Five wooden cabins in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales.
Our farm is a fourth generation working dairy farm. After studying at university and both starting non-farming careers, my husband Sean and I came back to take over from Sean’s dad. At this time milk prices had hit rock bottom and the future of our dairy business was hanging in the balance.
We made a decision to give it 12 months to find a way to make the business sustainable. We stripped things back to basics but knew we had to find a way of balancing the variable milk production price with alternative forms of income.
As a young family, our dream was to be living and working on the farm and carrying on the business for another generation. At the time though, there was no way it could support us without me maintaining my career away from the farm, commuting to Leeds an hour away every day. I wanted to find a way to use my business skills and generate an alternative source of income complementary to the dairy enterprise – a way of creating a role for myself that was a benefit rather than a burden to the farm.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
Offering accommodation on the farm was something that had been discussed by Sean’s parents and grandparents before us. Sean’s grandparents ran a small caravan club site with five pitches for many years.
The farm is south facing and stands at 750ft above sea level over-looking the Nidderdale Valley in the Yorkshire Dales. The landscape and views are incredible and we longed to find a way of offering accommodation that didn’t take land away from the cattle as well as having the backdrop of the sunsets over the Yorkshire Dales as its USP.
We first opened in July 2017 with three units. We now have five units with planning permission for five more.
How did you research the business before entering it?
It probably doesn’t sound very good but we didn’t really do a large amount of research before starting – we are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) so we spent a lot of time talking to our architect about creating a site in sympathy with the landscape.
We wanted to move quite quickly as we knew a grant scheme had just opened that was seeking to support diversification and women in rural enterprise. The scheme required a full business, marketing and rural impact plan which formed the framework for all of our research. It being a grant scheme though, we didn’t know if we would succeed so we learnt a lot about what we wanted to do by going through that paperwork process.
We knew if we could do it well, visitors would come for the views of the untouched, wild landscape and we knew glamping as an enterprise was a growing market – I guess we took a bit of a leap, looking back!
Tell us about your location and site
We are in the Nidderdale AONB in the Yorkshire Dales, right on the edge of the heather moorlands which are also protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Operating as a dairy farm and glamping site at 750ft is a challenge – the weather and landscape can be wild and bleak. It’s definitely not flat and there’s not very much shelter but this is our unique feature. The landscape has hardly changed for generations – there’s no light pollution, no traffic noise – it’s raw and wild and beautiful! The sun sets behind the glamping site, over the valley. The birds of prey, deer and wildlife have adapted around the cabins so our guests feel like they are out in the wild, with the luxury of a cosy, private cabin.
The site for the cabins themselves had to be on unproductive farm land – land that is unproductive for a reason! It has a steep gradient, has many multiples of natural springs running across it and is scattered with enormous boulders and rocks, preventing it from ever being ploughed! We had to make level areas to site the cabins, find ways of channelling the spring water and working around the boulders – making them a feature of the site rather than a problem that needed to be resolved.
Establishing access, parking, power and amenities was a huge challenge – this is where most of the investment had to be made, turning unproductive land into a habitable, accessible site without taking away the unique elements we wanted to use to attract people to come and stay with us.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Planning was always going to be tricky for us. We are part of a very small community, the AONB and the Yorkshire Dales. We wanted to contribute to the land and community, not take away from it and we definitely didn’t want to disturb the wildlife and landscape we are hugely proud and protective of.
We worked with a very experienced architect who is well established with our planning authority and we were quite flexible with our approach. We had decided on the style of cabin we were hoping to use but would have changed had we been advised to.
Living and working on the site means that we know the land and chose accommodation that would blend in – it had to be natural and low impact but unique too. We weren’t trying to create a holiday park style site, nor did we think we would ever get approval to create such a site. We thought our plans through in great detail and I think because of this, we didn’t have to make huge compromises.
We listened to the feedback and had to make some amendments to parking and access from the road, but these actually enhanced our plans in the end so we were happy to do so.
How did you finance the project?
