Norfolk couple create stunning retreat - where you can stay in a railway carriage

Settle Norfolk

The interior of one of the railway carriages - Credit: India Hobson

Tucked away within 30 acres of beautiful south Norfolk parkland near Attleborough, at Settle Jo and John Morfoot have created the perfect space for switching off and re-connecting with nature.

Jo and John Morfoot, founders of Settle Norfolk

Jo and John Morfoot, founders of Settle Norfolk - Credit: Penny Wincer

Repurposed railway carriages, a boutique cabin and luxury safari tents are surrounded by ancient trees, with picturesque lake views to soothe your cares away.

Jo tells us how they created the ultimate woodland retreat.

What was the inspiration for Settle?

Settle was born out of John's and my wish to share the beauty and peace of this private parkland, which teems with wildlife and the rhythms of nature.

Something which has been clearly accentuated during these recent years is that spending time in green spaces brings so many benefits to our health and wellbeing, but sadly access to such places is a privilege which isn't available to everyone.  

We wanted to offer guests an opportunity to experience these restorative effects for themselves – to fully switch off and settle down.  

Settle Norfolk

The luxury lakeside cabin - Credit: India Hobson

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And what was the ethos behind it – what experience did you want to create for your guests?

Protecting the natural aesthetic of the park is a key part of our shared vision for this special place.  

So we were determined to design and build the stays ourselves, taking exceptional care to ensure they blend in with, and enhance the beauty of, their natural surroundings. Hand-built spaces, designed to give guests ultimate comfort, which would become part of the parkland.  

We use reclaimed materials from our local yard, Morways Reclamation; re-purposing heritage materials to create considered interiors is intrinsic to the experience here at Settle.  

Our guests are invited to leave their cares at the gate and let nature do the rest.  

Settle Norfolk

Relax by the firepit at Settle Norfolk - Credit: India Hobson

How did you decide on the location?

The parkland has been in John's family for decades. John's late father, Peter, bought it with the intention of creating an idyllic campsite.  

When John inherited it he continued the work begun by his father, planting hundreds of trees and thousands of flowering bulbs, digging out the lakes, creating a haven for many species of wildlife, birds and fish.  

Recently we've been planting an orchard of mixed variety apples.  

We wish Peter could be here now to see how his original vision has been fulfilled.  

Settle Norfolk

The interiors have been designed with switching off and relaxing in mind - Credit: India Hobson

What are yours and John's career backgrounds and how have they fed into what you've created at Settle? 

Our backgrounds are in different, yet complementary, fields – John's in property development, reclamation, and geology, mine in natural floral design and styling.  

We both share an abiding appreciation for heritage materials and our designs for Settle are inspired by its parkland, along with the vast catalogue of stock in John's salvage yard.

Settle Norfolk

The bathroom of the luxury lakeside cabin - Credit: India Hobson

Did you have an aesthetic in mind when you began creating the accommodation, or did it evolve?

John's initial criteria was that the accommodation must be able to comfortably house a large double bed, as well as offering a decent amount of space for living, cooking and bathing.  

When he came across a former goods carriage he realised it would make an ideal base for this more luxurious type of camping which he envisaged.  

Settle's overall aesthetic is an extension of my love for the natural, weathered, and authentic.  

Settle's beautiful trees are reflected in our use of heritage timbers throughout all our stays.  

Its warm textures and depth of colour make it one of our most prized materials, and repurposing it in this way links the interior spaces with the surrounding trees.  

It feels especially appropriate for our wooded site.    

Settle Norfolk

The beautiful interior of the luxury lakeside cabin - Credit: India Hobson

What have the biggest challenges been along the way?

We first opened the site in mid-2019... so had to close the gates for lockdown soon after.  

Although the site wasn't earning, this did give us time to really create something special yet Covid-safe, so that when we opened again everything was in place to give guests a true break from the anxieties of the wider world while observing stringent safety measures.  

And what have your highlights so far been?

There's something about seeing the warm glow of the firelight from our guests' fire pits which gives us a corresponding warm glow in our insides...  It's deeply satisfying.  

What are your future plans for Settle?

Currently we're restoring the latest addition to our collection of repurposed rolling stock, a late 19th century circus living wagon.

It's a true labour of love and I'm really looking forward to sharing it with our guests.  

We're also constantly thinking of ways to enhance our guests' stays.  

Most recently we've created a new provisions shop, so that guests who choose to come without a car can buy delicious provender without leaving the campsite.  

Handmade Brick pizzas, Farmyard Frozen gastro meals from the Michelin-listed restaurant, Pump Street chocolate – these are just some of the excellent local suppliers whose produce we now stock.