A single yurt offers peace and quiet under an ancient Scots Pine tree
Donald and Fenella Corr have lived in the foothills of the Cairngorm mountains for over 35 years, although Donald’s family history can be traced back to the area from the mid-18th century. We talk to Fenella about their secluded hillside glampsite and the ‘fun’ they had with the local planning authority
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Donald has lived in this area for most of his life. He had a small woodcarving business in our local village, Tomintoul, before changing direction into building and restoring stone walls.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
About 15 years ago Donald fell heir to this piece of land, which has been in the family for over 80 years now. It troubled him that he couldn’t think of a use for the ground, which is part woodland, part rough grassland, and not suitable for much, especially as it lies at about 1,100 feet up in the hills.
Many years ago Donald’s father erected a wooden hut, on the hillside behind the old barn that is now our house, as overspill accommodation for family holidays. One day, about five years ago, a visiting friend, standing at the door of the hut and looking out at the fabulous view, remarked casually that people would love to come and stay here. The idea of offering glamping accommodation was born in that moment and, after many trials and tribulations, the Old Pine Yurt was declared open in mid-July 2014.
Tell us about your location and site
We’re located on a hillside, on the northern fringe of the Cairngorm mountains, and within the Cairngorms National Park. The yurt is situated beneath the spreading branches of an ancient Scots Pine tree, hence the name. Although not far from our house, the yurt occupies a sheltered position amidst young trees, so it is almost completely screened from view. It’s this privacy and seclusion that so many people appreciate, along with the fact that we have only the one yurt, so they don’t have to share the site with strangers. As for challenges, the biggest one is probably the number of times we have to run up and down the hill between the yurt and our house on changeover days!
How did you research the business before entering it?
The first step was to start looking at other glamping sites online, particularly those local to us, to see what occupancy rates were like in this part of the world, and whether there seemed to be a demand for glamping facilities in this area. Having ascertained that there was, we then had to decide what form of accommodation we were going to offer. Plans to base the business in the hut were quickly blown out of the water.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Initial plans to base our glamping business in the hut were abandoned after discussions with the local council; they wanted insulation, they wanted double glazing and a ramp – the list went on, and compliance with all their requirements would have cost a fortune, which we didn’t have. Eventually, we decided that a more viable option would be to erect a tipi instead. The council asked for plans; Donald sent them a sketch of a triangle!
After further consideration, we decided that a yurt, although more expensive to buy, would be more durable, more comfortable, and roomier, so Donald wrote to the council to inform them of the change of direction. The council again asked for plans; Donald sent them a sketch of a Victoria sponge. We have heard that Donald’s drawings are still pinned to the wall in the planning department office!
Following further lengthy discussions over water and sanitation, the council eventually passed our plans, although they had to go out for public consultation first. The whole planning process took the best part of a very long year.
Describe how you researched and sourced your glamping units
Having decided on a yurt, we were very lucky and found what we were looking for almost straight away, on eBay of all places! ‘Bob the Yurt’ and Ali couldn’t have been more helpful, and gave us so much useful advice; they even drove all the way from Wales to the north of Scotland to deliver and erect our new purchase. They also installed a little woodburner, which they had made themselves. We still keep in touch.
How do you publicise yourself?
We looked around for someone who would help launch us onto the glamping market, and found Alistair Sawday’s ‘Canopy & Stars’, an agency dedicated to glamping, particularly of the ‘eco’ kind. After a rigorous inspection, they passed us and added the Old Pine Yurt to their glamping collection. We started to receive bookings almost immediately, and have been with them ever since. They promote us from time to time in their campaigns, and VisitScotland recently recommended us as one of the ‘best places in Scotland to get away from it all’.
Other than that, we have found that our happy guests have kindly recommended us to others; word of mouth is a very powerful tool. We have a presence on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), but haven’t so far taken any paid advertising; we’ll research the best way to do that when we retire from the day jobs.
How would you describe your ‘style’ or unique selling point?
Apart from the fact that the Old Pine Yurt sleeps only two people and is our only unit, meaning that exclusive use of the site is guaranteed, our USP is undoubtedly the fact that the original hut is part of the accommodation. As well as housing the kitchen, toilet, and shower facilities, it offers a warm and welcoming living space with a woodburning stove, armchairs and a settee, a dining area, writing room, and a wide selection of books and games. It also has basic Wi-Fi and a socket for charging phones and laptops, for those who really can’t live without technology!
How did you choose your interior decoration?
We didn’t really – it chose itself. We didn’t try to be authentic with the yurt (it was made in Wales, after all!) but just chose comfortable furnishings, using surplus bits and pieces, recycling where we could. Somewhere along the way, although we’re not quite sure how it happened, a red theme developed – our old wooden trunk was once a dowdy yellow, but is now a stunning pillar-box red – but that’s balanced out by cosy fleece throws and blankets in more natural colours.
What challenges have you faced?
If we’re honest, having overcome the initial planning hurdles, we have had little in the way of challenges. Hope we’re not speaking too soon!
What are your plans for next season?
Other than to maintain our already high standards, we have no particular plans for next season; we really do strive for perfection though, and every so often one of us will have a brainwave about something we can add, or improve upon. We get very excited when that happens!
Describe your average day mid-season
Although we’re always contactable if required, we try to ensure that our guests enjoy a private and peaceful holiday, so our only duty when the yurt is occupied is to refresh the cold storage facility daily with fresh ice-blocks.
Changeover days, however, are full on; glassware, cutlery, crockery, pots and pans, all are cleaned and buffed, towels and linen changed, kitchen and bathroom cleaned thoroughly, floors vacuumed or mopped, chimneys swept, fires set and firewood barrowed in, bread baked, welcome basket arranged – the list is endless!
Why do you enjoy the business?
We really do enjoy what we do, and we’ve met so many lovely people through our little business, from all over the world. There’s no doubt that it’s hard work, but our reward is seeing guests depart relaxed and happy after a chilled out break away from the stresses of their everyday lives. That’s a good feeling.What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
It’s hard to generalise, as no two glamping set-ups are the same; some make use of existing facilities, while others are purpose-built luxury units. Budget is a consideration – everything ends up costing more than you originally planned for! If you want to cater for a particular market, perhaps couples, or families, or groups, tailor your offering accordingly.
Be prepared for hard work; glamping is seen as a short-stay holiday, usually of two or three nights’ duration, so there will be frequent changeovers and much laundry! Most importantly, set a standard and stick to it religiously; be the best you can be.
‘Bob the Yurt’ – somewhere in mid Wales! 07813 682418
Linen and towels from Mitre, throws from Dunelm
Canopy & Stars – www.canopyandstars.co.uk
Naturesave – www.naturesave.co.uk
Walkers Shortbread (biscuits), Angus Dundee Distillers (Tomintoul malt whisky), Alba Chocolate (Fairtrade chocolates)
The Barn, Fodderletter, Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, AB37 9HL