The Covid19 pandemic and associated lockdowns over the last year threw a massive curve ball on our little glamping business. We were able to re-open our shepherd's hut to guests last Summer for a couple of months then the Autumn lockdowns happened, first in Wales then in England, and we had to cancel all our bookings and re-arrange them. And cancel and re-arrange them again!
The uncertainty around re-opening, when and how, went on for all the Winter months into early Spring. Having opened in 2017, we had built quite a momentum, both in terms of bookings but also in keeping motivated to continue doing what we were doing: welcoming guests to come and sample life on our hillside, to experience for themselves the benefits of living close to nature and with a low environmental impact on the planet at the same time. The momentum was somehow lost last year and it got difficult to remain motivated when we didn't know when and how we would re-open the doors of our shepherd's hut and welcome guests again.
Nevertheless, we did not keep idle and we decided to use the enforced pause to make plans for and add a few things that we see as improvements whilst staying true to our roots and aims for our project. We are not interested in competing with glamping properties with 5-star facilities, en-suites, hot tubs etc. That's not us! In a heavily saturated glamping market, it is easy to feel drowned out by the flashy, high-end sites and feel disillusioned that we are not fully booked up before the season even starts like other places claim to be. In fact, those feelings, when they surface in us, are a useful indication that trying to compete with those other places is making us go off track; they tell us that we are moving away from our core values and that we need to bring ourselves back to our own path. We used the lockdown period to do just that.
We have given the hut a fresh lick of paint inside and changed the worktop coverings in the field kitchen and toilet. Some soft furnishings have also been updated. An old pew has replaced the straw bale seating in the field kitchen and there is added storage space under the worktop there too. Peter has built an extension to the little porch at the Caban to make a full length veranda for guests to sit under. Last but not least, we have created a dedicated area for a firepit / firecooking tripod and we are now providing a wide range of cooking equipment and utensils for guests to use with this. Guests who want to can now cook up a feast over the fire to enhance their outdoor living experience when staying at the hut. We have even added a few pots of homegrown herbs and salads for guests to pick and enjoy with their meals. We can confirm that toasting marshmallows at sunset after enjoying a fire-cooked evening meal is quite magical; we have trialled it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
As always, all these additions have been made with sustainability in mind; there is no green-washing with us and we continue to be proud of our genuine green credentials. Guests booking to stay in our shepherd's hut can be confident that their little holiday has a low environmental impact. We know our shepherd's hut is not everyone's cup of tea; we know that we appeal to a reduced audience because of what we offer. And that being "niche" has a direct bearing on our occupancy rate and we are completely OK with that. We are not seeking to be full all the time or at any cost, to us or the living planet! Last year, we went with an agent to represent our shepherd's hut and handle marketing and bookings. That has not worked for us; maybe it is that we actually are our best agents. So we spruced up our profile and gone back on Airbnb under the heading "Luxury camping for nature lovers". We re-opened on 1 May and already bookings are coming in steadily.
We attract guests who seek the quiet countryside to rest and rejuvenate themselves, who want simplicity and a return to basics to find themselves again and reconnect with what is important in their life. Being genuinely off-grid where nothing comes "on tap" raises awareness about the natural resources we live with and deepens our connection to nature. It is now well documented that being close to nature is also a good way of becoming closer to ourselves, which underpins all physical and emotional well-being. Isn't that what holidays are about? An escape from busy, a break from our work and daily routine, a slowing down but definitely not an escape from our true selves. Quite the opposite! Indeed, a return to basics strips away the complications and distractions of modern life and enables us to connect with ourselves in a refreshed, renewed way that does wonders for our mental and emotional health well-being.
To enable this further this year, we are pleased to say that we are offering a selection of activities that guests can book as extras. We have teamed up with local professionals and enthusiasts and this season we are offering bird watching, Gi Gong/Tai Chi and music sessions. It means that guests can now also come specifically for the activity and stay in our shepherd's hut at the same time. We are excited about these activities and we think they will complement very well guests' experience of staying with us.
When our first guests of the season were here early May, I got to the field to deliver breakfast on the first morning and was greeted by an idyllic scene: it was a fine, sunny start to the day, one guest was sat on the steps of the hut playing a lovely tune on her penny whistle, smoke was coming out of the chimney and a cuckoo was singing. If I had any doubts about why we have the shepherd's hut, they dissipated immediately as the scene was just the perfect confirmation that we have created something that others value. I was moved.
Enthused by a successful start, we now move into the summer holiday season refreshed, ready and hopeful that we can welcome many guests seeking tranquillity and relaxation to our cosy and quirky shepherd's hut in our beautiful location in the Welsh hills.