Glamping pioneers Richard Coulter and John Maddy didn’t have it easy in the start-up years but now operate five sites hosting a total of 100 guests a night.
Friends since university, the intrepid Richard Coulter and John Maddy share a passion for the outdoors that has resulted in a multi-site yurt glamping business with some serious profit margins. We talk to John about how they work with landowners and how their attention to detail and quality has paid dividends.
What is your team’s back story – life before Long Valley Yurts?
That’s some time ago now… Richard and I met at university studying Environmental Management and Outdoor Education, and Outdoor Education and Leadership respectively. We became best friends and climbing partners, which enhanced our love for the outdoors and staying in wild places.
Richard left university and went to work for a development training organisation working with corporate clients taking him to all corners of the globe. In his spare time he took groups on overland expeditions as far afield as Peru.
I went to work for Outward Bound mountain school working with young people using the outdoors to facilitate development and learning before moving into corporate development training working alongside Richard.
Describe your glamping operation and what made you decide to enter the industry
Richard and myself were both working for another company and wanted something different. We both loved camping and outdoor adventures and we spotted a gap in the market for bringing friends and families together through nature.
We knew if we could share our passion for the outdoors and outdoor living with others we could potentially have the makings of something special and new.
When did you open and how did you research the business before entering it?
When Long Valley Yurts started in 2008 we were one of the first glamping companies commercially operating in the country. At that point we had some experience of yurts but certainly not holidays. The UK market didn’t really know what a yurt was let alone why they would stay in one, especially in the Lake District!
There were none of the weird and wonderful choices that there are today. We knew we needed a structure that was unique, spacious and robust enough to stand up to everything the Lake District weather could throw at it! Having worked out of yurts previously we knew this would be the best solution.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
When we started, we quickly learned that the UK weather demanded a more robust product than was currently available. After researching extensively to no avail, we decided to take things in house and have our yurts manufactured specifically for us. They meet our high standards and specifications and are perfect for use in the Lake District in all weathers. They are products that we trust and are immensely proud of.
We currently operate from March to November. Over winter we refurbish and maintain all of our structures, allowing us to keep our product looking tip top and in the best possible condition. This also gives us a break!
Tell us about your locations and sites
Long Valley Yurts currently operates from five stunning locations – four in the Lake District National Park and one in the Peak District National Park. All our locations offer something different for our guests but fundamentally and most importantly they offer the opportunity to unplug from life and reconnect with each other.
Great Langdale was our first location and not only is it in a truly stunning and wild setting in the heart of the Lake District mountains but it also provided us with the name for our company with ‘Great Langdale’ being the Norse for Long Valley! We currently have three yurts here.
Our Low Wray site comprises six yurts and is situated on Lake Windermere. It’s close to Ambleside, Hawkshead and Windermere on what is often referred to as the quiet side of what is England’s largest lake.
Moss Howe Farm is nestled in the limestone foot hills of the southern Lake District. The topography here is very different – beautiful limestone escarpments and very close to the coast. We currently have four yurts at Moss Howe, three of which have their own Scandinavian hot tubs.
Sykeside is our newest Lake District location. We have two yurts set in the jaw dropping Dovedale Valley close to the banks of Brotherswater. A short drive from Ullswater, guests can explore the beautiful Helvellyn range and the eastern mountains.
We broke the mould with Knotlow Farm in the Peak District, our first site outside of the Lakes. The site itself is a hidden gem; a warm, friendly, family-run campsite in the heart of the National Park. Small and peaceful, the site is surrounded by over 100 acres’ of farmland. We have four yurts here, two of them with hot tubs.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We currently work with farmers, landowners and existing campsites, so depending on the location we sometimes don’t require it. We offer joint venture partnerships and work with people to develop their campsite or piece of land into something very special.
We have evolved our product over the years to what you see today. This has been for many reasons and planning has certainly been a factor. For example, our flooring looks very permanent and solid but is actually very transportable. The yurts also lend themselves very well to being mobile – as their original nomadic routes demanded.
