Smile because it happened – Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood

‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it’s happened’

Wise words from my friend Niki this morning while tears stung my eyes as we drove to my woods for the final time. For those that don’t know I grew up in a wood, a beautiful ancient woodland on the Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire border near Newark. I also grew up in Derbyshire, but my dad’s home for the last 21 years has been at Hill Holt Wood.

To say Hill Holt Wood is a special place is an understatement. It is a beautiful, unique, trailblazing, sustainable, memory-filled home and tonight we say goodbye.

My dad and step-mum bought Hill Holt Wood 21 years ago when it was nothing but a rhododendron, bramble filled woodland with one track running through it and very little else. Fast forward to now and it is both a thriving environmental social enterprise and an incredible home that we are about to pass over to its new owners!

I’ve shed a few tears today and am certain there will be more tomorrow, but as the title and quote at the top of this post suggest I am so honoured to have had many many experiences here. What a rollercoaster of fun it has been.

To celebrate the last 21 years we have been here, here are 21 of my favourite memories from living in the woods…

  1. Life in a caravan for 10 years (yes 10 years) while we waited for planning permission… including that time I was looking after my baby brother and he fell out the caravan and knocked his head… think he turned out ok though!
  2. The time the cat gave birth on dad’s lap to three beautiful kittens, all of which we decided to keep. mama Pudsy Bear, Bumble Bee, Petra-fied, C-for Cat and papa Carlos Santana. All now gone but so many memories of them following us around the wood like a dog or snuggling up for bed in the bottom of Harry’s sleeping bag like a live hot water bottle
  3. Finding a scared baby rabbit in one of my rhododendron dens and nursing it back to health for a day before it hopped off back into the wilderness
  4. Harry’s three story tree house that dad built, seriously this is a place of dreams for any child growing up. Who needs a TV (we’ve never had one) when you have 34 acres of woodland to run about in?
  5. Many a movie night watching films on our 2.4 metre projector screen. Again who needs a TV when you have a huge projector screen and over 1000 DVDs?
  6. The ball in Newark to raise money for the woods which over 20 friends came to and after a night dressed to the nines in tuxedos and ball gowns we came back and slept on the floor in one of the straw bail office buildings. Always love a night of two halves. Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  7. Boys in the boathouse – *ahem* What happens in the boathouse stays in the boathouse or something like that?! ?  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood    
  8. The woodland party when I *think* I played a dutiful/supportive big sister and got my little brother drunk for the first time. Sorry Karen and dad! Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  9. Giant Perdy Pig, a legend at Hill Holt Wood who was with us for over 10 years. We ate some of her piglets but Perdy stayed with us until she died naturally in her pen in the permaculture garden.
  10. The woodland party where my friend Pete was convinced Perdy ate his flipflops… to this day we still don’t know what happened to those flipflops?!
  11. When my friends came up for a weekend from uni and helped build the house, two of those friends (Rachel and Niki) have been here today too, so it’s been lovely they were here at the beginning and again at the end.  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood    Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood   Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  12. Working at the business for a few weeks one summer from university and getting more involved in some of the amazing work they do at Hill Holt Wood Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  13. The time Prince Charles came to visit and we ended up on a double page spread in The Sun newspaper. Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  14. The time David Cameron came to visit (before he was PM) and the staff gave him a coffee mat with number 10 engraved into it and told him not to forget us when he became Prime Minister… he did!
  15. Playing softball/cricket/rounders at Roman Villa Clearing with friends to get the party started.  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  16. Hill Holt Olympic Traveller Bucket Woodstock – one of my favourite parties to celebrate returning from travels / pretend I was still in Thailand drinking out of buckets! Why has this not become a thing over here?  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood   Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  17. Getting back off holiday with an ex to dog sit Baxter only to find he was gone so spending all night wandering through the scary woods trying to find him, only to ring dad first thing in the morning and find out he put him into kennels. Adam was definitely more scared in the woods at night than me! haha. Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood   Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  18. The time we were on Grand Designs (only a small part of a special episode) so we can forever more say our house was on Grand Designs… perhaps one day a house of my own will be on Grand Designs?  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  19. The peacocks, the sheep, the chickens, the dogs, the cats and the pigs we’ve had living with at some point or other, alongside the rabbits, the badgers, the deer, the foxes and the many, many more wild creatures. I’m a country girl and this home epitomises country life.  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood   Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  20. Baxter the Legend who has been with us as long as we have lived in the house (11 years), who has given me hundreds of hugs and snuggles and ‘unfortunately’ has the Lowthrop tendency to adventure and has regularly caused angst running off for a few days at a time… including today! As I write this he is missing on his final ‘adventure’ in the woods and will hopefully return in the morning. Otherwise we may have a case of Homeward Bound on the horizon as he will have to make his way north without us if he doesn’t come back! eek!  Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood   Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood
  21. Tomorrow… saying farewell to our home, our past and saying hello to new beginnings, new opportunities and all the exciting new adventures ahead!  The Lake House, Hill Holt Wood

