamps – a guitar with a How To Play book. Lots of maps of the wonderful walks that surround us through the deep, Devon lanes. We want people to come and explore, to enjoy the peace and quiet, to read, to walk, to rest. Guests are likely to arrive by car but once there, stay close. Switch off. Visit the local bird hide. Walk the three miles to the pub. Be hardy. Submerge yourself in this glorious countryside. Learn to play the guitar. Write that letter….

Six weeks after our first guests and we are proud and delighted. All taste is subjective, and hell, WE think what we’ve created is fantastic, but we’re not the ones paying to come and stay there. Luckily, all of our guests have agreed.

“Absolutely brilliant” “Truly beautiful” “Heaven” “The real deal”

… Hoorah! Hospitality in the UK can be a mixed bag. I don’t believe Michelin starred restaurants costing the same as a small car are the only places that can provide us with quality experiences. For me, it’s simple – it’s all about the love. Give me a plate of beans on toast with a jolly smile in a warm and welcoming cafe and I’m happy. We won’t ever rest on our laurels and we will always put the love in. As the guests who are there currently said… “Good grief! You’ve thought of EVERYTHING!”

The reed beds complete with native reeds and irises

The reed beds complete with native reeds and irises

In two weeks, the poly tunnel will go up, meaning next year we will offer our own produce to guests. There’ll be raised beds with veg and flowers. An eye-watering amount has been spent on wildflower and high pollen mixes. There will hopefully be bee hives. The pond will be colonised by then (there’s already dragon and damsel flies) and the reeds will have shot up, creating habitats for a host of beasties. The spruce are slowly being taken out in places (not behind the cabin – they offer great year round screening), to be replaced with birch, alder and chestnut, and the remaining structures will be added as and when we have time – winter 2016/17 looking probable. For now, we’re happy and our guests are happy, and that is a  measure of success in our eyes…

If you would like to stay in a beautiful, solid cabin in pretty and private woods in Devon, take a look at our listing on Last Minute Cottages which has details, availability and prices. You have the place entirely to yourself currently – total seclusion and privacy. If you would like to book after reading this, quote BLOG and we will supply a basket of logs for free. Look forward to seeing you down the woods….




Help us Keep refugees warm this winter

Super efficient bio-logs made from waste sawdust

Super efficient bio-logs made from waste sawdust

Winter is coming. If the wise old wives are to be believed, it’s going to be a cold one. There are people currently living in tents, in transit, in Calais. As this is thus far not classed as a humanitarian crisis, the charitable organisations are not getting involved.

Thankfully, there are some clever, compassionate and creative souls trying to provide shelter and heat. Amongst others, Ben Gillespie is involved with a group making flat packed shelters and their progress can be tracked and donated to here.

Jon Snow of The Windy Smithy is adapting an existing wood burner from his range to be lightweight and suitable for use in the shelters. You can read about Jon’s aspect of the project here

This year has seen us begin to deal with our waste – including sawdust, which we are now having made into brilliant bio-logs in collaboration with Devon Biofuels. They are ideal for wood burners, burn really efficiently and clog the chimney up a lot less than wood. It makes sense then that we should offer to send out a pallet load – 70 bags – to use in burners. The kind and generous Herbert and Tim at Devon bio-fuels have donated a second pallet. Both are now ready for transportation which Ben Gillespie is co-ordinating. If you’d like to make a donation toward any of the projects – shelters, burners or fuel – please either click on the respective link above, or contact me on 07969948631.

Thanks, in advance. Jo

We’re finalists… and we need your help!!

Hopefully, it’s quite apparent that sustainability is something we feel strongly about. Which is why we’re cock-a-hoop to be selected as finalists in the Devon Environmental Business Initiative awards.

The prestigious DEBI Awards are held every year at the Met Office to champion and celebrate sustainability. They shine a light of encouragement and promotion on groups, businesses and associations who are committed to incorporating sustainability within their modus operandi.

This year, we have entered the members award – open to all members of DEBI. This is a new award which goes before a panel of esteemed judges who select four finalists. This year, that’s us – yippee! – Devon Wildlife Trust, Beach schools SW, and City college Plymouth. The winner is then decided by public vote – which is where you come in.

