An award winning farmstead conversion for weddings, events, conferences and eco-camping on the edge of the Highlands.
With a strong ethos of sustainability, owner Andrew Donaldson has evolved his farm organically to offer an informal yet beautiful venue for celebrations, business events, holidays and adventure. We talk to him about what makes Comrie Croft so special and running a ‘positive impact’ business.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
Comrie Croft was a farm, then a bunkhouse and then, in 2006, my girlfriend and I were looking for a wedding venue and thought… why not in our own place?!
The farmstead has loads of character, there was a barn and cow sheds that we could clean up, plus there are 231 acres of woods and meadows to choose from for the ceremony. So that’s what we did, and since then we’ve had the pleasure of hosting lots of lovely couples and their loved ones. The Croft has evolved organically – it now also includes a wildlife friendly flower farm, a field-to-fork café, Nordic katas, camping and a mountain biking shop and trails.
Tell us about your location and site
Comrie is located on the Highland fault line – to the north it’s all mountains and wilderness as far as the eye can see, while to the south it’s rolling farmland and low hills, but no less beautiful. We are on the west edge of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s a handy location too; despite the mountains, we’re only half an hour from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
It’s a very relaxed, green and farmy setting – ideal for folk who prefer a more informal feel than a hotel. With a wide range of indoor and outdoor spaces, rooms for up to 74 guests, and with glamping and camping options on top, we are told it is an ideal venue for a wedding or event where people want to spend more time connecting with each other and with nature.
What facilities for outdoor do you offer?
We’ve got a large barn (capacity 200), spruced up cow shed (with underfloor heating!), courtyard with firepit, farmstead accommodation for up to 74 guests, eco camping in Nordic katas and 231 wild acres.
What services do you offer?
We offer a venue for DIY weddings large or small, events and activities, particularly mountain biking. We offer complete freedom to choose suppliers for a wedding or event while also being able to recommend some really excellent local caterers and other suppliers.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
Nordic katas are the Scandinavian version of a tipi. Originally they would have been made of reindeer skins. Ours began life as off-the-shelf Swedish tents but, like much at Comrie Croft, have evolved and improved as the years have gone by. We are now on the mark IV versions which are completely hand-built onsite and completely unique to the Croft. They are like a hybrid between a tent and a cabin, with a Scottish weatherproof exterior and a warm and cosy wood-lined interior.
How do you work with your customers to make their events unique?
We give all our guests freedom to do things their own way – no idea is too crazy! We are here to give ideas too if they are wanted, and to use our extensive local network of contacts and suppliers. As a result, no two weddings or events here have ever been the same.
How do you publicise yourself?
Mostly by word of mouth and through social media.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Informal. Beautiful. Rooted in nature and our community.
We have recently been accepted as a member of the Long Run Alliance, through which we are committed to planning for and achieving sustainability through the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.
What challenges have you faced?
Growing pains! We are pursuing business with a purpose – to make the world a slightly better place. But it hasn’t always been easy and we have had failure along the way and celebrate for what they’ve taught us. Such as the Osprey viewing enterprise that we set up and invested in for over two years only for the Ospreys to leave when their nest was destroyed by storms… twice!
How has Covid-19 impacted you?
All of our team were furloughed to begin with. We are blessed by the fact that we have a diverse business, so are not completely dependent on weddings and events. We’ve taken each day as it comes, done our best to treat all the couples caught up in the chaos as we would like to be treated ourselves, and planned for a future where events and weddings will return, but possibly in quite different ways.
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
There are over 30 people working at the croft in total and they all deserve a mention for their extraordinary flexibility, commitment and the hard work they’ve put in over the past few months.
We also have an awesome board of directors who generously give of their time, expertise and wisdom: Malize Donaldson, John Sinclair, Andrew Scott and James Donaldson.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
The Scottish Tourism Alliance, Scottish Agritourism, Wild Scotland and the Association of British Wedding Businesses have all been an amazing source of information, help, support and connection to government.
What are your plans for next season?
Outdoor kitchens for our Nordic katas. Red squirrel and beaver walking safaris. Continuation of the transformation of our farmstead accommodation from bunkhouse to Eco Lodge.
Describe your average day mid-season
Meet the team. Cup of tea. Emails. Show some people around. Perhaps an outdoor job like cutting down next year’s firewood. Business planning.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
It’s a people business and while that can be a source of frustration at times (common sense isn’t always common!), it is also a joy and gives me energy. I love getting to know our guests when it’s possible. Also, being outdoors and that no two days are ever the same.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate eg. glamping, outdoor events/festivals?
We operate in all of these sectors and more! We need to plan carefully to make sure that functions, festivals, glamping and activities don’t impact on each other. Sometimes this means staggered timing (eg. nothing else takes place at the same time as a festival) or using the space we have to ensure one thing doesn’t impact on another. With thoughtful planning we find that everything we do has complementary linkages and it works.
What are you most proud of?
Building a fantastic team who have built a positive-impact business from scratch.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Take risks, network and just do it!
Self-built by our team – the late George Sloan, Martin Bunyard and Daniel Greenan
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Perthshire, PH7 4JZ