2014-07-14  

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Diversifying from Cows to Wigwams

What began twenty years ago with two small, bothy-style wooden tents in a hill-farm field outside Crianlarich in Strathfillan has grown into a business welcoming over 22,000 guests a year.

The site on Auchtertyre Farm, part of a hill farming research centre run by Scotland’s Rural College, now holds 23 wigwams, five lodges and two separate toilet/shower blocks.

Strathfillan Wigwams

Strathfillan Wigwams

“We were known as SAC or Scottish Agricultural College back then,” says SRUC Hill Farming Research Director Professor Davy McCracken. “Those two units were an experiment in diversification. But when in the late 90s we were faced with having to stop producing beef from the suckler herd we needed to find income to at least match what had previously been made from the cows. So we decided to make more of the wigwams and in 2000 added 10 more using a Farm Business Development Scheme grant.”

The first two, basic and un-serviced bothy style wooden tents were installed end of 1993 and welcomed their first customers over Easter 1994. They were next door to a camping field and a portaloo. Two years later electricity was installed with an access road provided. By 1997 there were four plugged-in wigwams on offer.

For Rena Baillie, Manager of Strathfillan Wigwams, things have changed over time too.

“When we started arrivals and bookings were dealt with at my cottage back door. Then we had a tiny caravan and, since 2002, can use the purpose built reception and shop where we sell bacon rolls and other items needed by hungry campers and walkers.”

The West Highland Way has played an important role in the development of facilities at Auchtertyre. On typical busy days there can be up to two hundred walkers and the through-traffic keeps the shop busy. They serve thousands every year, including charity events like the annual Caledonian Challenge which finishes on SRUC’s Kirkton/Auchtertyre research farms.

While walkers often use the wigwam accommodation or the camping field many long distance travellers are just as grateful for the coffee, bacon rolls and access to toilets, according to Rena.

“We now have 23 wigwams, five larger “lodges” and even a Yurt, together with separate toilet and shower blocks, both linked to communal cooking and lounge facilities. The people that keep coming back tend to be families seeking a camping experience in more climate friendly facilities, or groups wanting an informal, economical holiday in a rural location. The kids like to watch the work with sheep on the research farm and we try and provide as much information as we can.”

The Strathfillan Wigwams were one of the founding members of the Wigwam Holiday network, often made up of farmers who have diversified. There are now 62 locations in the UK and Ireland.

In twenty years the only time the wigwams have been closed was during the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak. While the demands made by holiday makers will change, Professor McCracken believes there will always be a demand for a countryside experiences offering something out of the ordinary.

“The wigwams are a great example of on-farm diversification and highlight how well things can grow from a relatively small starting point. The business is seen a great asset for SRUC and we are keen for it to continue to go from strength to strength. I look forward to the celebrating the 30th anniversary in 10 years' time!”

SRUC

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