The Forge and The Wild Bushcraft Company come together at a site in Corwen to offer guests a true taste of the good life.
Husband and wife team Sheena and Jamie Corry run two successful and complementary businesses. Jamie, having worked with the Wildlife Trust delivering bushcraft courses and youth conservation schemes, set up on his own as the Wild Bushcraft Company in 2010.
“We were living in Hampshire at the time,” says Sheena. “Jamie was running courses and residentials for youth groups and families. He has since evolved the business to appeal to other types of groups including corporates and hen/stags dos. The Wild Bushcraft Company now offers the UK’s only ‘Stalk to Fork’ course where clients learn all about sustainable deer conservation, how to stalk, kill and butcher a deer, and enjoy a venison feast and luxury glamping accommodation. Other courses include knife making, bow making and wild gourmet evenings. He also offers a fantastic venison spit roast for events.”
With sites in Hampshire, Shropshire and Scotland, Jamie’s business was thriving, but five years ago the couple were about to have their second daughter and wanted to be closer to family. “My parents lived in North Wales so we started to look around for a property with some land, the idea being we could bring the Wild Bushcraft Company with us,” says Sheena. “We ended up buying an ex-petting zoo in Corwen with ramshackle outbuildings, that previously housed bunnies and Guinea pigs, and an Iron Age hill fort! We have renamed it The Forge, which is a loose translation from the Welsh name of the farm (Anvil Field) and also hints at how people can forge their own adventures, new skills and new friendships while they are staying with us.
“Eventually we’d like to convert the outbuildings into self-catering accommodation and to have an event space for weddings and corporate events, but that is a long term plan. To start with we concentrated on adding glamping and applied for planning for five bell tents and a gypsy caravan.
“We never set out to offer glamping – we were more interested in helping people to be outside and learn an alternative way of living. But the glamping market was expanding so we thought there was an opportunity there. The Wild Bushcraft Company has a great USP in that it is the only business out there offering Stalk to Fork and venison spit roasts. Glamping at The Forge benefits from having these activities on site, as well as the fact we are just one hour from England. There aren’t many accommodation options in the area as most sites are further West.
“We studied the reports from VisitWales and some of the operations we admire, like Fforest (Open Air Business, February 2019) which has achieved the sort of vibe we are going for. We also did some competitor analysis when building our website.”
Providing an experience
The Forge has been open for two years and offers much more than an overnight stop for people travelling to and from the nearby Snowdonia National Park. “In bringing the two businesses together we intend to create a whole experience for our guests. First off, they get to experience what it’s like to live on a smallholding. We have a polytunnel and grow a lot of our own food. We also have chickens and host artisan guests including an oil painter and potter, that guests can learn from. Then there are the courses Jamie runs, which fit in really well. Our glamping is entirely off-grid and guests can also get involved in our longer four-day courses, such as knife and bow making that take place on our hill fort using only primitive hand tools.”
The site is also host to a variety of retreats. “In March we have a trail running residential with Tim Higginbottom and Adventure Tours UK. Tim held the Paddy Buckley Round record for 10 years, a 100km fell running challenge in Snowdonia over 47 summits. He is also the current Welsh Orienteering Champion. We host a yoga retreat with Trika Retreats – they rent the whole site and bring their own chefs – and for the first time this year I am organising a women-only Wild Wellness Retreat, which will include a foraged feast, mindfulness, Welsh folklore, some stand-up paddle boarding and the opportunity just to escape from the world for a few days.”
Jamie and Sheena met at St. Andrews University. “When we had finished our studies, Jamie stayed on to manage one of the restaurants there. He is a passionate foodie and taught himself butchery as well as how to elevate wild food to a whole new gourmet level. His experience with venison in particular has put him in demand and he has demoed butchery at the Good Life Experience festival, and been commissioned by Glen Dye Cabins to provide bushcraft and wild food courses there too.”
In charge of marketing, Sheena says there are some interesting challenges in bringing both businesses together. “The retreats are often vegan/vegetarian and obviously some of the Wild Bushcraft courses are, by their nature, very meat focused, so it can be bit of a juggling act. The Forge is more female and family friendly so lends itself to a softer brand identity while the Wild Bushcraft Company attracts more men and couples.”
Sheena still works four days a week as a Diversity and Inclusion consultant at a City law firm. “I am often a couple of days a week in Birmingham, Manchester or London, but I thrive on the balance this brings to my life – I get to appreciate both worlds. I love spending time with the guests when I am at The Forge. I did feel a bit isolated when I was on maternity leave and we weren’t up and running with the business.”
Sheena also says she was concerned that being so remote may put their children at a disadvantage. “But I needn’t have worried! We have such a wonderful cross section of cultures and international visitors, especially in July when people flock to the area for the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. The children all play together and mine get involved changing sheets and taking their new friends off to collect the eggs or explore the hill fort.
“I am very keen to weave my background in diversity and inclusion into what we offer at The Forge. Because the site is very private, people feel safe here. On our opening weekend we welcomed 17 deaf lesbians from inner city Hull, and we have worked closely with a local charity to provide holidays for autistic children. We had particularly rewarding feedback from them with reports of the children sleeping really well and being much calmer. We put this down to being somewhere with no screens, helping them create things with their hands on the bushcraft courses and socialising in a safe, low pressure environment.
