Standing among the fells, overlooking the idyllic Ullswater, The Quiet Site is located in what is arguably one of the Lake District’s most prime positions. Here, in the early evening after a scorching June day, families have returned from exploring the majestic surroundings. Parents with beers in hand are setting up barbecues, while children play outside the tents and huts.
Owner Daniel Holder gives me a tour of the site he bought from his mother 14 years ago. “It’s not like work at all,” he tells me. Our chat is punctuated by small talk with his guests. “I love the variety. I enjoy the relationship with staff members. I enjoy the buzz.” Holder is even enthusiastic about about his site’s water recycling system and solar panels.
Since Holder took over from his mother, the campsite has expanded from 60 to 100 pitches, and features profitable glamping options, such as bell tents, pods and hobbit holes. The hobbit holes are the most expensive choice. They have space for two adults and four children and include a heater, lights, plugs, USB charging sockets, a small toilet and basin. Tent pitches start at £16 per night, while the hobbit holes are £95. There are also two cottages on site.
“We jumped into glamping at an early stage,” says Holder. “We wanted to make the focus about more than just having a nice bar.” To create a more stable income, Holder extended the campsites opening period from eight months a year to all year round. “That made a huge difference to us. It made things more predictable, and you can retain good staff.” Holder says the site takes in over £1m each year.
Attracting less seasoned tent dwellers, camping – boosted by glamping options – is enjoying a revival. More than 17m camping and caravanning trips were taken by UK adults in 2016, according to Mintel. This is expected to rise to 17.9 million this year.
Brexit, which led to a fall in value of the pound, has influenced the rise in camping trips. “Brexit has boosted the staycation, with booking growth for domestic holidays rising from 34% to 46%,” says Dan Yates, founder of online campsite and holiday parking website Pitchup. “Our sector is certainly benefiting from Brexit – more than other sectors of the tourism industry – as we appeal to savvy, budget-conscious travellers who are always looking for ways to make their holiday spend go further.”
Tim and Eva Johnson were living in Brighton before they decided to take over Blackberry Wood in Sussex and become one of the nearly 5,000 campsites and caravan sites in Britain – as of April 2016, there were an estimated 4,738 campsites in the country, according to VisitEngland (for England) and lovecamping.co.uk (for Wales and Scotland). “We were ready to start a family, but also wanted to work for ourselves and do something together so that we could be around our kids as they were growing up,” says Eva Johnson. “We already had an old caravan on the site so we knew the place well and loved spending time there. So when there was an opportunity to purchase the site, we jumped at the idea. It’s such a wonderful place to bring up children.”
However, a life dedicated to camping hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Johnsons. “The first few years we could not make a living from the site but were relying on other income as well. Now we make enough to employ a couple to help us out and to draw a salary, but most of the profit gets ploughed back into the business.” Campsite owners can generally earn anything from £3,000 a year for a basic campsite to millions of pounds if it features a large number of pitches and glamping options.
Over the years campsite owners have diversified to boost their earning potential. “Campsites have to work to increase the cost per stay for each booking on their site,” says Rob Ganley, senior communications manager at The Camping and Caravanning Club. “Easy ways to do this are to develop more hard standing [where a material, such as recycled plastic mesh, is fitted on a pitch to make it suitable for parking a caravan or motorhome] and full-service pitches, and of course provide more glamping and self-catering options on larger campsites.” Recent, more novel, services seen on campsites include pizza delivery, beauty treatments, “adopt a hen” and bushcraft skills, says Yates.
However, for the owners, it’s not as easy as dropping off some pizzas. “As we have been learning on the job, we have constantly had to think on the spot and we still, after almost 14 years, encounter something new pretty much every week,” says Eva Johnson. “The biggest challenge has probably been balancing home life with work, especially when our children [the couple have three] were very young … We live on site and run the reception from our kitchen most of the time, so it can be pretty invasive and you never really have time off unless you physically remove yourself from the site.”
With 30 pitches of varying shapes and sizes all laid out in a crook shape around a communal playing field, the appeal of Batcombe Vale campsite in Somerset is also its greatest challenge, says co-owner Andrew Curtis. “It is quite remote, meaning our only mains supply is electricity. Our water is drawn from our own private borehole, which creates its own challenges and we use LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] boilers to heat the water for the campsite.” The other major issue is the size of people’s tents, he adds. “They have grown exponentially while our pitches have stayed the same.”
For those toying with the idea of launching a campsite, Ganley advises planning ahead before building hard standings, drinking-water facilities or waste-disposal points. When assessing a plot of land for use as a campsite first consider how easy it is to access, if it has a good approach route, and whether it has at least half an acre of fairly level ground.
As for the future, there’s no resting for Holder, who admits he’s not so keen on holidays himself. Expansion is always on his mind, whether by acquiring other sites or travelling abroad to seek inspiration for luxury facilities he could bring to the Lakes. That’s when he’s not walking around the campsite, torch in hand, checking on the noise situation.
Sign up to become a member of the Guardian Small Business Network here for more advice, insight and best practice direct to your inbox.