2023 was a huge year for Host Unusual. We’d launched our brand-new website and expanded our team, with views of a seriously exciting future on the horizon.
So when we started planning our first-ever team Awayday in 2024, we knew it had to be held somewhere appropriately special. The Harpy – London’s oldest houseboat, with jaw-dropping views of Tower Bridge – fit the bill perfectly.
Once an Edwardian Customs and Excise pontoon office, The Harpy was built in 1904 and has greeted some illustrious visitors in her time, King George V being one (there’s a photo of this momentous event on board). As if that wasn’t quite enough grandeur, there are no less than 54 pieces of 1920s oak furniture from Heal’s to admire, including a dining table designed for Winston Churchill’s Chartwell country house.
Yes, technically we were there to work – there’s even a dedicated study area to do just that – but to say we couldn’t stop wandering around and taking photos is an understatement. There’s just so much to absorb, from the bespoke artwork (including a spectacular unicorn head made by the owners’ daughter) to the many intriguing and colourful artefacts taken from diverse global travels.
There’s also a model of a 1940s American Corsair fighter plane over the stairs, which moved with the tide to appear as though it was ‘flying’ – a clever and fun addition! And while the luxurious atmosphere is undeniable, there were also plenty of indicators that we were in a welcoming, family-friendly environment, with children’s toys and a selection of nautical dress-up outfits (for big and little kids alike) gainfully provided.
Although it was a freezing January day, we couldn’t resist heading out on deck and soaking up those iconic, picture-postcard Tower Bridge views, which became particularly mesmerising as the sun began to set. Hint: for anybody missing the cheerful glow of Christmas lights, Tower Bridge illuminated at dusk is your soothing balm.
We drew straws over who would get to sleep in the magnificent Master Cabin, complete with a historic oak four-poster bed, a large ensuite, a private deck… and a huge, Tower Bridge-showcasing window (with remote-control electric curtains for added ‘Bond-movie’ luxury!) Yet the remaining cabins – there are four in total, sleeping up to 10 guests – were hardly a disappointment: cosily furnished with beautiful river views and extremely comfortable, especially when you’re being rocked gently to sleep by the waves.
The kitchen, equipped with sleek, high-end appliances and handy utensils of just about every description, was ideal for whipping up evening snacks and breakfast alike. Not being able to start with day without a shot or two of caffeine, we particularly appreciated the DeLonghi bean-to-cup coffee machine (operating instructions gratefully on hand).
Coffee taken care of, all that was left to do was to head out on deck one last time, to catch those last, lingering views… and feed several hungry swans! Again, duck and swan food is provided – proving once more that the owners really have thought of everything you could possibly need for a relaxing stay that’s also completely unique.
(Did we manage to get any actual work done? Well, that remains to be seen! Keep an eye out for some exciting Host Unusual news and developments in 2024).
Author: Nina Jervis