On visiting East Thorne, near Kilkhampton, I didn’t realise I’d be meeting an ex rugby union pro, who only retired from the game in 2011. Adam Black played as prop forward for teams like Sale Sharks, Newport Gwent Dragons and Worcester Warriors before hanging up his boots and taking up tourism as an equally challenging career.
In total contrast, his wife Naomi, meanwhile, met me with a gorgeous cute Andrex Labrador puppy in tow, plus a warm smile and a slight Welsh lilt, so a very welcoming start.
In case you didn’t know, East Thorne is a small site of luxury yurts, with additional cottages based near Tamar Lakes at Kilkhampton. The idea came from Naomi’s and Adam’s honeymoon in Canada where they went on a luxury rainforest glamping retreat, and which inspired them to do something similar here. Adam is very outdoorsy and Naomi has a strong family business background, so their skills complement each other. Naomi met Adam when working as a performance analyst in coaching at Newport, so a move to relatively sleepy Kilkhampton was quite a change, but Adam decided to quit while he was ahead and before sustaining any long term injuries, common in the tough sport of rugby. It was a massive life change.
Seeking a property here, they looked for around 12 months, at various farms/campsites. Farms had planning issues but they eventually hit upon East Thorne, previously used as a campsite for tents and motorhomes; plus it had some cottages. The site was ‘under-used’ and pretty low key. It required a lot of love – and hard work – but it was ideal for what they wanted to achieve which was an eco-friendly, sustainable and family-friendly holiday experience.
Naomi and their daughter moved down to Cornwall and made a start, while Adam was working out his rugby career in Worcester, so the early months were tough. They bought the place in May 2011 and opened in August 2011, a phenomenal achievement, though they missed the main season.
The site involved a great deal of work with much clearing to do, so Naomi and Adam enlisted the help of friends, family and even local farmers. They did incredibly well to get straight so quickly. The shower block was ripped out and replaced and the site opened with 5 yurts, though with planning for 10. They currently have 9 yurts, plus 4 two – bedroomed cottages, each including a double and twin room. The site is obviously handy for Tamar Lakes, Kilkhampton, and Sandymouth, and they work co-operatively with local businesses to offer their visitors food deals, surfing, and activities.
Naomi also buys cakes from Ali Beech at Made with Love, and is a keen fan of Vicky Barnes for massage therapy. On her list of future dreams is a market garden, so given the rate at which Naomi and Adam seem to work, I’d say ‘watch this space’. As the site is over 3 acres, then there is scope for that particular dream to come true. The site is also south facing so is in the sun all day, idyllic on days like this.
The yurts attract many first-time glampers, or those who like the idea of camping without the hassle, because they have proper beds (bliss) and heat. Each yurt has an electric fridge, kitchen area, slate floors, solid oak tops and a wood burning stove.
Lots of young professionals come from London and they also have some upmarket hen parties, but mainly the clientele is families with young children, especially during school holidays. It is very much a camping experience. Groups of families get together and enjoy a form of communal living, yet with privacy, because the site feels very much like a small village community. For anyone who has stayed at a small continental campsite, you will immediately know the safe, secure feeling of a site where children can play, there are no cars (after unloading) and you can see your children while allowing them a great deal of freedom to explore and meet other children. For teenagers, the outdoor activities of the area are an added bonus, and there is also wi-fi! Oh, and a pool table in the games room.
The animals are an added hands-on attraction for younger children: the dogs, chickens, ducks, quails, tortoises, and sheep are all cute and cuddly and children can help at feeding time. Dogs are allowed in 2 of the cottages (plus they are trialling a doggy dedicated yurt).
The couple enjoy the interactive nature of the yurts, which makes it a friendly place, and provides them with an onsite social life, too, for they love meeting people who stay there. In the evenings, Adam lights the huge camp fire, and people can mingle around it to socialise; he also does the log run for the wood burners in the mornings. For couples, tucked away yurts for more seclusion are possible, whereas families tend to like to be in the thick of it all. Whichever option, the vibe is good and welcoming. And fun.
When they moved in 2011, Naomi also discovered she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Their son was born in December that year, so 2011 was a huge year for the family: different jobs, new home, massive learning curve.
Despite the atrocious weather endured last year, the site was full during the summer of 2012, and is looking busy (though not yet full) for this summer, so there is still time to book. Naomi and Adam do all the changeovers with the help of two local helpers, and they use an eco-friendly laundry service. They also have a trading table, so if people leave produce behind, others can benefit from it.
But Naomi is the first to admit the running a holiday site is far from easy. It is 24/7 commitment, although, like me, she did admit to the occasional need to get to the city! She and Adam moved here for a better quality of life for their children and themselves, but the reality is slightly different. Yes, the quality is there – who couldn’t love living here? – but Naomi is often doing paperwork in the office until midnight once the children are in bed. So, it is a rural idyll but pretty hard work, too, to make a success of it, rather like any business.
Their own house was under-loved and needed a lot of work doing, so that is an ongoing project. Additionally, the holiday cottages had not been touched for 30 years and had almost zero occupancy, so they were all gutted and re-done along with the shower block. The grounds also require lots of maintenance, so it uses up lots of time – and money.
So, what is the attraction of ‘glamping’? Well, Naomi thinks it is part of a move back towards a more natural existence. People want nostalgia, more simple experiences, holidays like they had as children. And Bude is an ideal place for that as Naomi says: “Bude is somehow magical”.
Fairly well soundproofed, the yurts, made of lambswool, wood and rawhide from Mongolia, with British waterproof covers, provide something rather different. They come down at the end of October and are packed away in storage until April but they have a nostalgic feel, with wood burners and camp fires. There is plenty of space for children to run and play so they can be independent yet safe. The location is good, near to beaches (Sandymouth the nearest) and there is a real community/chatty feel, including . The animals are there for children to discover and there is also a games room with a pool tabs dvds, board games and futons, etc. The couple also organise events such as Easter egg hunts, storytelling, quizzes and Halloween events. The cottages remain a useful part of the business though. Not everyone is ready for a yurt, and sometimes extended families come on holiday with older members preferring the additional privacy and facilities of a cottage. They are also available all year round.
Visitors receive a Glamper Hamper, too with local produce as part of the sustainability of supporting local businesses.
Good luck to Naomi and Adam. Running holiday accommodation in never easy and times have been difficult with recession and poor weather, but the couple got into ‘glamping’ at the right time, it seems and provide a unique near-Bude experience which is about as close to European camping as it gets! (with added luxury). See the photos for a better idea…..
Prices are very reasonable, so if you know someone wanting a holiday down here do recommend them:
Yurts: April to October
Weekends ranges from £220 – £360 for 3 nights
Midweek ranges from £220 – £270
In summer, a full week ranges from £395 – £660 for up to 4 adults or 2 adults and 4 children.
There is still availability for the summer.
Cottages: open all year
£649 for 7 nights in summer but around £200 in February