Clean lines and simple interiors make this Atlantic Highway glampsite a breath of fresh air
Designed by owner Peter Cobbledick, the 15 pods at Atlantic Farm offer space and light, while a treehouse 6m up delivers spectacular Cornish views. We speak to Peter about how he created a glampsite that offers an off-grid home by the sea for hundreds of guests each year.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Coastal life is the only life for me. Daily surfing from an early age and then 35 years roaming the globe for ocean arts and crafts and all things marine. The last 10 years we have settled on a small farm close to the coast of my home town Bude, and found tourist accommodation the only way to make the farm viable.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
Camping was the first idea, it did work well but you are never free of the impact of the weather, muddy ground, wind damaged tents and a very short season. Cottages were the next option which also worked well – they are long seasons but the overhead was huge. That is when the glamping idea had appeal. There were various ideas being tried around the county, from railway wagons to converted pigsties!
There was a firm doing pods that looked like an upturned boat, a good idea but it just felt claustrophobic. From then on I set about designing my alternative.
How did you research the business before entering it?
At that time yurts were being used and also American tipis. There was a very successful tipi village nearby, but I felt their strength was coming from a beautiful oak woodland and a quarry lake that was giving the appeal and ambience. The prices being charged gave it the appeal to us – £800+ a week for a tipi, mat and fire pit! This showed there was mileage in the glamping concept.
I didn’t like the idea of the yurts or tipis, it just seemed so alien for our site, also there were issues with ingress of wildlife into the seams, like lizards. At the end of the day we are in the country and have to put up with various natural inhabitants. Spiders and ants etc. are unavoidable and need to be lived with but other creepy crawlies seemed something to be avoided where possible.
Tell us about your location and site
Our farm is just by the Atlantic Highway with very easy access to Bude and journeys to the rest of the county. We had no woodland but we were a few minutes from four beaches and the farm was relatively sheltered for its position on the Atlantic coast. We set aside the most sheltered field next to the camping that had been used by our poultry business.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Because glamping was a relatively new concept at the time it was difficult to find anyone who was totally conversant with the planning issues involved. Fortunately there had just been a case in the Lake District where it was judged that glamping fell under the caravan rules, but each council seems to have its own take on it. What was clear was that structures had to be moveable and that facilities should not have permanent connections to the drains and services.
There are many sites around the country which seem to have found favour with the local council and bent the rules or managed to go unnoticed. It is well worth having someone professionally qualified to tick the boxes. Any mistakes that make it a habitable dwelling could get it removed or be forced to go the full planning route with little chance of success in most areas.
How did you finance the project?
Grants for tourist accommodation are difficult. They do happen but generally grants favour supporting activities. Ours was funded from normal finance routes before banks lost their nerve. Depending on the location there is a different level of help with funding especially through the EU (which was UK money in the first place!).
What glamping accommodation do you offer?
We have 15 pods and a treehouse. We chose to make our own pods, mainly because there were few options to buy what we wanted, and secondly the cost. We also needed something that gave more room. Although glamping is a new phase in holiday accommodation, we felt that like all business fads the novelty will get over subscribed and there will be casualties, but that the better quality offerings would survive.
Each pod is a livable, spacious capsule, insulated to the highest degree. They feature underfloor heating in the off season months to take the chill off colder nights, meaning they are comfortable all year round. The curved shape of the pods creates a cosy cave-like feel, and the front opens up fully to reveal an unobstructed view of the sky.
The pods sit nestled amongst the lush and undulating landscaped lawns, each with its own individual decked area, with gas BBQ oven and outdoor furniture, and a private external wet room featuring a heated shower, flushing toilet and hand basin.
We also have the Coastal View Treehouse, a beautifully crafted bolt-hole perched 6m up in a tree looking out towards Widemouth Bay and open country. Easily accessed by a stairway, the roof is clear on the north side and shaded on the south giving a wonderful feeling of space, and in the evenings the LED lighting gives a cosy ambience or a full moon can provide the light.
At ground level are the BBQ, bathroom and secret alfresco heated shower. First finished in April 2014, it is for couples only; already we are aware of three proposals made there, and accepted!
What else do you offer?
We have an honesty shop open during the summer season from 10am – 5pm most days. As well as our own meat and eggs, the shop also stocks basic essentials.
On-site, there is a BBQ house for hire (a £20 cleaning charge) for the rare occasions when the Cornish weather might not be at its best! This is the ideal spot for groups to convene, with a capacity of 12-14 adults.
We also have an on-site shell craft studio where children and adults alike can decorate various items, such as picture frames, mirrors, terracotta plant pots etc. or create shell ornaments. This has proved popular with previous guests and also with local schools as an alternative to arts and crafts lessons.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
We chose our brand to reflect a mix of location and the activities of many of the guests we wanted. The first year we just used the internet and it worked very well. Fortunately accommodation in this area is always in short supply in season so guests found us and keep finding us.
Also, because we were new and had a different concept, we had a lot of editorial in the press from Coast magazine, Times, Telegraph, a German glamping publication, TV and even Aeroflot’s inflight magazine! We did do a winter promotion through a voucher site the second year with amazing success – it had good advertising value but a tight profit.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Glamping is what it suggests – glamorous camping. We have stayed minimal, spacious (approx. 20sqm internal space) with all the life giving basics – kettle, toaster and BBQ. We have created an environment which is in the country but has the order and ambience of a country garden.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
We kept the interiors simple, all white with the minimum of fittings. We didn’t want it to be like a caravan. Of course some would like this with microwaves etc. but we are mainly off-grid so have to be economical with the power. This is helped with LED lights. Many guests understand the benefits of getting away from the norms of home living. Many ask us not to give the kids the Wi-Fi password!!
What challenges have you faced?
The main challenge is running a business off-grid, low power, low water supply, etc. also getting across exactly what glamping is. Sometimes husbands try and surprise their partner who turns up with high heels and a bouffant hairstyle at which point you know it is not going to work. Occasionally there is the ‘to the manor born’ guest who thinks that it is a hotel. You need to get the message across. The people you want are usually brilliant guests and really enjoy the experience.
Describe your average day mid-season
Glamping at most times of the year is short lets until the main season, so there are changeovers on most days. The site needs continual maintenance and any communal facilities need constant checking.
Why do you enjoy the business?
The business involves meeting people from all walks of life – people who generally enjoy the outdoor life and want a break to recharge their batteries. Running a new type of business is a challenge and creates its own frontier. This is a good experience in this age and provides plenty of interest.
What are you most proud of?
Designing and manufacturing a product and making it work as a business is something I am proud of.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
Our site does suit the wedding business and also the corporate market but it needs the back up of the other facilities like cottages and function areas. It is surprising how many weddings we have had to date as we have not advertised. We have a function room which is heated and can seat 120 at tables.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
It is a good industry based on the fact that people want to be in the countryside but they are now looking at doing it in more comfort.
Before anyone starts it is a matter of looking around with open eyes at various styles. What someone will be doing may not be your flavour but try and see where they are in the market place, where they are going and where they are coming from. Then, like any financial institution, it’s all about the ‘biz’ plan. Research all finance options.
Atlantic Surf Pods