If you have two minutes to cast your vote, it would be hugely appreciated. There are several ways to do this, but by far the easiest is to email them direct at             info@debi-online.org.uk with VOTE as your subject heading, then simply type Barrel Top Wagons and send.

It would benefit us hugely to win this award – to introduce us to a whole new wave of people, to tell people there are manufacturers out there who are committed to producing beautiful structures from sustainable materials and who care greatly about the footprint they make. The publicity would help enormously to raise our profile, and to consolidate our reputation here in Devon as a respected business striving to produce beautiful things, for a fair price, whilst not compromising on materials or design. It would also make us feel pretty darn good too!

 Here’s a list of measures and practices which we currently carry out and review regularly in an attempt to do our best environmentally.

  • Working with local timber suppliers means we use sustainable, local, fast growing woods such as Douglas Fir and larch
  • We make solid, substantial products designed to last 50 years + with low  maintenance
  • We use an organic wood treatment “Treatex”  where possible
  • Very few miles required for transporting of timber as purchasing locally
  • Earthwool insulation used throughout in all structures. This material has an A+ green guide rating and is made using fast growing organic, recycled and renewable materials. It is thermally and acoustically insulating.
  • We are incorporating a design into our wagons for an eco sink / toilet, which  uses the waste hand washing water to flush
  • Processing our waste sawdust into Biologs in collaboration with Devon  biofuels.  These efficient briquettes are then perfect for use in log burners
  • Also using our waste sawdust in compost toilets, including our own, and for  smallholders
  • We use waste wood as kindling
  • We promote low impact living with a smaller carbon footprint
  • We manufacture and promote the use of compost and dry toilets
  • We incorporate rain water harvesting into our compost toilet designs
  • We incorporate solar technology in our structures
  • We supply locally made wood burners which can also be used for cooking      and  heating water
  • We encourage paperless correspondence and only issue hard copy       brochures  where absolutely necessary
  • All of our leaflets are printed on recycled paper
  • We use predominantly  local suppliers, trades and crafts people to       encourage growth in local revenue as we believe in economic  sustainability as well as environmental

THANK YOU!! We’ll keep you posted….



Bars, benches and banqueting tables …

Douglas Fir bench

Putting our stamp on Douglas fir benches.

In case this fact has escaped you, let me point it out.

We love wood. Big wood, little wood, lovely, lovely local wood, green wood, seasoned wood.. wood wood wood wood wood. Love it. Ben is the creative one in this team, and his years of working with this beautiful, versatile material have not dented his enjoyment or passion for all things timber. Obviously we are wagon – and cabin, and lodge – makers, but we also get asked to come up with designs and solutions for smaller, bespoke timber projects.

Last year, the lovely Max and Amy at Hooes yurts asked us to produce 15 banqueting tables and 48 benches to match, in time for Glastonbury, for use in their VIP yurt. Ben sat down with the pair and went through some designs. They had to be lightweight, so they could be lifted by two people, but durable, so revellers wouldn’t do too much damage. And Amy wanted them to be light in colour, to match the colour scheme for their yurts. We sourced some locally grown spruce – a lovely lightweight and light coloured wood – from Cornwall and did a number of tests, involving hummus, red wine and olive oil – oh that was a tough night..! We decided on Treatex hard wax oil to use on the wood, as it not only showed no signs of damage during the robust testing, but had no odour. And as these tables were going to be in use a few days after treating them, this was important. So it began.. and the tables and benches were festival bound in plenty of time to be arranged and dressed, ready for the party people.

Banqueting tables and benches in a yurt at Glastonbury Festival

Hooes yurt ready for Glastonbury people

Next up were Shebbear college, who having seen the benches we produced for Hooes yurts, decided they’d like some too. These didn’t need to be collapsible, but they did need to be tough enough to cope with 14 year old boys larking about on them, so we chose Douglas fir from Dartmoor, and finished them with Treatex organic UV oil topped with Danish oil. They obviously liked them, because they immediately ordered another load.

