Glamping in geodesic domes on the hillside of a working farm in North Yorkshire.
From one world of hospitality to another, Roddy Hamilton and his wife Jane have created a Quality in Tourism 5* Gold rated glampsite in less than one season. We talk to Roddy about why his high street bank got it wrong and how maximising on a view with the right structures makes great business sense.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
Following a lifetime working within a premium brand global environment (FMCG Hospitality) I purchased Thrussendale Farm, on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds, in 2015. Having been involved with farming, in one way or another, throughout my life I then established a premier league pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd breeding bulls for the commercial beef and dairy sectors.
What made you decide to start offering glamping accommodation?
As a small grassland farm, we needed to diversify the business to ensure sustainability in the long term, and particularly post-Brexit. Having considered renewables, briefly, and then been awarded a contract to grow high welfare pork for Waitrose, we decided instead to look at tourism as a means of bringing new visitors, and their money, to our gorgeous part of North Yorkshire in order to boost the local economy.
How did you research the business before entering it?
Recognising that our spectacular views offered visitors something very, very special we wanted to push the boundaries of glamping as far as we could.
Instead of shepherds huts and wooden pods, which seem to be everywhere, we looked at geodesic domes and quickly realised that these could offer our guests all the luxuries of home with a massive window to the world beyond. We looked at five possible sources for our domes before deciding to purchase.
Tell us about your location and site
Thrussendale Farm is surrounded by some of the most beautiful North Yorkshire scenery. The site we identified on the farm had always been my personal favourite, where a sense of wellbeing seemed to pervade. It is an exposed hillside facing South and West with views for over 60 miles across the Vale of York. Of course it had no power, water, sewerage options, access road or Wi-Fi coverage but the view was the principal factor in our decision to base our new business where we did.
How did you tackle getting planning?
We approached our local planning authority who were incredibly helpful throughout, understanding the need for small farms to diversify, and following requests for numerous reports (ecological, visual impact etc.) we were finally granted permission to proceed approximately 14 weeks later.
The NFU supported our application as did one local family and we had no objections to our application.
How did you finance the project?
We self-financed much of the cost but did also approach a wonderful peer-to-peer organisation called Folk2Folk that bridged the gap between what we had and what we needed. Regrettably our high street bank, while supportive of the concept, was not in a position to lend us anything due to the projection led forecasts we offered. They have since admitted that they got it wrong and have been impressed by the way in which the business has evolved.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We offer four guest geodesic domes ,each large enough to accommodate up to two adults and two children (up to 12 years old). With individual views and layouts largely similar, we also built a fifth, larger dome to act as a guest reception and restaurant for breakfast and dinner. This dome is fully licensed so guests can enjoy a locally distilled G&T, beer, glass of wine etc.
How did you work out your brand?
As a private hillside on the farm our brand The Private Hill seemed a logical one. We use social media and a number of booking platforms to promote the business globally.
How would you describe your ethos and unique selling point?
Our key is the guest experience. To try and exceed expectations at every moment and to provide unquestionable luxury for those that might otherwise not be keen on spending time on an exposed hillside, albeit with one of the best views imaginable! Truly en-suite facilities, full electrical power, excellent water pressure, loads of hot water and a sumptuously comfortable super-king size bed with Egyptian cotton bedding.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
My wife Jane and I designed the layout and chose the furnishings to maximise comfort and ‘wow’ factor.
What are your plans for next season?
To continue to build our brand and reputation within a busy marketplace.
Describe your average day mid-season
We only opened on 1 June 2019 so each season brings with it more learning and improvements to what we offer. After a three-week testing period we welcomed our first guests at the end of June 2019 and saw occupancy levels through July and August at around the 85-90 per cent level.
Following guest breakfasts, and when they have departed for the day to explore the many local attractions, we then check domes as required and open our café to local walkers and cyclists so that they too can enjoy the views. We have a minimum two-night stay policy which gives us the opportunity to really get to know our guests who may want a farm tour to meet the pet sheep or even to walk the alpacas on the farm.
Check out is at 1100hrs with check in from 1500hrs, during which we offer a welcome drink, freshly home baked cake and an opportunity to learn the history of the farm and the facilities we offer. In the evening guests have the option of dining in or visiting one of our excellent local pubs and restaurants.
Do you enjoy the business and why?
I absolutely love it, and the opportunity to meet a wonderfully diverse and very special group of people – our guests!
What are you most proud of?
Achieving an officially recognised 5* Gold rating and a Unique Accommodation Accolade from Quality in Tourism. I’m equally incredibly proud of our guest reviews which are a true testament to the massive commitment of our small team. We all love what we do.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have chosen not to offer weddings but do make The Private Hill available for charity fund raising events, automotive meetings, corporate ‘away day’ meetings and family gatherings when the whole place is taken very privately by a group of family members and friends.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Decide on your business offering and positioning then stick to it. Aim high, keep focussed and pay particular attention to the smallest detail. Running a premium glamping business certainly isn’t for everyone but ensuring, at every opportunity, that guest expectations are exceeded by a generous margin should always be the number one priority, whatever level the business is at.
The Private Hill
Malton YO17 9RG