A child free, pet free retreat on a working farm.
With a large mortgage to pay, Mark and Hilary Berry juggle a working dairy farm with five (soon to be six) luxury glamping units. We talk to Hilary about their hectic working day and plans for expansion to meet demand post Covid.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
My husband Mark has been a farmer all his life after growing up on a dairy and sheep farm. He’s always had to help out with everything from milking to lambing. I grew up in an old railway station which my parents converted into a bed and breakfast. I helped make beds and waited on tables for breakfast and evening meals. I even had a little shop from which I sold cakes and pictures I had made for guests to buy.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
After many years as a cake maker, then working for a local supplier travelling around cake shows, it was time to make my dream come true and get back into hospitality. Mark and I bought Mark’s family farm in 2018 and now have 200 acres to look after and 250 cows. With a huge mortgage we needed something to help support us and I was inspired to start a glamping site after seeing some pods at a local agricultural show.
Our aim is for Mark to stop milking and to do glamping full time but we still have that huge mortgage to pay off.
How did you research the business before entering it?
Our children are grown up so I decided I would like a child free retreat – basically somewhere I would go glamping myself. I am allergic to animals (yes, a farmer’s wife, lol) so no pets are allowed so I can go into the pods without sneezing. I looked through so many places to visit and test out the glamping idea but I didn’t like any so I’ve still not been glamping yet!
Tell us about your location and site
We chose our location because of its amazing views over the hedge across to Inglebourgh and Pendle Hill. The site is south facing so we get all the sun and the most amazing sunsets – modern living in the heart of nature. It’s also in perfect reach of the Yorkshire Dales and the Ribble Valley as the field is on the boundary of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
We now have a shop/firepit den that seats 15, hens (collect your own fresh eggs) and six alpacas on site. We also have two Highland cows (Honey and Marmalade – a few animals I am not allergic to) that Mark bought me for my 50th birthday, but all they do is escape back to the farm!
How did you tackle getting planning?
We decided to go for planning for six pods thinking we would only ever get three – number six pod is expected in September so I think it’s time we got planning on the next field!
Planning went through in eight weeks with no complications in January 2019 and work started when the weather allowed us to start digging.
We ordered two glamping pods for our new site with a deadline of December 2019 to open. With the excitement we decided to order another pod so we had three. Our first pod arrived in June then the next one two weeks later and the final one in August. We brought our opening date forward to 11 October after we had our council inspection.
We now have four pods, a new shepherds hut and another pod on the way.
How did you finance the project?
To fund the site we used all our savings and borrowed from family and have done as much work as we could on our own. Our middle son, Russell, is an electrician so he sorted all the electrics on the site from laying cables to putting up lighting. Our youngest son, Austin, is an engineer and designed and made a BBQ and the firepit with a laser cutter. Our eldest son helped out with all the finishing touches from blinds to putting up TVs.
With the field we had to get electric in and water, which blew a hole in our budget but what can you do when you need it? The electric cost £23,000 and the water £28,000 – we had to put in a bore hole then a water system. It wasn’t easy as all the grants had finished.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our main selling point is luxury, hot tubs, no children and no pets – we offer a quiet luxury retreat all year round.
I wanted to do something different; a quiet retreat in a romantic setting, 5* accommodation with lots of luxuries – all king size beds (the new one will have a super king size), four poster beds in some, all en-suite with rain showers, dishwashers, some with walk in wardrobes, underfloor heating, luxury bedding, fully kitted kitchens, Wi-Fi and smart TVs, private hot tubs/firepits and BBQs with complimentary treats of chocolates and gin.
What occupancy levels and price per night do you achieve?
All our accommodation is for two people. We have been full months in advance always – even before we opened. With a minimum stay of three nights (Friday to Monday or Monday to Thursday) or a one night stay on a Thursday night. Our winter months and warmer months pricing ranges from £260 per three days to £395. In the summer we are priced at £360 to £495. One night stays are £150.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
The branding just went with the type of glamping I wanted – luxury. I designed the logo and the name just followed as the site is situated in front of a beautiful hedgerow.
We use the booking system Bedful and have the site on Cool Camping. We use Facebook and Instagram and have a local lady who does my website. I wanted someone I could talk to as I am not good with website things; I know what I want but just don’t know what to do.
How have you coped through Covid?
Covid was hard as we had only been trading 28 weeks. It was such a shock but customers were great (other than one or two). We moved them all forward to chosen dates not knowing they would have to move again, which was good but it left us on a low when we reopened in April 2021 with few spaces for new guests. It was then that we decide on buying pod number four using our Bounce Back loan. Our new shepherds hut was purchased with our grants and council funding and a little help from our parents again. With pod six, we thought “sod it, let’s just get a loan!”
We are still full but with more accommodation it will help more people wanting to get away for some quality time.
What are your plans for next season?
This year we will complete our little retreat with its accommodation, next year we’ll be landscaping areas of the site that need more attention. We will also start on plans for the next field and apply for planning.
Describe your average day mid-season
Mark gets up at 4am to milk the cows. With around 30 calves to feed too, he’s done at about 7am. He scrapes up the buildings and comes in for breakfast at 8.30am.
After breakfast we collect together clean filters, the welcome packs of milk, orange and crumpets and head over to the site. Changeover starts at 10am.
With grass cutting and hot tubs to drop, clean and reheat, there is plenty for Mark to do while I head off and sort the laundry and cleaning – we have three part time cleaners now that we have five glamping units (soon to be six) and a part time gardener/handy man as Mark still has to work on the farm.
By 3pm we are ready for new guests but we also have the hens to clean out and the alpacas to feed. Then we head home ready for milking time again. Milking is finished by 6pm and the calves fed by 6.30pm. Afterwards we head back over to the glamping site to check everything is OK and just have time to water the plants.
At 8pm it’s time for tea then it’s off to bed ready for another busy day on the farm.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
We do enjoy the glamping business but it’s hard work balancing it with the farm and also expanding – the site takes so much time. I think if we didn’t have all the farm work we would enjoy it more but we have met so many fantastic people it makes it worthwhile.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Our advice is to make sure you have plenty of time, lots of money and are willing to work hard.
What are you most proud of?
We are proud of our ‘little village’ we have created. It’s our little luxury sanctuary, our retreat.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
So far we have had lots of marriage proposals and lots of honeymoons. We haven’t had any events yet but do have a few bookings for the full site for birthdays. Hopefully as we grow and develop the site we can venture into small luxury weddings – we certainly have the land to put marquees up.
Black Sheep Shepherd Huts www.blacksheepshepherdhuts.co.uk
Woodlands Insurance www.woodlandsinsurance.co.uk
Arctic Cabins www.arcticcabins.co.uk
Ashton & Coleman www.ashtonandcoleman.co.uk
Certainly Wood www.certainlywood.co.uk
SBC Marketing www.sbcmarketing.co.uk
Hedgerow Luxury Glamping
Lancashire BB7 4JF