 Douglas Fir benches

Lovely Douglas fir bench seats – perfect for that first kiss.

Hooes yurts have since returned, with a request for a bar – same spec… lightweight, collapsible, sturdy and light coloured to match their lovely banqueting tables and yurts. Spruce was used again to make a solid, chunky top – again, hard wax oil by Treatex to finish – and then birch ply to make two shelves which can unbolt, with the sides folding in, to make a beautiful feature bar which can be easily transported. And off it zoomed to take it’s place in amongst the party.

Collapsible Spruce and birch ply bar for Hooes yurts

Collapsible Spruce and birch ply bar for Hooes yurts

So you see, it’s not just about the sizable glory pieces – the big and brilliant wagons and such, we love the smaller work just as much.

Got a project in mind? Need some ideas? Would like to talk it through? Want to use stunning, locally sourced wood to create something stunning /functional / unique? G’won… give us a call. We love wood, remember?

Wonderful woodland cabin in deepest Devon.

 Douglas fir and larch cabin

Beautiful Douglas fir and larch cabin sited deep in a Devon woodland.

It’s been a fabulous year so far here at BTW HQ.. A Cheslea hut, a new wagon, a small business award from Ex-Dragon Theo Paphitis, a garden workshop, a beautiful bike shed destined for a Welsh retreat, and another new wagon on the way. But perhaps our favourite so far (is that allowed??) is the lovely cabin we were commissioned to make for the banks of the River Exe.

Construction of Douglas fir and larch cabin

Made in the workshop first…

After stumbling upon us on Facebook, C & M asked us to design a fishing lodge, to replace the dilapidated one that was currently rotting away on their woodland. We discovered their needs included a sleeping platform to fit two adults and two children, a wood burner and a veranda. They were looking for a rustic cabin with just the floor insulated for now, but with the option to retro-fit insulation later on. C & M spent time looking at the finishing options and decided on green tin, which would help the cabin blend in with it’s surroundings, and Douglas fir and larch featheredge cladding treated with wood preserver.

Tractor pulling flat pack cabin

Flat packed cabin being delivered

After ordering the materials, we started the build in April. the plan was to manufacture the cabin in the workshop, flat pack it and then deliver and erect it. After visiting the site, a stunning 40 acre woodland which has the river Exe running through it, we realised the biggest challenge would be getting the cabin to it’s final destination. It was going to the furthest most point on the site, and there was no obvious answer. We started to think  maybe the neighbours would be good enough to let us take the trailer across their field. And so, after meeting with Ian and local farmer George, it was decided that this would be the solution. We set a date and worked towards it.  Thanks to accuweather, we soon realised that the date set was looking like a wash out, and had to bump the delivery by  a further week . What a good move this turned out to be – the rain was horizontal and the wind was wild – definitely not good weather for putting up a cabin. The following week though, was sunny, dry and calm. Perfect. Supplies had been bought, biscuits had been made, tents had been packed and the trailer and vans were ready to go.

At 4am on a Monday morning, the boys headed to the workshop, checked one last time that they hadn’t forgotten anything, gave another pull on the ratchet straps and headed off. By 8am they were at the meeting point, where George lifted everything off with his tractor, onto one big trailer, and they all trooped across the field, where George emptied the load at the closest point to the site. The boys then manhandled the load across a stream and set about assembling the structure.

inside of cabin

Sleeping platform and wood burner

The site work took 8 days – with blissfully good weather. Trout were caught, canoes paddled (and fallen out of), fires cooked on. The result is a beautiful cabin set in stunning woodland, ready for many years of family camping. C & M are delighted with their structure and have already spent several nights there.

This cabin is 12ft x 16ft with a 4ft veranda. It is built using traditional timber frame construction, has 150mm insulation in the floor, 2 x 6 pane windows, 1 x 9 pane window, 1 x small window, sleeping platform for 4, Windy Smithy Louis wood burner, green tin roof, Douglas fir and larch mix cladding.

Price is in the region of £18,500, depending on location and access.