Every nut and bolt has been meticulously thought about and managed in order to maintain only the highest standards of safety and quality for our guests and partners.
How did you finance the project?
We wish! Back when we started we didn’t really have any support from banks or grants and diversification wasn’t the buzzword that it is today. We set our first site up in the Langdale Valley with two yurts, a personal loan and a wing and a prayer… By the end of the first year we knew we were on to something very special indeed.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
We didn’t have any previous marketing experience so we learnt everything as we grew, but unfortunately not always the easy way. We went on lots of courses and were selected to take part in a government funded programme about seven years ago called the Growth Accelerator. We were paired with a business specialist who we worked with extensively to build our brand from the ground up. The journey we went on and the brand we have created has formed the backbone of our business and filters every decision we make.
How would you describe your ethos?
Our ethos is to create amazing spaces in amazing places, giving people the ability to disconnect from all the stresses of life and reconnect with each other. We offer “holidays with a breath of fresh air”.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
Our spaces needed to be unique and flexible. We needed to have a space that was authentic, colourful and comfortable. Quality is at the heart of Long Valley Yurts and our interiors reflect that too. We have hand-picked authentic antique furniture, installed cosy log burning stoves, chosen beautiful Moroccan rugs and lanterns, hung twinkling fairy lights… it is definitely a luxurious experience.
What challenges have you faced?
Probably as many as any small business faces, one of which was trying to create a ‘trend’ that no one had heard of. Attempting to drum up support, convincing newspapers to write about a new trend that was going to sweep the UK market off its feet!
Our supply chain was almost non-existent in the early years. We have had to work tirelessly over the last 10 years with all our suppliers to create something environmentally sustainable that we were all proud of. Working with these suppliers we had to invent, create, design and tailor every element of our business to the point it’s at today. New glamping businesses don’t have this problem as most of this is available now online in one form or another.
What are your plans for next season?
We are currently developing some of our existing and new locations to offer weddings. An exciting venture that will provide a totally unique and romantic offer for lots of couples.
We are also designing technology that will revolutionise off-grid spa experiences for the industry and we are hoping to bring this to market next year.
There may be one or two more new sites added next year too as we are constantly looking for new locations and partners.
Describe your average day mid-season
No day is the same! It could involve H&S inspections on site and site partner meetings to designing new equipment for the following year and helping our guests. We are training new staff for the future and investing in new professional roles in the industry. We are constantly evolving the business and trying to drive it forward. We work with manufacturers to test new products and feedback real time information for the industry. So you could say it’s fairly varied!
What do you enjoy about the business?
We love what we have created, and it’s this reason we still love it. We are in charge of our own destiny. We have created an offering that was born in a recession, grew in the rain of the Lake District and convinced the masses to abandon technology and reconnect with each other face to face again. As a business this has made us well over a £million.
What are you most proud of?
Being one of the early pioneers of glamping in the UK and creating an experience that gives over 100 people a night memories that will last a lifetime.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We offer consultancy services for individuals looking to diversify and are working with other locations to develop the Long Valley Yurts family. We are also currently developing our offer to the wedding market.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
The good thing about setting a business up today is that there is a lot of help, information and financial support. Take your time and research your idea – do you need a robust product that will stand the test of time, or do you want to ‘stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’? Research your target market and demographic and create a solid business plan checked by someone who knows what they are talking about (this might not be the banks).
Always buy the best quality things you can afford; it may seem expensive at first but will pay dividends in the future!
Most of all enjoy what you’re doing. It will be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life but worth every minute. Let us know how you get on! We wish you the best of Luck – John and Richard.
Low Wray National Trust Campsite
Ambleside LA22 0JA
Great Langdale National Trust Campsite
Near Ambleside LA22 9JU
Moss Howe Farm Campsite
Grange-Over-Sands LA11 6SA
Hartsop CA11 0NZ
Knotlow Farm Campsite
Buxton SK17 9QP
01539 733 044