Diversification: the CLA member finding business balance

We find out how CLA member Ian Griffiths balances different elements of his diverse rural businesses, spanning farming, tourism and the environment, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Celtic Camping - Pembrokeshire

CLA member Ian Griffiths says his mixed-farming background over many generations means it is in his DNA to find the right balance in business. “Horn and corn, they used to call it. I’ve brought things into the 21st century here with a balance of farming, the environment and tourism: combinations of livestock and arable, land and sea, and experiences that engender mental and physical wellbeing.”

“Here” is 400 acres across two farms in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Ian has contract farming agreements with local farmers growing rotations of potatoes, spring malting barley, cauliflowers and leeks, and keeping sheep and cattle. Around 100 acres of land is environmental habitat, with grasses and wildflowers along the coastal fringe, arable field margins and headlands for wild bird feed and cover. Another 50 acres is occupied by Ian’s Celtic Camping business: a camping, bunkhouse, group accommodation and events venue. “Tourism underpins it all,” he says.

Celtic Camping

Celtic Camping sits on Pwll Caerog Farm, near St Davids. The farm, of around 250 acres, was acquired by the National Trust in 1991; in that year, Ian and his late wife Judy, a farmer’s daughter, took on the tenancy, branching out from the farm (with no buildings) at nearby Solva where they had a National Trust tenancy.

From the outset, Ian and Judy were motivated by Pwll Caerog’s tourism potential as a means to help the farm pay its way. “There is a real sense of place and history here, with a Bronze Age hill-fort, beautiful sunrises over the sea at Strumble Head and sunsets over the Wicklow Mountains, and we have access straight onto the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.”

Judy’s income from her job as a primary school teacher (and later headteacher) eased their start. In the summer holidays, while Ian worked the farm, she began to offer farmhouse B&B in three spare rooms (until the arrival of their three children), plus a handful of camping pitches in the garden. The response was immediate.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Ian says. “Visitors were delighted and happy to pay. You didn’t have to haggle for every penny like in the farming industry.”

The business grew to meet demand and a “tipping-point” in 2006 encouraged Ian to contract out farming operations and give his main focus to Celtic Camping. Today, there are 400 beds across eight properties, including dormitory-style bunkhouses in converted farm buildings, plus three small private cabins. The campsite, divided into three main fields, can take around 1,200 people. There are drying rooms, two commercial kitchens, two dining halls, two breakout spaces and environmentally-friendly features such as solar panels, with more planned.

An amphitheatre is overlooked by five standing stones representing the Griffiths family, in memory of Judy who passed away in 2010. “She told me to look after the children and to make the business a success,” Ian says. “That spurred me on.”

Celtic Camping - Pembrokeshire
Celtic Camping helps the enterprise benefit from the rural tourism sector

Unique selling points

Around 50% of Celtic Camping visitors are school and youth groups, including special needs and disadvantaged children. Families, stags and hens, and sports groups are other important markets, while events include music and food festivals, conferences and weddings.

Ian says the unique selling point on which Celtic Camping has thrived is “to offer budget accommodation and quality food to very large groups, bundling together genuine adventure packages with local activity providers including coasteering, surfing, cliff-climbing and kayaking.” A mud run, “created out of muddy bits I always tried to avoid as a farmer”, is another popular highlight.

As well as learning about nature and the outdoors, schoolchildren are encouraged to understand connections between food, farming and the importance of agriculture to the environment.

Celtic Camping’s seasonality (busiest from Easter to October) is complemented by Ian’s Pembrokeshire Logs business (October to March): bought-in wood is seasoned, chopped, kiln-dried and delivered as sustainable firewood. “Running both businesses means I can maintain full-time staff all year round.”

Planning consents

The Griffiths began converting three vernacular stone buildings into bunkhouses from 2001, and Ian praises the National Trust and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority for supporting his vision to convert other farm buildings to enable large-group accommodation.

Armed with local support, he had a candid meeting involving his architect and the then National Park’s chief of planning, where he showed that what he was doing aligned beneficially with National Park criteria. He says: “There was demand for budget accommodation for large school groups that no-one else was providing, I was bringing new business to the area, no neighbours were disturbed, traffic generated was no greater than farming movements would be, the farm had good environmental credentials and I was enabling schools to engage with nature and the outdoors, helping children’s mental and physical wellbeing.”

Planning for additional conversions of redundant buildings to help future-proof the business was granted.

Celtic Camping - Pembrokeshire
Events hosted by the site include music and food festivals, conferences and weddings

Looking ahead

Ian is grateful to have gained permissions and believes the Senedd, National Parks and Visit Wales could complement each other to help farmers diversify into more sustainable businesses.

Tourism has underpinned the farm and our ability to look after the environmental habitat

Ian Griffiths

“Diversifications also help farmers’ children to have a chance to return to family farms and make a living,” he adds.

Ian’s son Morgan and his partner Amy hope to take on Pwll Caerog’s tenancy from the National Trust when Ian steps back in a few years. His daughter Gwen helps out in summer when not working abroad, and his daughter Eleri will hold her wedding reception here in July.

“I could never have done everything at Pwll Caerog without my late wife Judy,” Ian says. “Her legacy continues through education and inspiration as people engage with the countryside in this wonderful location.”

Find out more at celticcamping.co.uk and pembrokeshirelogs.co.uk.