What do you do if you have a three acre paddock in front of your house and two young boys desperate to get out and play? Well, if you’re Alan Gerrard you use it as an excuse to build a huge tree house.
“There’s a number of things going on out there,” Alan said, “and it’s all part of trying to improve the environment for us, the boys in particular.”
Anyone looking at the Tudor hunting lodge set in its grounds would imagine it was the perfect environment already. But the house is only separated by the paddock from a busy A-road in Essex and the noise is very intrusive.
“People think we must be loaded,” he said, “but the house had been empty for three years when we bought it (in 2000) so we were able to drive a strong bargain. We hocked everything we had and nearly bankrupted both our parents too, but we’re here for life and that’s why I put time into long-term projects.”
Planting a Wood
The particular long-term project he’s referring to is transforming the paddock into a wood, mainly to provide more of a noise barrier. There were already half a dozen large mature trees and a handful of smaller ones in the paddock. Before he started adding his own trees, Alan decided to put a tree house in the middle where three large trees grew, about ten to fifteen feet from each other.
“We decided to build a platform between the main trunks of the two that are closest together and then send two outrigging beams to the third one, forming a triangular base,” said Alan. Those beams had to be huge, about 8 x 6, to take the weight. There are five thick ropes with metal eye ends, from a chandlers in Brightlingsea, spreading the load of the triangle of vast beams among supporting branches.
Brothers in Arms
“Once we’d figured the main triangle out, the rest was just filling in the gaps, we finished it off in the two weekends that followed,” said Alan. The ‘we’ in this case is Alan’s long-suffering brother James, who always seems to be roped in for the heavy work.
“We made the triangular platform by simply filling the gaps with smaller timbers and planks on top, then we bought a 6 x 8 shed to put on top of it,” said James. “The second weekend we spent building handrails, a step ladder and a few other bits and pieces. Those were the things we hadn’t really thought about until we had the main timbers up.”
Was there anything else that they hadn’t really thought about? “Getting the whole thing up there!” laughed James. “We spent hours on the first weekend trying to lever and winch the large beams into place but the thing that nearly killed me was hauling the shed walls up!”
But it was all made worthwhile a fortnight later when Alan’s oldest son, Robert, had his fifth birthday party. “Fourteen kids swarmed all over the tree house and had a fantastic time,” Alan said, “and just watching the smiles on their faces was reward enough.”
“You start these things thinking they’re going to be cheap projects,” Alan added, “I mean how much can it be to throw up a few bits of wood? But in the end, mainly because of buying the shed and the size of the main supporting beams, it ended up costing about twelve hundred pounds!”
Short Term Effort, Long Term Benefits
Still, Alan built it to last, with the intention of using it as his hideaway when the children have grown up. Eight years later it’s still there, slowly turning green among the trees that have been planted around it. It looks like the plan is working so far.