Nestled on the gorgeous Camber Sands, the Gallivant is one of our favourite spots for a UK weekend by the seaside. A former roadside motel, the Gallivant has an extraordinary blend of Californian barefoot-chic and Scandinavian elegance, with one of the finest restaurants on the South Coast. We sat down with Harry Cragoe, the Gallivant’s extraordinary owner, to find out more about what inspired him to create this beautiful bolthole.
‘I wanted a place for both my family and friends to escape to on weekends,’ Harry tells us. ‘A place where we could fish and mess around on the beach, where I could cook delicious food while everyone else was relaxing and having a good time.’It was this desire that led Harry to acquiring a run-down roadside motel across the road from Camber Sands called ‘The Place’, and to set about transforming it into ‘a cool beach house set behind one of the most magnificent beaches in Southern England.’ From the very beginning, Harry wanted it to be a reflection of his greatest passions in life, and this is symbolised in the name. ‘A friend suggested naming the site the Gallivant, as it seemed to both fit what I like to do (gallivant around looking for fun things to do) and the location where one can gallivant along the beach to your heart’s content,’ he tells us. At first, Harry had no intentions of turning his dream home into a hotel, but his friends had other ideas. ‘All my friends have told me that I should run a restaurant,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t long before I realised that the Gallivant could become an amazing ‘Restaurant with Rooms’, and that I shouldn’t try and convert it into a private house at all. This began the journey that is now manifest at the Gallivant today.’
The barefoot-chic vibe and Scandi-inspired décor at the Gallivant is one of the things that sets it apart so distinctly from similar beachside retreats, and Harry says that from the beginning he wanted to create something different. ‘It is designed to feel like a private house, a place that is calm and relaxing, but with a beautiful attention to detail.’ Together with his wife, a Hollywood stylist, Harry set out to create a design that would reflect his life and personality, drawing inspiration from a trip across California the two of them took when they were younger. ‘We ate incredible fish, and explored the Pacific coast along the Pacific Coast Highway,’ Harry tells us. ’We stayed in a combination of ramshackle motels that looked run down from the outside but were effortlessly considered, quirky, cool and inspiring on the inside.’ The memories of this trip inspired him to recreate the laid-back Californian charms of those roadside motels, albeit with an added elegance drawn from ‘a few impressionable summer holidays in Denmark’ where Harry learned to appreciate ‘the Danish design line that is clean and unfussy, practical yet beautiful, and has at its very essence a relaxing feel and look about it.’ Does Harry have a particular room that sums up everything that he tried to create at the Gallivant? ‘The Snug Cabin. It’s our smallest room and is completely lined in driftwood with a slate lined bathroom,’ he replies. ‘It sort of wraps you up because it’s very snug and sexy. The perfect bolthole to escape to.’
Harry describes the Gallivant as a ‘Restaurant with Rooms’, and so it’s no surprise that the hotel’s restaurant is renowned for its outstanding seasonal menu created from mouth-watering local ingredients. ‘I love gallivanting around food markets or discovering an amazing butcher or fishmonger,’ Harry tells us. ‘I love buying something that looks amazing and then serving it later that day to my family and friends.’ For Harry, food is a ‘an absolute obsession. I get excited about everything and anything to do with food, not just the sourcing and the cooking but how it brings people closer together and makes people happy. I can’t imagine how dull life would be without it.’ Life is certainly anything but dull at the Gallivant, and the restaurant makes fantastic use of the region’s famously good local produce, such as the Romney salt-marsh lamb. ‘The Gallivant is surrounded by extraordinary food,’ Harry tells us. ‘The freshest fish, salt marsh meats and incredible fruit and veg. Living in London, the abundance of amazing raw materials that surrounds Camber was and still is a revelation.’
Of course, the mouthwatering food and beautiful design is only half of the Gallivant’s draw; the gorgeous beach of Camber Sands is on the hotel’s doorstep, just begging to be explored. ‘I have a love for fishing, and anything else to do with water, whether that is diving, sailing, swimming, or just simply messing around in boats,’ Harry tells us. ‘When I lived in Venice Beach, California, I would often wake up and go straight out to the beach, either for a quick fish or a run or bike along the beach path. The Gallivant is in some ways my English version of this memory.’ Guests at the Gallivant can enjoy a wide range of beach-related activities, from kite-surfing to yoga classes held on the golden sands. It’s another way in which the Gallivant reflects Harry’s personality, he says. ‘I love the energy and vitality that keeping fit gives you, and I like the focus it gives you in life,’ he tells us, before laughing, ‘I especially like the fact that you are always hungry and can eat pretty much whatever you want!’ The seaside around Rye is not just for fitness-fanatics however; this stunning landscape has drawn visionaries from all walks of life. ‘We attract a lot of people whose world is focused on the aesthetic,’ Harry tells us. ‘The pre-Raphaelites painted a huge amount down here. The light, particularly at dawn and dusk, is unique.’
It’s no surprise that a movement dedicated to capturing the beauty and power of the natural landscape would be drawn to this mesmerising stretch of sand and sea. Hearing Harry talk of his life, his passions and his vision of the Gallivant, it’s clear why he too felt this site calling to him.