Behind the Scenes with… Amber Wykes

There’s nothing better than a hard day’s work for Amber as she creates her summer bell tent camps.

Children hugging in front of a tentI’m sure this isn’t uncommon, but being a business owner of any description in this age of technology has its drawbacks. While it’s very convenient to be able to keep operating from wherever you are it also means that, for those of us without very strong boundaries, you will be checking your emails before you turn off the lights, and checking in before you’re up and showered.

I don’t know if I’m a control freak, or if business makes you one, but there is only calm in my head if there is order. To create this calm, my first glance at my phone in the morning is to check that no late bookings have come through for any of the sites I am partnered with, and that there are no issues with the guests that are staying.

I like to be as flexible as I can when it comes to my working schedule, so if it’s a lovely sunny day, I can spend it helping my husband Shaun with site maintenance stuff. I started Amber’s Bell Tent Camping as I hate being indoors for long periods of time so the outside work, even when it’s heavy lifting, is a joy to me.

I love how I feel at the end of a hard day’s work in the sunshine. Tired and hungry, happy to eat and sleep. Camp set ups mean a nice big slab of being outdoors all day. Usually they take two to three weeks for each site, but this year it was a sprint to get things ready for re-opening. We set up the two sites we manage in North Norfolk in just 10 days, while helping our partners with their set ups over the phone. But it was such a relief to be open again.

Without any real knowledge of whether or not we’d be able to open for the summer, it was a huge risk for all my partners to open their calendars for bookings in July, collate those bookings and bank the deposits. It’s only year two for the three franchised partners with us currently – all businesses that required a great deal of energy and investment to get them off the ground in 2019. I felt I was holding my breath for them all through the lockdown uncertainty.

Bell tents in a fieldSafe hosting
The challenges this year, for us all in the hospitality industry, is safe hosting. The demand has increased hugely, but keeping staff, customers and ourselves safe is the biggest priority. Luckily, all our sites have an exclusive number of bell tents within a large space, so social distancing isn’t a huge issue on the camp fields. The bathrooms are the challenge this year. We’ve had to outline and publish what each site offers and have added additional bathroom units where we can.

Our Hopton Court site in Shropshire has individual bathrooms for each tent – the popularity of this was reflected in its bookings and it was the first of the five sites to sell out for 2020. I think this will become industry standard eventually, and will be what people are looking for when booking a glamping break.

Last year, the top glamping add-on search was hot tubs, this year it’s private bathrooms. I’ve seen a lot of new products coming to market to help solve this issue, but it’s the services and drainage that creates the expense. Putting in sewage works requires a full planning application and when working in AONBs it’s caused some sticking points.

Person stood in wildflowersBack in the office, a lot of time is spent making sure everyone has all the info they need for their time outdoors. Glamping has created a very accessible way for people to enjoy the great outdoors, but they still need to be prepared for the weather and outdoor living to be able to enjoy it.

When we first began, and were running just two tents in a private meadow on the grounds of Mannington Hall in Norfolk, we used to meet and greet all our guests and give them a run down on fire lighting, shelter building, campfire cooking, as well as the local hikes and cycle rides. As we expanded, it became impossible to give every guest this one-to-one time, so we have created packs our guests can download once booked which contain all the info they need to enable a contactless check in.

We are always on the end of the phone if people get stuck, but I think people prefer being able to get on with their break and it helps them feel ownership of their space. I’m sure they’d rather not hang around for a chat with the owner, but I may be wrong!

Landscape at bell tent campBeautifying camps
Check in days see me away from the office and on the sites, making sure all is perfect for the new arrivals. Shaun and my sons spend the day mowing around the tent spaces to create lovely neat park like areas within the wilder setting. It makes such a difference. My helpers have all been trained in how to beautify the tents – just a quick check from me is all that’s needed.

The communal spaces I like to adorn with wild plants gathered from the meadows around. Shaun always says not to bother, as it takes a good hour, but it makes me happy. I have an interest in plants, so it gives me a chance to notice what is growing when, how the plants are responding to the weather, and see if there’s anything useful to harvest. I like to make healing salves and tinctures when I have time. Mannington has a stupendous water meadow, absolutely stuffed full of medicinal plants. During lockdown, I spent a lot of time there. I picked comfrey for a soothing massage oil, useful for post set up sprains. I also harvested willow bark for pain relief, and a lot of water mint for soothing teas – it’s also great used in mouthwash.

Then the guests arrive – earlier this year as people’s schedules are different. We have lots of groups booked in too, looking to create their own ‘bubble’ for a few days. Last weekend, I could hear the children running down from the cars onto the field, their excitement to be out somewhere big and wild and open spilling over. That’s when I feel a great sense of being exactly where I should be.

Interior of the bell tents

Amber WykesAmber’s Bell Tent Camping runs at five sites across the UK from May to September. Do you have land in a stunning natural location? Amber is looking for further partners to join her growing glamping brand. Get in touch and launch your glampsite with proven experts in the field in 2021!



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