In 2013 the concept of ‘The Bells of Hemscott’ hadn’t even been born. I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to run a campsite but couldn’t fathom how to make that a reality, especially as both of us have full time jobs to hold down too. An idea was born from a camping trip up the fields in our own farm (that one was down to luck and sheer lack of organisation in getting away anywhere) and it made me realise the possibilities.
So I filled in my forms and sent them off to one of the large ‘club’ campsites with the hope that they would accept us as a ‘Certificated Site (CS)’ and we could set up without the need for planning permission. A few weeks later a couple of officers from the Club came out to do an assessment and were very positive about our chances, especially when they saw the vast empty beach next to the farm. They left us with a list of what we needed to do, and some information about the Club and its members. And that is when I started feeling like my feet were immersed in ice.
Do’s and Dont’s. I understand in clubs there have to be rules, and don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of our own, but I wanted a site that was a bit different and not all about EHUs, pitch sizes, layouts and membership cards. I wanted the type of camping I read about as a child (I confess that I was a avid Enid Blyton reader as a child and have adult longing for canvas, picnics, campfires and lashings of home made lemonade – only these days a dash of gin in it works well). I also did not like the idea of having to get guests to sign up to become members for £40 before they could stay for a night or two. I understand that these sites work very well for others but it wasn’t really for us, so we thanked them but advised that we could not proceed with our application.
Then I stumbled upon glamping and I was sold. This was the type of camping that I longed for so we took over a field on the farm and in March got to work for our opening in April. To be honest it was all a bit of a rush, but it was important that we were open for the summer of 2014 so that we could ‘trial’ the site. I remember explaining to a friend the terror that was plagueing me of us getting our first booking as that meant we were committed and had to buy all of the kit, and my fear that we wouldn’t get any more bookings and we’d spent our savings on a solitary weekend. Sensibly I thought we would just buy 2 or 3 tents, fill them with bookings and as we filled those keep adding tents until they filled. Simple. Not so. Our very first booking was for 5 tents at the beginning of April. Which in an odd way took the pressure off, we were committed. I needn’t have worried though as a few blog reviews that you can read here, here and here, as well as a mention in The Independent as one of the best exclusive use campsites in the UK saw to it that we were well past our predicted bookings for the season. I had started this blog at the beginning of the season to write about our journey and chart the story, but as life and running a campsite took its toll the blog fell by the wayside.
From April to August was a blur really. We didn’t really have time to reflect on the site as we threw ourselves into running it, whilst working. August was the most difficult month as we were really busy and hit hard twice by storms, one of which blew our showers over and the other took a couple of tents (fortunately the worst happened on a Sunday morning between changeovers so there were no guests on the site). It is incredibly difficult seeing the fruit of your labour suddenly threatened and all you can do is watch and hang on for dear life. But we got through. A few lost bookings and a couple of written off tents could have been far worse.
When we closed the doors we did breathe a massive sigh of relief, but it was tinged with a hint of sadness that it was over for the summer. But we’d done it and if we learned one thing it would be that those doors would definitely be open again the next summer.