So there we have it, 21 memories to celebrate 21 years at Hill Holt Wood. It has been an incredible journey and one I am so proud and honoured to be a part of. My dad and Karen had a dream and they made that dream a reality. I have watched them build a successful business, a beautiful home and help so so many people in the process. I have been inspired and encouraged to follow my own dreams and am excited to make all my dreams a reality too.

Saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood

Now as I settle in for a final movie night, followed by my final sleep in the house, I may still have tears stinging my eyes but they are tears of joy. Happy to have experienced something so incredible and excited for the new adventures that are yet to come.

Hill Holt Wood you will always have my heart, but now you will have a new family’s heart too. I wish the new owners the best of times in their new home and more than anything I wish Karen and my dad the best of times in their new home too!


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  1. Brilliant summary Jen! Such a special place with so many great memories, so glad we got to be a small part of the story. I hope the new owners appreciate how lucky they are!

  2. What a beautiful piece of writing! I too have spent many an hour walking around Hill Holt Wood, and made a lovely film with a group of your students back in 2003. I’ll send you a copy (in a more modern format cos the original is on VHS). Would you prefer it on memstick or DVD? Nice interviews with Karen and your dad ?. It must be a terrible wrench to leave, I wish you lots of future happiness in your new home, and please give my bests to Karen and Nigel.

    1. Aw thanks Lesley. We would love a copy of the video, memory stick or transferring via WeTransfer or something would be amazing. I have passed on your message to Karen and dad too. x

    1. Many happy memories. I remember Charlotte and I putting on shows with Stevie and Nicky when we first moved into the caravan 🙂 xx

  3. This just brought a tear to my eye! What an amazing experience <3 all parents should bring their children up in the woods! 🙂

  4. Hello, Jen.

    “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it’s happened”

    Just by reading that quote in your blog gives off positive vibes to the reader immediately. I love how optimistic you are even though you’re saying goodbye to Hill Holt Wood. Calm, serene, and, beautiful perfectly describes the place. Wonderful story!

  5. Lovely memories there for you Jen.
    Sorry to hijack your comments but please everyone be aware that this special place is now in desperate jeopardy because a firm called Lincoln Proteins is applying for planning permission to build a £28m factory less than 300m away. It will process waste meat from abattoirs including diseased carcasses.

    Hill Holt Wood is fighting the proposals together with a new group – the Witham Valley Park Preservation Group
    Please join the fight to stop this. check out


    Twitter: @WithamValleyPPG

    Email: withamvalleyparkpreservationgr

  6. H i jen i can remember hill holt all those years ago also, met your dad the first week he got the wood also you and harry growing up you are both a credit to nigel @ karen,all the best werever you end up pass on my reguards dave.

  7. Jen a wonderful piece about you and the great work that Nigel and Keren did at Hill Holt. I am so pleased i have found it. I was so happy to have joined in a bit and |I learnt so much from them. So sorry they are no longer there, can you please pass on my thoughts and good wishes and i would love to hear from them. John retired founder of the SAA

  8. Oh Jen no wonder you cried when you left! What a lovely blog and what a legacy you have all left for everyone to enjoy for ever, not just for now.
    Loved the photos and the comments made me laugh, feel sad for you and tut at the David Cameron one 🙂

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