An off-grid glamping enterprise complete with floating houseboat!
We talk to Nicola Carlisle about the incredible off-grid glampsite and campsite her family have created on their Pembrokeshire dairy farm. With a beautiful cabin, houseboat and hut designed and built in house, they achieve excellent occupancies and nightly rates.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
My husband Bruce grew up at Little Pencoed Farm and has been farming here for over 40 years, building up a mixed organic dairy herd. Over 300 acres, the farm is a mixture of woodland, grassland, salt marsh and moorland providing a wonderful pasture for the cows and sheep and a unique habitat for many wild animal species.
I have quite a bit of experience in hospitality having run a short term holiday let in Manorbeir village and also weddings at Manorbeir Castle for 10 years.
With our son Jacob’s lack of interest in milking cows and uncertainties facing traditional farming at present, we looked into farm diversification that would tie in with our organic nature and sustainable ethos. In 2016 our Dragonfly Shepherds Hut was created followed by the Kingfisher Houseboat in 2017.
With Jacob fresh back from travels in Asia and Australia, and wanting to join the family business, we decided to make practical use of his skills having graduated in renewable energy engineering. He created Dragonfly Woodland Camping in 2019 and added another glamping unit – Woodpecker Cabin – in 2020.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
We first opened in 2016 as we wanted to diversify and to create extra income for our small farm, making the most of local tourism. We also wanted to create a business opportunity for the next generation.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We researched the demand for other glamping businesses in our area and having been in the hospitality sector for over 30 years I had a good idea of trends.
Tell us about your location and site
We are located next to the Cleddau estuary and Pembrokeshire National Park. The site is a quiet rural setting and at the heart of our working farm. There are 10 individual camping pitches set in their own woodland, a lakeside floating cabin, a wooden Scandi-style cabin in a glade and a shepherds hut set in its own wildflower meadow.
Being far from the main farmhouse all the units are off-grid and powered by solar PV and battery bank systems.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We gained certification through an exemption organisation and are presently with the Woodland Champions Club. All the glamping units are moveable to comply with the camping exemption rules apart from the houseboat which has self-catering planning consent for all year occupation. The challenges with exemption consent are that you have to keep everything moveable and within the permissible size limits.
Why did you choose your particular structures?
We chose to build a variety of unique cabins so that they were different from anything on the market. The shepherds hut and cabin are seasonal, running from April to November, while the houseboat is open all year round.
The structures were all designed and built by ourselves (using a combination of Google, SketchUp and hand sketches) and friends Kieran and Jono Young, who are skilled carpenters.
The floating houseboat is a timber frame structure that was built on top of three second hand marina concrete pontoons that we welded together to make a floating platform. The shepherds hut is another timber frame structure built on top of a second hand farm trailer with the toilet and shower block created from an old horsebox trailer. The cabin again makes use of a second hand farm trailer with a shipping container on top.
All the structures and the woodland campsite are completely powered by solar PV and battery banks. Gas is used for hot water and cooking and we have conventional flushing toilets that divert into a cartridge that gets pumped out. We intend to add two compost toilets to the campsite next season.
Water comes from our bore hole which gets distributed via gravity and services the whole farm including our glamping units and campsite.
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
The houseboat achieves 85% occupancy with a price of £150-£200/night depending on seasonal variation. The shepherds hut achieves 70% occupancy with a price of £90-£100/night and the cabin achieves 75% occupancy with a price of £140-£160/night. The woodland campsite achieves 60% occupancy with an average price of £46/night.
How do you publicise yourself?
We publicise with hipcamp, visitwales, coolstays and Airbnb. We have been lucky enough to have good editorial in major weekend newspapers and so receive a lot of traffic through our own website and social media.
How would you describe your unique selling point?
Off-grid, individual private spaces close to the coast.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
We wanted to create light airy spaces with great views but with quirky one-off pieces so we sourced from local suppliers and upcycled many pieces to create something individual.
What challenges have you faced?
Making sure we complied with planning regulations.
What are your plans for next season?
We have no further expansion planned but will continue enhancing the settings with tree planting and wild flower verges.
Describe your average day mid-season
An average day includes maintaining grounds, doing laundry, sorting through rubbish, admin and client liaison. We are lucky enough to have a fantastic cleaner for changeovers.
Do you enjoy the business?
Yes, it’s satisfying to work for yourself and see other people enjoying what you have created. I love the flexibility of being self-employed with no set hours, although it is hard to switch off sometimes.
What are you most proud of?
Creating stylish spaces that people enjoy!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Setting up a new business is fun but maintaining it is key. Having a user-friendly website with good quality photographs is essential.
Pembrokeshire SA68 0QD