12ft x 16ft cabin with wood burner

12ft x 16ft cabin with wood burner

Life after The Contemporary Craft festival…

Barrel Top Wagon at The Contemporay Craft Festival

The wagon being mobbed

The first weekend in June saw us trundling along the A30 to the fabulous Contemporary Craft fair at Bovey Tracey on the southern skirt of Dartmoor. What fun we had…  Sarah James, the organiser of this quite amazing event, had given us the most fantastic pitch, right slap bang in the middle of the site. It would be hard to miss us. The lovely Katie from madebyhandonline.com spent Thursday dressing our wagon, whilst I enjoyed using Plant Belles beautiful Chelsea props to titivate the outside space. And at 6pm, the queue to come for the preview night was long and my were they a handsome bunch! It did feel rather like the great, the good and the gorgeous had wandered down off Dartmoor and up from their lovely South Hams towns and villages to come and see us.

The standard of work at the show was truly out of this world. Angie Parker very kindly graced our wagon with one of her fabulous rugs – albeit briefly but it did look pretty. The weekend was perfectly sunny and the event was amazingly attended and we were mobbed. Three days of happy people coming into the wagon, open-mouthed and eyes wide in wonder – it was hard to feel tired!

The show deservedly won Tourism event of the Year 2015 from Visit Devon. It’s small enough to feel manageable, but there is so much to see, and eat, and an abundance of events for kids. We are just about recovered, and have worked our way through the huge number of queries we got, both at the show and afterwards.


If you haven’t been, do. It’s really worth a visit. See you there next year….

A marraige of design…Us and Made By Hand Online

So we’ve told you about our love affair with The Contemporary Craft Festival, which is fast upon us in 2 weeks – yikes! Now the love affair gets more complicated – in fact, it’s a veritable ménage a trois.. ooh la la!

madebyhandonline.com is a brilliant and passionate team based in Devon, devoted to cultivating autonomy for their creative community. mbh1 Their website  brings together a handpicked selection of makers from around the UK who can sell their work directly to the public, via the website. Founded in 2010 and run by Katie Honnor, the group work with and for their makers to champion British Contemporary Craft and sponsor an impressive number of leading craft and design events –  including The Contemporary Craft Festival, MADE London, MADE Brighton, Made By Hand Wales and The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. 

mbh 4The standard of work is quite simply, extraordinary. And we are thrilled to announce that madebyhandonline.com will be collaborating with Barrel Top Wagons at this years Contemporary Craft Festival. From fabrics to ceramics, tableware to paintings, the new wagon will be chock full of wonderful pieces to gaze at and coo over, all of which will be for sale. Katie and I can’t wait to see what comes from this marriage of design, so please do come along and share our excitement.

madebyhandonline logo

The Contemporary Craft Festival logo

Us, an Ex-Dragon and a small business award…

It was around twelve months ago that I heard of a Twitter competition run by Ex-Dragons Den business man, Theo Paphitis. The premise of the weekly contest was simple – tweet him your business with the #SBS hashtag, between 5pm and 7pm on a Sunday, and he will choose six winners each week and retweet their details to his 500,000 followers the next day. So I tweeted our details, with no luck. Until this January.

BTW SBS awardI tweeted to @TheoPaphitis on the Sunday night, and went about life as normal. On returning from badminton at 10pm Monday, I booted up the laptop and was rather stunned. Instead of the normal 5 or 6 notifications on my Twitter account, I had 160…170…. 195…. 230!! WE’D WON!! Respected, bespectacled business man and all round good guy Theo Paphitis had noted our tweet, looked at our business, and decided we were worthy of the #SBS (Small Business Sunday) award, one of 6 to be chosen that night. Well, I was cock-a-hoop! L’il ole us? Fancy that! I was also stuck in a 140 character vortex, trying to reply, follow, retweet and thank for following, but as each notification got replied to, another 20 appeared. It was incredible.

