When your innate spirit for adventure often leads you far from home, can you just shake off that zest for the wild at your front door? Rosalind Sack discovers why the ‘slightly wild’ Leicestershire home of adventurers Laura Bingham and Ed Stafford is as unique as they are
IMAGES: (LEFT) LAURA AND ED’S HOME IN HALLATON, LEICESTERSHIRE; (RIGHT) THEIR MAKESHIFT BEACH SHELTER WHILE FILMING MAN WOMAN CHILD WILD FOR DISCOVERY
In their careers as in their personal lives, adventurers Laura Bingham and Ed Stafford rarely shy away from a challenge. That courage and spirit inevitably leads them to environments that are about as far removed from the familiarity and comfort of home as is possible to be. Yet, wherever their expeditions may take them around the world – often for months on end – their Leicestershire home retains a special draw.
“Ed describes our home as our harbour and we are the ships. You don’t build a ship to sit in the harbour, you build it to sail across the sea. But it will always return back to the harbour,” she explains. “We go out and explore, but we always return here knowing it’s our safe space.”
Laura, Ed and their two-year-old son Ranulph – named after their friend, explorer Ranulph Fiennes – recently starred in the Discovery channel documentary Man Woman Child Wild which saw them living off-grid on an uninhabited Indonesian island for a month. Home was a shelter they built from trees and branches on the beach, eventually with the addition of a fresh water ‘pipe’ built by Ed out of bamboo from a source in the surrounding jungle.
Ed describes our home as our harbour and we are the ships. You don’t build a ship to sit in the harbour, you build it to sail across the sea. But it will always return back to the harbour.”
Naturally, it was a huge adjustment from day-to-day family life in their elegant 17th century stone and brick house in a pretty Leicestershire village. With six acres of land, a separate coach house and plenty of beautiful period features, it’s an impressive home. Yet it has thrown up a fair few challenges of its own.
The previous owners had lived there for 60 years and the house needed a lot of work when they moved in five years ago. In fact what was a pinhole leak in the kitchen ceiling caused half of it to collapse not long after they arrived. Yet, as with most things in life, Laura and Ed positively relished the challenge and immediately saw past the work to the incredible forever family home it could become.
IMAGES: (LEFT TO RIGHT) SON RANULPH EXPLORES THE GARDEN WITH HIS TRUSTY FOUR-LEGGED COMPANION; THE HOUSE BOASTS BEAUTIFUL PERIOD FEATURES
“Ed and I have always had similar values about home. The doors are always open and I love the idea of this being a place that people can come and feel welcome,” says Laura. “Because it’s so old you’d think it might be a bit spooky, but the house has a really warm, loving feeling.”
It’s already a full house as Laura, Ed and Ran live with Laura’s teenage niece, as well as their two giant Newfoundland dogs – Winston and Maggie – four cats, fish, 20 chickens and three beehives.
These two don’t do things by halves. Laura’s expeditions have included the 10-week world-first kayak descent of Guyana’s Essequibo River and a six-month coast to coast cycle across South America with no money. While Ed, a former army officer, was the first man ever to walk the length of the Amazon and has since taken on countless survival challenges in remote parts of the world in his role as a presenter on Discovery and Channel 4. “Going away is exciting, challenging, rewarding and it even pays the bills. But coming home is the best bit of my life by far,” he says.
So just how do you readjust to home life after months spent surviving on little else but your wits and ingenuity in some of the world’s toughest environments?
“The last night before Ed goes away to film is always so odd because there’s an underlying sadness and stress in making it ‘perfect’ (whatever that is). Then when he’s home it usually takes around three days to gel back together and find a routine together again – and, certainly on my part, to almost emotionally forgive him for leaving,” admits Laura.
“The last time he was back between filming assignments he was here for just over six days, which was really difficult. It’s a weird situation because I get so excited about him coming home, then he’s here and it’s like, ‘Now what?’
IMAGES: (LEFT) ED IS WELCOMED HOME FROM AN EXPEDITION BY SON RAN AND A FACE FULL OF BUBBLES; (RIGHT) THEIR FARMHOUSE KITCHEN IS THE BEATING HEART OF THEIR BIG, SOCIALABLE HOME
“Likewise, when I come back from an expedition I have to be understanding of his routine and it takes time to figure out where I fit back in,” says Laura, who admits she never tires of the simple thrill of turning on the kettle after a trip where getting boiling water could take a good hour.
Parenting duties are evenly split and they are never away at the same time, to ensure stability for Ran. They are also unfalteringly supportive of each other’s solo endeavours. Yet, after time away, readjusting to the choreography of family life at home as a three again takes time and patience.
“It’s a matter of biting your tongue and choosing your battles!” laughs Laura. “It can be really painful and there’s always an adjustment period, but it definitely intensifies our love when we are together. And if we ever thought that Ran was being negatively affected by it, we would change things.”
It’s little wonder then, that they haven’t got around to doing much work to the house yet, aside from a lick of paint, a couple of new carpets and some new limestone flooring from Topps Tiles. “We thought we’d get the house done up in three or four years, but we don’t even have planning permission yet. We still don’t have a shower!” says Laura, who explains that the house, the coach house and the wall around the garden each have their own separate listed building restrictions. They even had to pay for an archaeological dig to check there was nothing of any historical value in the garden before they could have a new driveway.
IMAGES: (CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) LAURA AND ED MARRIED IN THE VILLAGE CHURCH AND CELEBRATED IN THEIR WALLED GARDEN, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARTIN HARTLEY; LAURA AND RAN ENJOYING THEIR HOMEGROWN BEANS FROM THE VEGETABLE PATCH; LAURA WITH ONE OF HER TREASURED CHICKENS
Yet it hasn’t prevented them from building lifelong memories here. Eighteen months after moving in they held their wedding reception in the garden and nine months later Laura gave birth to Ran in the bedroom. “We had big scaffolding poles erected to hold the floor up, just in case the weight of the birthing pool caused the floor to collapse. I didn’t want to be pushing and then end up in the cellar!” After the birth Ed syphoned the water from the pool out of the window into the garden. “It was good nutrition for the roses!” laughs Laura.
The term garden doesn’t really do it justice, they have two acres of woodland, a stream, a small lake, paddock and a more formal lawned area. “Having that space where you can breathe and run and move and have chickens and a vegetable patch is so special. We want Ran to grow up with a strong connection to nature,” says Laura.
We had big scaffolding poles erected to hold the floor up, just in case the weight of the birthing pool caused the floor to collapse!”
“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much work there is to do and wish we had a gardener to help keep it under wraps, but I’m not going to pay someone to do something I love most in the world. Besides, if it’s too well kept it makes me feel nervous. It’s slightly wild, which makes me feel more relaxed. It’s the same with the house.”
Indeed you have to be more careful of tripping over chickens in the kitchen than taking off your muddy shoes and there’s no mistaking that their home is, as Laura describes it, “a hub of love”.
“Home isn’t a building, it’s a feeling,” she says. “I do find it quite stressful having so many animals and surfaces to clean, but I definitely wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact that I have slobber flung up my wall from the dogs, as disgusting as it is, tells me I’m home!”
Laura has written about her inspiring adventures for young adults in Mountains of Dreams and A Jungle of Worries, which are available to buy here.
Read more of our inspiring stories of how home shapes our lives here; including our interview with the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, who lives with her nine children on one of Britain’s highest and most remote farms.