We sense rather than see its beauty. The sky is inky black, with thick clouds obscuring the stars as our car trundles down the gravel track. I wind down the window, inhaling a damp, earthy scent, trying to discern the names of hidden lodges through the darkness.
We spy ours – Heron Lodge – tucked away at the end, and as we step out of the car we hear the sound of water lapping; willows rustling. We turn the key in the lock and gentle quacks break the stillness, announcing our arrival.
Bags flung in the bedroom, food thrown in kitchen cupboards and champagne more carefully placed in the fridge, we race, laughing, for the hot tub. It’s a routine I imagine most people lucky enough to stay in a Hoseasons hot tub lodge follow.
Our breath mists in the autumnal air as we hop across the cold wooden decking before we slip into the bubbling, frothing tub, revelling in its warmth.
My partner Georgie and I sigh in happiness and agree that this is most definitely the perfect way to spend a Friday night.
We are spending the weekend at Weybread Lakes, close to the tiny market town of Diss, on the Suffolk-Norfolk border.
Ours is one of five cedar lodges, all of which are part of Hoseasons’ Autograph Collection.
We’ve only been here a few minutes but already feel relaxed – even more so when we follow the hot tub with a short session in the sauna (well, it would be rude not to) before, eyes closing, we collapse into the vast double bed. It is only in the morning that we fully appreciate our surroundings.
We wake to a squabbling family of moorhens and stumble sleepily into the lounge, stopping short at the view.
Our lodge, we realise, isn’t just near the lake – it’s on it. Water laps at the rushes below our vast wooden veranda, and we suddenly have the pleasantly disorientating feeling that we’re on a boat.
A jetty protrudes from the reeds below and a procession of ducks chatter before each launching themselves into the water, their bickering and gentle splashes the only sounds to break the morning quiet.
The neighbouring lodges are equally private, tucked away and almost hidden from sight. London, from where we arrived the night before, is just a two-hour drive away, but it feels like a million miles.
It is this “back to nature” feeling for which Weybread Lakes is famed. One look at the guest book in Heron Lodge confirms this. It’s filled with comments about it being the perfect hideaway; the ideal place to recharge batteries; the idyllic romantic break.
It would be bliss for any couple, but as my partner and I are a gay couple, it is all the more perfect because we know we are welcome.
Hoseasons has not just been actively targeting the LGBT community for the past two years, it has also put in place a diversity and inclusion policy that has become a core value of its business. It is an ethos that the company is only too happy to shout about.
From actively promoting itself in the gay press to supporting Norwich Pride (2018 will be its fourth year backing the event), and featuring gay couples – models and actual customers – in its mainstream brochures, Hoseasons has put diversity at the heart of its business.
This has meant a company change too. Hoseasons has introduced gender- neutral bathrooms for employees in its Suffolk head office; launched an employee network group that is supported by Diversity and Inclusive (D&I) representatives; and issued mental health awareness training to all managers and team leaders across the business.
“A core value of our brand purpose Go One Better is ‘being inclusive’,” explains Anthony Reilly, marketing director at parent company Wyndham Vacation Rentals. “We want to ensure our internal culture and working environment supports, educates and inspires our employees to bring their whole selves to work.”
And this matters to LGBT customers like me because it shows that Hoseasons is authentic about its commitment to diversity.
The company hasn’t just placed a rainbow flag on its site to attract business from gay customers. It’s demonstrated that championing equality and inclusiveness is a business philosophy.
It’s a message that hasn’t been lost on the millennial generation – gay and straight – who have made it clear that they care about issues such as diversity, regardless of their sexuality.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in 18- to 24-year-olds coming to the brand,” says Reilly. “The younger audience has been our biggest growth, and it’s significant, especially when just a few years ago the average age of our guests was 45.”
And it’s not just customers who are attracted to Hoseasons’ D&I philosophy. “We had a recent recruitment day across the business and we had people saying that they had seen our LGBT advertisements, and they’d realised that diversity and inclusion was a core value of the business, which made them want to apply,” Reilly says proudly.
“They weren’t necessarily LGBT themselves, but for a lot of the younger generation the values of a business are just as important as their salary.”
The move has been good for sales too. Reilly says nearly a quarter of Hoseasons’ Autograph Luxury Lodge resorts have reported “a sharp increase” in the number of LGBT couples at their locations in the past 12 months, which has helped the operator to boost its shoulder season.
“We’ve grown both our groups and couples business because our focus on diversity is appealing to a broader audience,” he says.
Heron Lodge is certainly the perfect getaway for my partner and I. Its location less than an hour from the coast means it is ideal for exploring seaside towns, whatever the season, and we spend a happy, windswept October afternoon in Southwold, dodging the waves crashing on to the shoreline and trying to beat each other at games in the pier’s arcade.
In the evening we return to the warmth of the lodge, and as dusk sets in we retire again to the hot tub to enjoy champagne and marvel at the changing colours of the sky as it deepens from lilac to navy.
There is no light pollution and as night draws in, stars begin to pinprick the heavens. Georgie swears she sees two shooting stars and we both watch a satellite moving slowly overhead. Later, we spy the white smudges of the Milky Way.
We could be the only people in the world – the tranquillity broken only by the occasional sound of quacking, the ducks ever keen to remind us of their presence.
The next morning, we pack with a heavy heart and savour the view of the lake one last time over breakfast. We watch as the mallards line up to launch themselves from the jetty, the plumes of their tail feathers waggling a goodbye to us as they plop into the water.
Book it: A four-night break for two, staying in one-bedroom Heron Lodge, is priced from £569. A week starts at £812. hoseasons.co.uk