Escape to the Pembrokeshire Countryside & Some Major Property Renovations

Sam and Dave had spent 30 years developing a career and raising two wonderful daughters and had reached a point of opportunity to develop a lifestyle and business that would fulfil ambitions to be close to the coast, work and play in the great outdoors and provide our nearest and dearest a place to recharge and have fun with us. We wanted a small farm with holiday cottages, a turnkey business that we could adapt and develop.

The Capel Colman Cottages & Glanpwlldu Farm Development Story

Firstly, Dave took the step in 2012 to work for himself starting a consultancy business in the print and paper sector, we then sold our Oxfordshire family home and moved into a rental property in the nearby town of Banbury. These two significant steps allowed us to get on with the search and planning to make our adventure a reality.

Having fallen hook line and sinker for West Wales as our location of choice, we immersed ourselves and discovered the delights of Cardigan Bay & Pembrokeshire with all their natural beauty, tranquillity, and warm welcoming residents the property search started in 2013.

After a long, sometimes extremely frustrating, but mostly enjoyable search we had concluded we could not find an established business that met our criteria and we decided to also consider a development. This decision opened lots of potential and we found Ferm Glanpwlldu (Farm by the banks of the black pool). The well-used saying “it is all about location, location, location” was certainly true, heading down the farm track revealed the Preseli Hills, specifically Frenni Fawr & Fach and a valley that hadn’t changed much in 100s of years, we could see mountains, woodlands, and open fields, we could hear the wildlife but couldn’t see or hear any roads, just a few farms dotted on the landscape. Having already consulted the O.S map we knew there was an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways accessed directly from the farm, high on our must-have list so guests could bring horses and dogs on holiday and wouldn’t need to get in the car to have access to great walks and rides. At the end of the track, surrounded by its own 50 acres of land, nestled on the south-facing valley side was the farmstead, a substantial collection of post-war prefabricated farm buildings hiding some rather nice Victorian stone buildings that once would have been the milking parlour, winter cattle housing and grain store, all un-used for decades and entirely neglected. Working farms by the very nature are messy places, unfortunately, this one had also lacked recent investment and certainly TLC and on inspecting the Farm House the scale of the challenge started to hit home and the questions of what could we do, do we have the skills, stamina, resilience to do it, can we afford to do it, these questions brought us back down to earth, however…

We had already decided based on the wow factor location that this was the right one and the work to answer the key questions began as we left.

A Vision and Plan

A magical place in an area full of interest that would compel both our family and friends as well as paying holiday guests to come and stay.

To create a viable business from the marriage of farming and tourism. To achieve this the land would be managed as a productive part of the food chain in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable way. The tourism offer would be a special stand out place, with super comfortable, fully equipped holiday cottages providing a place to relax, have fun and really value holiday time, culminating in a high level of referral and repeat guests who would fully appreciate the quality and content.

 

With Dave having spent 30 years behind steering wheels and desks in senior commercial roles his best relevant experience was business planning, team development, and project management. Whilst Sam had focussed on our two daughters and finance, the later was going to be key to a successful outcome.

Having a team of people with the right skill sets and knowledge was essential, and we started this with the help and support of a surveyor and land agent to sense check that Glanpwlldu did tick all the right boxes and provide headline costings for the development of three cottages, house renovation and land management guidance. Namely Lloyd from Owen & Owen and 7 years later he remains a key part of the team managing the land tenancy and providing all good round guidance.

Having sorted pre-planning application advice from the local authority that confirmed in principle our ideas would be in line with current planning policies combined with a strong business & financial plan we went for it and had our first offer accepted; the excitement was immense. Unfortunately, it took 8 months, three attempts with two different owners for us to secure the keys and we finally arrived at the end of August 2015 as the new and enormously proud owners of a 50acre farm.

One of our early projects guiding principles was to support local, certainly the UK, and buy as much as possible from the immediate area, the level achieved has and continues to be one of our proudest achievements. First things first, we needed detailed plans and designs and we appointed a local firm of architects who promptly provided designs that were submitted to the local authority, along with our ecology survey and wildlife enhancement plans for bird and bat facilities.

Whilst waiting we put some time and effort into land improvements with new fencing gates and reseeding fields ready to let the farmland to a local dairy farmer for growing winter cattle feed. Carwyn James of Ferm Clos continues to this day to utilise the land in his production, processing and selling milk locally through his family’s retail outlets. Achieving our goal of continuing to be a part of the sustainable food chain whilst minimising our environmental footprint.

With planning permission granted in April 2016, the next two strands of work could start, site clearance and tendering to local firms for the building contract to convert the Victorian barns into holiday cottages.

Another guiding principle was to re-use, repurpose and recycle. In practice, this meant all the concrete floors and blocks were re-used to create road foundations and landscaping levels, the main agricultural barn was dismantled and rebuilt on a local farm and all the metal recycled, we did not send one skip to landfill.

The focus was very much on developing the business elements, and future income, whilst viewing living in the farmhouse as a novel experience. The 1947 Rayburn in the kitchen was still very much the core of the hot water & heating, we did draw the line at not having a shower and spent some money on upgrading the family bathroom, but everything else would have to wait.
Our eldest Daughter and future Son in Law dropped a bombshell, albeit the best compliment we could wish for and asked if they could get Married at the Farm during the summer of 2017 – of course, you can but that’s just 12 months away!

We appointed Kury’s Construction and with the layout of the grounds complete with roads laid work to convert the buildings began in October 2016, stripping the buildings back to the bones leaving just the external walls.

The build-back soon got underway and by Christmas, the buildings were mostly watertight, and the internal works began. The highly insulated floors, walls and ceilings meant the cottages would have extremely low heat loss and combined with the Air source Heat Pump for renewable energy and underfloor heating they would not only have a minimal environmental impact but would be wonderfully comfortable for our all-year-round guests. The builders pulled out all the stops and with upwards of twenty workers on-site early in 2017, we signed off the first cottage in April the Dairy and started the painting and furnishing. Oh, and we took on the external wall pointing, well Sam did as Dave fell off a horse and broke his shoulder.

We signed off the remaining two cottages in May with huge thanks to Huw, Nigel and the Kurys team who had done a superb job completing the works to an extremely high standard and ahead of schedule. The final push to complete the internal furnishings and the cottage gardens completed in time for volunteers to road test during June.

The big question is, did we come in on budget? Yes – from planning & surveys, groundworks, site clearance, the main building contract and decorating and furnishings we came in at just 2.5% above budget – phew!

We had made it and the Wedding took place in July 2017

We are running at leading industry occupancy levels, with many bookings coming from returning guests, lots of referrals and superb customer satisfaction levels. Exceeding customer expectations is another guiding principle and testimony to our success is the incredibly high level of positive guest feedback, perfectly captured in this recent example from Mike and family from Swansea who stayed in June 2022:

“What a fantastic place, really enjoyed our week, great place, great hosts, and very well equipped.

Would go back tomorrow…. Fantastic for wildlife watching. Dave & Sam are so accommodating, really cannot do enough for you. I cannot recommend this place enough, out of 5 stars…. I would have to give it a 7-star rating… absolutely brilliant.”

From this to this!

Works to the farmhouse, our home, finally got underway with the ground floor stripped and completely modernised and renovated, including a new extension, the gardens have gone from wasteland to looking lush and even producing much of our own fruit and vegetables from the Polly tunnel. Just the upstairs to finish over winter 2022/3 but this is just decorating so nothing overly exciting, so what next?