Past winners are immediately supportive and advised that I hold onto my hat as it would be a busy week. They were right. The tweet I had sent to Theo had reached over 1.5 million people, it transpired through my Sum All stats that week. It had been retweeted endless times, and that tweet had an image attached of one of our structures. 1.5 million people seeing one of our wagons, thanks to Theo and Twitter. That level of coverage – FREE!! – is unimaginable for a small business like ours. Website hits went up, Facebook likes soared, and best of all I was welcomed into the inner sanctum of #SBS winners groups. These are closed groups which work as part therapy session / part sounding board / part support group / part business advice networks. It is wonderful to be able to dip in and out of a group with good news, bad news, sweary/shouty comments, suggestions and support for and from fellow small business owners who all understand the rollercoaster ride that is running your own business.

By some further stroke of good fortune, Theo hosts an #SBS event for winners every year or so, and we had won 2 weeks before the next event. My eldest sister was keen to get involved, so in February off we toddled, through blizzards and blankets of snow, to reach the ICC Birmingham. 800 winners gathered for a day devoted to Us, and our Small Businesses. It began with a jolly Theo (I think there had been fizz…) giving a presentation about the need and value for, and of, small businesses in the UK. Then came Chris Wheeler, director at Metal Frog Studios, the team responsible for all things techie related to #SBS. Chris had to go through the excruciating pain of launching a brand new #SBS website live on stage, with Theo pressing The Button. Crikey – no pressure! All went swimmingly and the day progressed with lunch, networking, and then a Q & A with successful business people.

#SBS and @barreltopwagons pictureAt the end of the day was the all important photo with Theo. I have to admit, the itinerary had run over rather, and there was bit of a bun fight for the queue for photo’s.  Pointy elbow’s were deployed and photo was taken, and that image has been used to get an article in four local papers, which led onto several other national features, which has increased our profile, leading to enquiries coming in from all over the country and really provided a massive boost for us. Not only in tangible, business terms of leads and sales, but in confidence from being looked at by someone who knows his stuff and is willing to give you a very public thumbs up, and from the support of fellow winners in our online community forums. It was a cracking addition to what is proving to a great year. Now, if I could just get him to buy a wagon…

We love The Contemporary Craft Festival

Early last year, after embarking on my first foray into Twitter, BTW’s path crossed with The Contemporary Craft Festival – namely Sarah James, who is the chief organiser of the event. If you’re asking Who? What? Where? then you are doing as we did. I had heard of the event, in reverential, hushed tones, but knew very little about it, other than it was at Bovey Tracey on the southern side of Dartmoor. Sarah, it turns out, is one SERIOUSLY shrewd lady, and, it would appear, a woman of impeccable taste *cough cough*. She clocked us, and liking what she saw, she invited us to attend the event. We dithered – moving 6 ton wagons around needs planning, time and money and we were up against it. As good fortune would have it, The Devon County Show was occurring close in both calendar and location to The CCF, and in a rare display of impulsive behaviour, we threw caution to the wind and agreed to go.

And boy are we pleased we did… The fair is regarded as one of the top shows for designers and makers in the country, and the level of work is extraordinary. We made a huge gaff by not being open for the preview night, and arrived on Friday to find a note stuck to our door saying “We were desperate to see inside last night – so sorry you weren’t here!” and lot’s of nose and finger prints on the windows. Eek. Fairly epic fail. But the following three days were amazing. We were mobbed! Sarah has cultivated a show which has the atmosphere of a small festival, with food and talks and workshops, whilst displaying some of the finest craft around. The park itself is small enough to cover in an afternoon, but with the relaxed vibe and, especially if the sun is shining, which it was that weekend, it’s easy to spend a day floating around there.

Highlight last year was someone asking if Jonathon Dimbelby, who was having a look in the wagon, was my husband – Oh, how we chortled! – and the lovely people both in attendance and exhibiting. I’ll be honest, there could be the potential for an event like this to be a little, erm, how shall we put this? Pretentious? With that standard of work, it would almost be expected. But not under the tenure of Ms James.  It’s fun and clever and slick. Which is why we are thrilled to bits to be returning this year, with the New Wagon – very exciting! In fact, we feel very proud to be displaying our work in that space. And yes, we will be there on the preview night…

The Contemporary Craft Festival logo