The Forge has an off-grid and self-sufficient ethos. “We encourage guests to go plastic free when they are with us and provide everything they might need to store and prepare food. We have recycling bins everywhere and catch all the greywater in barrels underneath the sinks and use it to water the 2,000 trees we have planted. The waste from the composting toilets can also be used on the trees after two years.
“We try to engender a spirit of conscientious living with minimum impact. In our own house we have solar powered hot water and a wood burning stove with a back boiler. We are looking into installing a ground source heat pump and are trying to work out how to get the barns incorporated into the system too once they are renovated.”
Local eco system
On asking about how the two businesses stay ahead of the competition, Sheena says: “It’s like buying a new car – you start driving it around then notice them everywhere! Local activity providers have started offering accommodation with pods etc, which isn’t great for small providers like us. So we started to offer a bit more for free – we have a minimum three night stay for a weekend in the summer holidays, and a minimum four nights mid-week but guests get bushcraft activities thrown in for free. They get a taster in fire lighting, shelter building, axe throwing and a guided walk up to the hill fort. This means they get more value for money, an experience that will stay with them, and we get to know our customers better. We are already looking at a strong level of return business, with people booking in for the next year as they leave.”
The couple also keeps ahead by building partnerships with other businesses. “There are lots of high octane, New Zealand-esque outdoor adventure people in this area. We have done trade deals with them to create packages for guests where everything is laid on. This plays nicely into our desire to get to know people better and for them to treat our site as more than just a place to rest their head. They are more likely to return and it gives us a chance to show them how they might be able to live differently.
“It’s important to tap into this local business eco system; if you support each other you can all grow together. Our local, The Grouse in Carrog, has been awarded Pub of the Year, for example, and by promoting them we are likely to benefit too. We are friendly with a lot of people offering ‘quirky stays’ in the area – we don’t think of them as competitors, it’s more about getting people into the area. In a small Welsh community, you need everyone on side!”
There are trends in tourism that Sheena is keen to capitalise on. “With an aging population and a shift in what people are spending their money on – away from things and towards experiences – we want to create something new. I did a talk at the Glamping Show on this and why sites should be looking at the 50-70 year old age group, which is increasingly more active, as well as the teen market – think A-Level celebrations, the Extinction Rebellion crowd who avoid air travel, and anyone wanting content for their Instagram account. Capture all this and you are future-proofing your business.”
“We were lucky enough to take advantage of the Accelerated Growth Programme set up by the Welsh Government for high potential businesses. We had support from View Creative, a local design agency, who advised on our website and PR. We put in our own money and the local authority gave us a grant to kit out the bell tents. They have been very supportive, and we have received AONB grants for rewilding – they paid for 75 per cent of our tree planting and hedge regeneration projects.
“The Wild Bushcraft Company has been profitable for a long time, but when we merged the two businesses it took a little while to get back up there again. Last year we turned a profit on both businesses.”
With Sheena still working and Jamie continuing to commute to the various Wild Bushcraft Company sites, the couple has now taken on a full time member of staff. “We found him by a complete stroke of luck. He was a friend of a friend that had started helping Jamie on the courses, so it was a natural transition. He works across both businesses.
“Eventually I would like to get to a point where I can decrease my consultancy work to two to three days a week and concentrate more on attracting corporate bookings mid-week. The courses are very popular with business bookers for team building; at the end of the day we are all human and cooking and eating around a campfire on foraged food is a great leveller.”
The future is looking good for both ventures. “We run the glamping from March until the end of October when we get busy with the bushcraft courses – the stag do weekends are nearly all fully booked for 2020 already! I think we will always keep the Wild Bushcraft Company as the go anywhere, do anything, mobile arm of the business, although it will have increasing prominence at The Forge.”
Short term plans include the addition of some more glamping units. “I am on the look out for a railway carriage,” says Sheena, “but long term, we plan to convert the outbuildings into accommodation and add a function space. The whole site could then be rented out as one with the Wild Bushcraft Company activities, and we would employ a full time manager. I can see us providing accommodation for up to 100 people and having 15-20 instructors so we can manage big groups. It is lovely living on site at the moment but when the children are grown up I can see us moving a little way away so the site can be maximised for exclusive use.
“I always think of our business plan like the ‘Three Little Pigs’. “It’s a story of sticks, wood and bricks. We started out with sticks in the bell tents, are moving on to wood by refurbishing the barns and finding our railway carriage, and hope to eventually be onto bricks when we transform the outbuildings!”
As runners up in the regional Rural Business Awards for Best Rural Tourism Business in 2018 (for The Forge) and winners of the Wales and Northern Ireland Best Rural Recreational or Outdoor Pursuits Business in 2019 (for the Wild Bushcraft Company), Jamie and Sheena are rightly proud of their achievements. “The awards are fantastic, but nothing beats our first guest feedback. It was the couple’s first night away from their kids and they wrote such a lovely review. I must have been tired because I just broke down and cried! The feedback from the autism charity is phenomenal too.
“Of course, the awards are the icing on the cake. Jamie says I am too competitive but getting recognition at industry level gives you confidence that you are doing things right. We are on the road to becoming self-sufficient in how we live, with two young children, yet we have kept the show on the road with the launch of a new brand and business. Neither of us rest on our laurels but I am pretty proud of what we have achieved so far.”
The Forge / The Wild Bushcraft Company