Our project was financed partly through the Yorkshire Dales LEADER grant scheme and partly through private personal loans. There was no opportunity for the existing dairy business to invest in a new development so we had to find alternative funding sources. If we hadn’t been successful in our grant application, we would not have been able to start the project.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We have five octagonal cabins, two have en-suite shower rooms and three share a small amenity building. Each has one double bed and one set of bunk beds. We chose them for the space inside and the number of windows you could have! We liked the fact you could easily stand and move around inside the cabins – we wanted a family of four to be able to come and be comfortable inside if the weather was wild outside.
We operate all year round so we had to have space to safely house a small log burner for heating as well as a space to sit and eat inside.
Our site is right at the end of the electricity distribution network so we are very restricted on the amount of power to the cabins. For that reason, we only offer fire pits and stoves for cooking and heating.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
The branding was built as part of the grant application – we wanted to incorporate the wild and natural feel of the site and the cabins but also build something that would evolve as we grow and expand the business.
We publicise online mostly – we have our own website as well as advertising on a number of others. We are still growing our publicity, selecting new sites or new opportunities when we come across them. We wanted to market ourselves slowly, so we could learn as we go and deliver excellent customer service as we do.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our ethos is about enjoying the natural beauty of the landscape around us, this is our USP. We are a small, family run site and our aim is for our guests to feel at home here. We have created a site that is relaxed and welcoming but offers privacy; an opportunity to escape and a place to spend time with family and friends.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
Inside the cabins we wanted there to be everything you would need, without it feeling crowded. We invested in high quality furniture and fittings that would also be easy to maintain and wouldn’t require large amounts of servicing.
We used the same layout in each cabin, changing the colours or fabric pattern to give each one a unique feel. We were very lucky to have friends who handmade bespoke blinds and cushions for us, and wherever possible we used local, independent suppliers.
What challenges have you faced?
Working on the land was by far the biggest challenge. There were times when we thought we would never get to the point where we could site the cabins. It took more investment and a lot more time than we had planned to get to a point where our suppliers could come and work on site.
What are your plans for next season?
The glamping site is becoming established now and we have started to look at ways of using it as a platform to expand the business into other avenues.
We run a small, bespoke wedding venue for outdoor marquee weddings on the farmland and have just started a relationship with a local bushcraft company. Our plans are to use this to grow into the corporate and team building event market – offering an off-grid, wild team building venue with the luxury of memory foam mattresses!
Describe your average day mid-season
We always have people coming and going on site so the average day has guests checking out in the morning and us preparing the cabins for arrivals in the afternoon.
Being a small site, we run all the bookings, enquiries, events and turnarounds ourselves so our average mid-season day can only be described as busy!
Do you enjoy the business and why?
Absolutely. It is still growing and we have so many plans but want to go slowly, thinking carefully about what we do so we don’t compromise on the quality we have been able to provide so far.
It’s really hard work but hugely satisfying. In our corporate roles it felt hard to get a sense of customer satisfaction – here you get that instantly, listening to guests tell you about the wildlife they spotted or the fun they had toasting marshmallows under the stars!
We can see a way now to sustaining the dairy business and complementing it with alternative sources of income – the two can work hand in hand, protecting and sharing the beautiful places around us.
What are you most proud of?
The feedback we have received, definitely. When we started we just didn’t know what to expect, or if anyone would come! We are hugely proud of what we have achieved and how well the site has settled into the landscape and how many people have been able to come and share a little bit of what we wake up to every morning. I guess we love Yorkshire and are hugely proud to be able to show it off!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We host outdoor wedding receptions on our farmland and offer a package for couples to include the exclusive hire of the glamping site. We can sleep 20 guests in cabin accommodation, with additional space for camping. As a package, our couples can create their own bespoke, personal festival feel wedding.
We have also just started to offer bushcraft experiences. Our glamping site is on the edge of a small wood, perfect for foraging, shelter building and primitive skills. Our guests spend the day in the woods and then have the choice of sleeping in their shelters or retiring to their cabins.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
We have been fortunate in that we haven’t had to rush to get to scale quickly to make our project viable, I had been able to continue to work in my day job while establishing the site. We are growing the business in stages to allow us to test the market before making significant investment.
I would say you need to be prepared for unexpected costs – establishing the infrastructure like drainage, sewerage, water and working on the land can be unpredictable. Also, test out your market before investing big – if you can, find out what works and doesn’t at a small scale. I would apply this to everything from the furnishings and fittings, to the number and size of glamping units you invest in!