The world’s first hamlet of shepherd huts, and the perfect addition to a busy wedding venue
Despite being grade 1 listed, the medieval Samlesbury Hall was granted planning for 28 shepherd huts, among other glamping units, on the site of an old golf course. It is now open for stays from just one night – popular with its wedding guests, holidaymakers and residential business events. We talk to accommodation manager Helena Covill.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
We are a 14th century manor house, open all year with a restaurant, wafflery (yes we make our own waffles!), we give guided tours, have a fantastic children’s play area, a mini farm and a bee centre with live working hives. The most important part of our business is weddings, which bring in vital income to keep all of the above open to the public with free entry!
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
The wedding business is so important to the Hall and we needed to add accommodation to our offer. Part of the grounds used to be a nine hole golf course which had become redundant and we decided to make a use for this, and a quirky hamlet of shepherds huts was the only direction we wanted to go. The first of our huts have been in since 2016, and the remaining huts have been installed throughout the last two years. It is still very new to us but we are excited for the future.
How did you research the business before entering it?
We had a lot of fun going to various glamping sites and trying out lots of different styles of glamping. We also asked the advice of other glamping businesses which we found to be most helpful.
Tell us about your location and site
We are lucky to be just five minutes off the motorway network, making us a perfect stop-off for anyone travelling north or south. We are equidistant between two major northern towns, but this does not deter from the fact we have deer, rabbits, hares and squirrels roaming the grounds!
We leave the grass to grow wild between the huts to create the effect of a meadow with wildflowers peeking through. We also have a huge communal fire pit and seating around for storytelling in the evening. The whole site is festoon lit and makes relaxing very easy.
How did you tackle getting planning?
Planning was always going to be difficult being grade I listed, however our local council (South Ribble) was 100 per cent in approval of our application. We faced local objectors who had fears of us turning it into a ‘Center Parcs’ style site. In order to allay their fears we made sure it was completely secure and edged with beech hedging for all year round privacy and for our own security. We also distanced the huts from their homes and have never had any issues. The site is in the perfect location and we couldn’t be happier.
How did you finance the project?
We were very lucky to receive a 40 per cent grant from LEADER (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) and we then self-financed the other 60 per cent.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We offer a total of 28 shepherds huts, two pods and one round hut. We chose shepherds huts because we are an all year round wedding venue and wanted the accommodation to reflect this. Each hut comes with full central heating and is specially insulated to keep you warm in the winter but cool in the summer. We really wanted to offer glamping at its most luxurious.
We worked with a local joiner in Blackburn to design and build the huts, which are entirely bespoke.
How did you work out your brand and how do you publicise yourself?
Our fabulous shepherds hut logo was agreed after much deliberation and we absolutely adore it. We are very strong on social media and are very much a family friendly brand.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our ethos is to offer the best night’s stay with memory foam mattresses, power showers, fluffy towels and of course loos in each hut! What makes us so unique is that we are the only hamlet of shepherds huts in the world!
How did you choose your interior decoration?
We decided to keep the interior simple yet stylish, with solid European oak double bunk beds and contemporary classic colours, beautiful chrome bathrooms and coat rails, and a quirky little history picture in each hut to bring in some of the heritage from the Hall.
What challenges have you faced?
Because we wanted the huts to be luxury and have loos and showers and heating, we needed to lay all the pipes, wires and drainage for the services. When we had the Beast from the East last year and the extreme freezing temperatures, we had the problem of some of the under parts of the huts freezing underground, which caused huge issues for us. However, not to be deterred we found a solution.
What are your plans for next season?
The Hall is moving forward at a rapid pace. We intend to have glamping festivals taking place in the summer. Together with promoting more business and corporate stays midweek and family stays during the holidays.
Describe your average day mid-season
To be honest, it is rare that two days are the same! We offer a one-night minimum stay, so there are no set days for check-ins or check-outs. Usually, the first thing we do is say goodbye to the guests leaving that morning (after making sure they’ve enjoyed a delicious breakfast in our award winning restaurant!). We will then prepare the huts for those checking in later that afternoon, and go through any feedback coming in from the night prior.
Feedback is so important, helping us to move forward and find solutions to problems or ways to better our business for the future. It’ll then be time to welcome our guests arriving that evening, so we check them in and wish them a very joyful stay with us!
Do you enjoy the business and why?
Yes, because it is so fantastic to see guests and visitors leave with smiles on their faces.
What are you most proud of?
How fantastic the Hamlet looks in the evening, when the sun is setting and the festoon lights are twinkling; it has a real magic sparkle.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have a broad calendar of events taking place throughout the year. Our biggest is an annual dog show during May Bank Holiday, with the majority of entrants and suppliers staying over in the huts. With weddings, all the huts are usually booked out – outdoor weddings are becoming very popular on our tennis lawn with the guests drifting off back to the huts to light their own fire pits and relax.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Research, research, research! Don’t be afraid to ask your competitors.
Scott Cooper (a local joiner based in Blackburn)
Lancashire, PR5 0UP