A Celebration of Thirty Years at Croft Farm & Celtic Cottages
To celebrate our 30 year anniversary of Croft Farm & Celtic Cottages we thought it would be fun to give you a peek into some of the defining moments of the last three decades, based on an interview we recently did.
What led to you coming to West Wales and starting out in the holiday accommodation business 30 years ago?
Briefly our career paths led us both from farming homes to London where we met – on a blind date at Earls Court tube station! Andy was in hospitality and Sylvie in fashion. As newlyweds we took some time out to get involved in the voluntary fields of war ravaged Uganda. This cemented our belief that we wanted to provide a place where people could find space to take time out and relax enjoying time together.
Once back in the UK we knew we wanted to live in a coastal area and run a guesthouse, but where? We made many short trips and started looking in beautiful West Wales for a suitable property to convert to a guesthouse. We had never intended to run holiday cottages but the outbuildings were part of this package. We arrived at Croft Farm with a small lorry load of stuff in August 1988.
How have the cottages at Croft changed over the years?
When we ‘landed’ the stone and slate barns surrounding the retired farmyard were mostly in their original barn state. The Hayloft and Cartwheel were the only completed (basic) conversions and the Stable was an incomplete shell. We’ve had our fun and games with Pembrokeshire planning over the years but we now have 9 on-site letting properties.
And the guesthouse? We set about converting the house into a guesthouse with 4 en- suite bedrooms and opened for dinner, B & B at Easter 1989. Over the following years as our babies arrived the guesthouse reduced in size and is now self catering.
Tell us about the farm animals – how has that side of the business changed and developed, and which animals have been the larger-than-life characters?
We arrived owning no animals but Andy bought 40 point of lay pullets within days. Our only mode of transport was a new car, so 40 chickens were put in the car! They sat on (and pooped over) the seats. We don’t recommend that smell as a car scent!
Since then we’ve had all sorts of farm animals: calves, sheep, lambs, pigs, piglets, goats, kids, donkeys, ducks, pheasants, chickens, peacocks and small animals. The calves were kept in what is now Talar Aur, and sheep were lambed in the Big Play Barn! Although sadly they are no longer with us, a pair of our biggest characters has to be Billy and Dave the Anglo Nubian goats we raised from kids, who we all found very entertaining.
What was your vision for Croft when you started out, and what is your vision for the coming years?
When we first arrived one of our neighbours (cheerfully) said “I give you 6 months” So to be honest our first intention was to survive and try to prove him wrong!
We survived 6 months and 30 years later we are still here…
We’ve always aimed to create a haven where families, couples, and individuals can come, to take time out and spend time together. We see very pressurised families playing football, swimming, sharing BBQ’s together and we know they are making special memories that will be treasured in the future. We aim to take the stress out of holidays for people. We have a strong family theme and we know that happy children make happy parents.
Our vision: to continue as long as we can! We hope to continue re-investing into the cottages themselves and also in environmentally friendly projects.
What was the funniest moment you’ve experienced being in business?
Funniest or most embarrassing? The latter was definitely soon after we had arrived and before our guesthouse was renovated and trading. The business bank manager from away came to stay with his wife and family. Andy had pre-arranged with the bank manager to bring a tea tray to their room in the morning. He knocked and opened the bedroom door on the invitation from within, only to see the bank manager’s wife in her undies, whilst her husband was still asleep!!
Needless to say we moved operations to our local branch!
What is one thing that very few people know about Croft?
When we opened the guesthouse we applied for a liquor licence. The licence certificate was hand delivered by a policeman. Sylvie answered the doorbell a little surprised to see a policeman standing on the doorstep. He immediately asked her if either of her parents were in to receive the licence!?
Where is your favourite local spot to visit that you’d like to share, and what is it that makes it special?
This is a tricky one. Pembrokeshire is a very special place. Poppit Sands and the local coastal path have to feature very highly on our list of favourites. As our family were growing up we made a point of going to Poppit every Sunday afternoon whatever the season. Sylvie has carried each button-nosed baby strapped to her front in a baby carrier on windswept walks in the winter, whilst toddlers and children kicked footballs, threw rugby balls, chased after our disobedient dogs and ate ice creams. All part of the fun.
The ancient Celtic Christian sites are special too. We particularly love Nevern where we’ve spent many years of Sundays at the church; there’s a 13th Century Celtic cross in the Churchyard and an extremely old pilgrims cross carved into the rock believed to be by the monks on their pilgrimage to St Davids.
Have you had many ‘regulars’ over the years?
A lot of our guests come as repeat visitors, which is always lovely for us to see. Our 2 longest running families were here at the same time recently. They hadn’t met before which surprised us. Together they’ve been coming for a combined 32 years with no breaks, but they’ve definitely made more than a combined 32 visits in that time.
”I think I’ve bought the place by now” one of the family members commented with a wink and a smile!
What are you most thankful for in relation to the business?
That’s easy – that people want to come to stay and that we’re still trading.
(That’s 2 things, but they were both too important to not include!)
If there was one thing you’d love Croft to be known for – what would it be?
That we’re definitely not corporate.
We’d love Croft Farm to be known as one of those places where people make happy holiday memories that they treasure; they may even always remember their holidays on this Pembrokeshire farm. We’re now seeing a trickle of the next generation of guests (who first came here as children) come for holidays with their parents, which is absolutely wonderful.
We would like to dedicate this blog and the rest of our years at Croft to Jack, our youngest, who loved everything about Croft Farm: He loved his home, his family, the friends he made who came to stay and the fun he had playing with them. Tragically we lost Jack when he was 10 years old after a brave and totally inspiring 2 1/2 yr fight against an aggressive childhood cancer. We will always raise money for charities supporting families in Wales who are affected by childhood cancer.
As September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month please put a donation, however small, in a children’s hospital collection pot wherever you are, or online at Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens.