DREAM big and aim high. It’s a phrase we often hear and is a philosophy that’s taken one of the region’s newest diversification ventures to new heights – literally.
The Farnworth family’s eco-friendly and ingenious approach to providing family holidays in Powys has taken upmarket glamping to a whole new level.
By the Wye offers a holiday with a difference with luxury safari tents nestling high in the treetops of a reclaimed woodland on the banks of the famous river.
Each tent is perched on a platform which floats above the woodland floor, the supports disappearing into sustainable ground screws that can be moved at will, leaving no damage.
They all come with luxury beds, sumptuous sofas, hot running water, flushing loos and hampers laden with top quality local produce.
Located on the Offa’s Dyke path, the secluded campsite is just a 10-minute walk away from bustling Hay-on-Wye, famous for its internationally acclaimed literature festival.
Today, this award-winning new business – Wales Tourism & Leisure Start-up of the Year 2021 – ticks a lot of boxes not just for holiday makers seeking a rural getaway, but for the far-sighted Welsh family who bought the adjacent woodland and extra acreage to turn their smallholding into what is now firmly established as a top Welsh holiday destination.
Dad Steve is the design visionary who project-manages the site and all building works, mum Dawn has a background in business and manages all the finances.
Tree surgeon son Dan manages the woodland and is the creative genius behind the green children’s play area.
He also runs family bushcraft sessions and is the meet and greet man, welcoming guests with a wheelbarrow to transport their luggage down an 800-yard path.
Dan’s wife Edith swapped a life of fighting crime as a police officer to become the family’s marketing and social media guru.
“We’ve each carved out our own role, but the reality is that we all muck in and help with everything,” said Edith, who credits Farming Connect with enabling the family to get the marketing mix just right.
“Farming Connect gave me and my family the confidence, skills and new networks to help us create our ambitious new tourism enterprise, taking us from zero to a staggering £ 150,000 of turnover in our first year of operating.”
Together, the family have transformed what was once an ancient, overgrown broadleaf woods on the banks of the Wye into one of Wales’ most unusual environmentally green tourism enterprises.
They acknowledge that Farming Connect and its Agrisgôp personal development program helped them get the business off to a flying start when they first opened for bookings in the spring of 2020 – hardly an ideal time for a new venture to start up.
While Steve, Dawn and Dan were project managing the siteworks back in 2019, Edith – then mum to two small children (a third addition arrived in March) – spent every spare minute researching organizations that could offer support and guidance for the family’s first major diversification project.
“My first real breakthrough was joining an all-women Agrisgôp group, which was focused on ensuring we learned how to promote and market farm tourism enterprises in-house,” said Edith.
“We were all determined to retain every penny of income from our respective ventures and keep outgoings to the absolute minimum.”
Because of Covid, the group only met once physically, and then after remotely, but local farmer Gareth Davies introduced them to farm tourism, diversification and social media experts, who Edith credits with giving her the skills to promote their business.
“Once we were introduced to specialists who had considerable experience of online marketing, we soon overcame our initial reticence to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on a business rather than merely a personal basis and immediately realized how valuable these channels can be,” added Edith .
Farming Connect development officer Gwen Price then signposted the family to a range of events, surgeries and training courses and also persuaded them to utilise Storfa Sgiliau, Farming Connect’s online data storage tool, which helped identify what training would benefit most.
Dan, who also undertook a number of Farming Connect technical training courses, has created a natural children’s play area made entirely from the fallen or decaying trees.
There are optional activities for visitors, including lessons on the importance of the eco-system through bug hotels and wormeries, bird and butterfly spotting excursions and Steve’s popular foraging for supper walks, where he advises on howe to search for edible treats, including wild funghi , garlic and nettles, and the tiny wild strawberries that grow prolifically on the woodland floor.
“We wanted to ensure our guests can truly immerse themselves in every aspect of rural life and all that this area has to offer walkers, cyclists, canoeists and horse-riders without the distractions of television or WiFi,” Edith said.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.