A handbuilt forest glampsite offering a year round escape to wilderness.
Having sat on a domain name for 10 years, Katy and Scott Coe realised their ambition to open a forest glampsite after some initial planning set backs. Comprising a luxury treehouse and shepherd huts handbuilt by Scott, the site is also a designated nature reserve. We talk to Katy.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
I owned a vintage shop in North Norfolk for five years and my husband Scott is a carpenter/builder.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
Scott is a carpenter and can build anything he puts his mind to. With a huge love for anything old, he started out restoring antiques before he went into hand cut roofs and built our first shepherds hut from an old chicken shed.
We both love an adventure and used to take a tipi to the Lake District and camp. This was the start of our love for outdoor living. We started with a shepherds hut and a tipi about six years ago at our old house. After our second child we moved to the family farm. We needed to create something sustainable that would give us jobs and the stunning location was perfect for creating a glamping site. We live on the site in an old farm cottage and used the surrounding land, which is useless from a farming perspective, to create a business that brings in a source of income
How did you research the business before entering it?
When we first started there wasn’t a huge amount of glamping around in the UK. I obtained the domain names as soon as the idea crossed our minds over 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be for another few years that we actually had the resources to start the business. We also went to the Glamping Show which helped with the legalities and UK regulations.
Tell us about your location and site
We are a designated Norfolk Wildlife Trust site on the edge of a 200 acre fir forest about half an hour from the stunning north Norfolk coastline. The natural beauty and raw wilderness of the site is what attracts our guests here. The endless woodland walks and close proximity to local attractions such as Sandrinham and Houghton as well as the coast means we’re perfectly situated for an escape to the country.
We have heated cabins, a woodfired hot tub, lovely facilities and nature’s playground on our doorstep. The treehouse has disabled access and a private hot tub. We have cabins which are suitable for couples and families a like and are just 15 minutes to the nearest train station at Kings Lynn, which is very accessible to London, Cambridge etc.
Our main challenge regarding the site is our rural location and the internet. After researching every possible way of getting the internet we have to rely on satellite, which is very expensive.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Planning did take some time. Initially the local parish refused the site but after lengthy talks with them they then retracted and gave us their approval before being passed by planning. Even though we sit over a mile away from the village I think the concept of glamping was still fairly unknown and made people nervous.
We undertook extensive surveys and the low environmental impact was something we didn’t want to compromise on. The site was given the green light from the ecological survey as we had nature at the forefront of our ethos and finally planning was passed.
How did you finance the project?
We funded the initial build of the site through loans from the bank via the farm. We applied and got accepted for a LEADER grant which part-funded some of the materials used on the treehouse build but have had quite a few setbacks and delays and are still yet to receive this funding which has hindered our progress with the site.
When we initially applied for the grant and were accepted we were thrilled. By the time the building was due to start the price of timber had gone up considerably and the price of labour and other materials had also increased. Building regs had also changed which meant it cost a lot more than the initial quotes.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We are a year round site and summer is mainly dedicated to weddings as people can hire the entire site as their venue. At present we have a number of shepherds huts, a treehouse and, during the summer months, we also have bell tents.
We chose shepherds huts as the cottage we live in is called Washpit Cottage and has a beautiful pond with a bridged island. This is historically where the shepherds would wash their sheep and it was very much a case of keeping history alive. We built the shepherds huts around the surroundings and encompassed a panoramic window into the designs where there was an open view. We positioned them around the woods so they didn’t encroach on each other – we didn’t want to have them side by side so people felt a sense of privacy.
Our shepherds huts come in all shapes and sizes and have wood burners or radiators for heating. They all have hand crafted, real beds and are very comfortable. The treehouse is another level of luxury with underfloor air source heating, private hot tub, king size accommodation, a wet room, and a fully functional kitchen with dishwasher etc. It has incredible views and you can witness some awesome Norfolk sunsets from the west facing open gable end. It is also accessible for disabled guests.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
The name of the site was easy. My grandfather Frank called this part of the farm Happy Valley because of its magic. We are at the mouth of the small valley which is surrounded by natural springs and ancient burial grounds. With many an ancient tale of this area referencing the likes of Boudica it’s easy to see why guests keep coming back.
I am a big user of Instagram and Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Instagram is my main tool as it’s the most visual and you can show people exactly what they will be experiencing. People often comment on the pictures but I literally just point and shoot. It’s easy when the wilderness does the work for you.
We also use Airbnb and Cool Camping along with Host Unusual.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our ethos is very much ‘wilderness living with a touch of luxury’. Guests can sit back and stargaze in the hot tub, and there are endless health benefits from being in the forest – it’s impossible not to feel its effects once you’re here. The Japanese have been prescribing Forest Bathing (ShinrinYoku) for centuries as a preventative medicine to disease. It’s basically being immersed in the forest and absorbing it’s effects.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
I wanted to go to town with all sorts of fabulous Pinterest finds but luckily my husband knows the practicalities so was my reasoning when it came to interiors. He has a wonderful eye anyway and we used lots of vintage wood, crates etc. which he repurposed from the farm to create the spaces.
What challenges have you faced?
Weather – wind and trees can be tricky as can frost and frozen pipes so I’m an avid weather watcher now. The hot tubs are high maintenance and labour intensive, and wet weather plus woodland terrain equals mud and lots of extra cleaning. All in all it can be a harsh environment to work in for changeovers etc.
There is also the huge increase in the number of glamping sites across the country. This increase in supply has pushed prices down so the profit margin has lessened and peoples’ expectations are constantly rising.
Juggling the business with two young children is also a challenge. When we started I did all the changeovers and laundry by myself. I spent so much on osteopath appointments that I decided I was allowed some help. I now have a couple of great ladies who help with the changeovers but still do all the laundry in the house.
What are your plans for next season?
We are adding a barn to the venue for next season as well as completing another cabin as we’re still not at full capacity. We have a play area for children which we will expand.
Describe your average day mid-season
A typical day includes washing and ironing, stripping cabins down after guests leave, answering emails, taking pictures and sharing on social media, putting together proposals and marketing, preparing for new guests, emptying, cleaning, filling and lighting the hot tub, checking health and safety – the list goes on…
Why do you enjoy the business?
I never thought I’d be in the hospitality business and had no experience prior to opening but I love interacting with guests and being able to share this beautiful part of the country with them. I manage expectations by being transparent in what we offer and I love that I am outside for a considerable part of the job.
What are you most proud of?
Sticking with it and not giving up. We faced a lot of opposition in the initial stages with differing advice from planning consultants and huge cost implications but we did it. We had a vision that was sustainable and exciting and didn’t give up. My husband is a master craftsman and I’m hugely proud of him for the high level of accommodation we offer.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We hold events on site and are currently going through the process of obtaining a wedding licence so people can get married here. It works very well during the summer months as demand in more laid back outdoor weddings is on the rise. Having accommodation on site is definitely an added bonus.
It’s the perfect venue for health retreats and we intend to offer this in future. Glamping throughout the year gives us an income during the quieter months and as the site changes so dramatically throughout the seasons we’ve found people love it as much in the winter as they do in the summer.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Find your unique selling point and be aware of the increase in competition. It needs to be something you’re very passionate about as it’s definitely a lot harder than I anticipated both physically and emotionally. Make sure you over budget for infrastructure and build costs.
Royal Tubs www.royaltubs.co.uk
Cool Camping www.coolcamping.com
NFU Mutual www.nfumutual.co.uk
Happy Valley Norfolk
Norfolk, PE32 1DN