After nearly 50 years in the hands of one family (The Masons who still live next door) we bought the campsite in 2007. We were crazy about camping and thought it might be fun to own a campsite! Little did we know how much work would be involved!
On our opening weekend we received the gift of seriously heavy snowfall – not quite what we were expecting Easter weekend and it certainly felt like a baptism of fire. Over the past decade we learnt how to deal with every type of weather from snow to torrential rain to soaring temperatures and droughts. Every day brings something different here at Masons.
As a house warming present a friend who breeds chickens gave us ten chicks. We did not even have a chicken pen to put them in. It took us a while to get used to having chickens and it was not long before we realised the cockerels and campers do not live in harmony. The chickens are now an integral part of Masons and we wouldn’t be without them but we no longer have a noisy cockerel as part of the team.
The previous owners did not live at Masons. Since the office was to become our home and kitchen, we made some big changes straight away such as removing cars from the Court Yard and creating an office space outside of the house.
The first major change was upgrading the facilities. During this period, we learnt a lot about operating a business in the heart of the National Park. It took a long time for us to get planning to upgrade the facilities but once we did, we doubled the size of the amenities, put in a disabled toilet and shower, baby changing facilities all with under floor heating to keep our campers feet warm on the colder camping days.
In the early days we spent a lot of time unblocking drains from the facilities to the sceptic tank with a drain rod! Yuk! This led us to putting in completely new drainage from the facilities. At the same time, we also laid over 500 metres of new drainage under the Main Field to help keep the pitches from getting water logged during heavy downfalls of rain (a relatively common occurrence in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales!).
The beautiful dry stone walling around and throughout the campsite has been lovingly restored by Vince who is a talented local dry stone waller. It has taken him 5 years in total to restore all of the walls and the walling is a constantly on-going process to maintain them. In addition to us wanting to restore the walls from an aesthetic point of view we also wanted to make sure that they are as safe as possible for climbing children.
We also have put three new water points into the Main Field to enable easier access.
When we first bought Masons there was no shop on site. A man with a van came up from Burnsall village stores and our campers could pre-order papers, bacon and sausages and milk. We noticed that campers regularly left behind essential items and thought it would be useful to start stocking basic camping provisions. We advertised these on the back of the toilet doors! When the village store closed down there became an ever-greater need for campers to have a small shop on site and when the office moved into the Airstream (more of that to follow) we started to create a small shop.
Two local villagers decided to start the Appletree Van which became a weekend resident on site in the Court Yard serving delicious Fat Boys, fresh coffee and cake each Saturday and Sunday morning. After two years on site Rachel went on to open the River Bank in Burnsall and we decided it was time to open the Coffee and Bread Shed. Inspired by our own camping adventures in Europe we decided to sell Fresh bread and croissants and barista style coffee. We felt that sausages and bacon frying on the BBQ is very much part of camping and we started to sell our favourite sausages and bacon from Jackson’s of Cracoe in the shop.
Our own love of camping led us to offer a rent-a-tent. Back in those days the term ‘glamping’ did not exist. Rent-a-tent was great for campers but hard work. Each time a camper wanted to rent a tent we had to fully erect and equip the tent for them and then take it back down on departure.
We decided to invest in some canvas style yurts, and this happened around the time that Grant started a management buy-out of a tent manufacturing company in Bradford – BCT. Bradford Cover and Tents has been operating from Bradford for over 100 years and specialises in making canvas tents including all scout tents.
All of the tents are made by hand by the seamstresses in the Bradford factory. Luckily for us this meant that Grant could start making our glamping units. He also has the biggest washing machine on the planet and after the yurts and safaris are taken down at the end of each season Grant is able to wash them at BCT. Our glamping has increased in popularity each year and we now are almost fully booked through the summer months. One of the nice things about Masons is that we accept family groups and because our camping, glamping and caravanning is all located together families can come together and stay in a variety of units without being too far from one another.
When we bought Masons the downstairs in the house was the office and check-in area and upstairs was a holiday let. We quickly moved the office out of the kitchen so that campers could no longer wander into our bedroom in the middle of the night (this happened a lot in the early years!) But we did keep the holiday rental which remained for the next nine years and was often popular with families who were camping on site. Two years ago, our own family grew, and we welcomed Francis into the Masons crew. In order for Francis to have a bedroom we had to wave good-bye to the holiday let and turn the whole of Ainhams into our family home.
We also used to have two camper vans for our campers to hire both on-site and off-site. We bought them at an auction as shells and turned them into his and hers! Grant designed the grey one and I (Georgie) designed the sparkling orange camper. These were extremely popular with our campers and also came in handy for our annual trips to Glastonbury and Wilderness festivals. Again, when Francis arrived, we decided it was to time to make some changes and sell the campers on. We were very pleased when one of our campers bought the grey one – we know it is in good hands!
Where did our passion for Airstreams come from?! In reality, it came from practicality. We needed an office and could not afford to build one. In addition, building an office in the National Park could take years to get planning (if ever!). Over in the States Airstream trailers are a ten a penny and we worked out that we could buy a shell, get it shipped over and renovated for a fraction of the price of building an office so that’s exactly what we did. Getting the Airstream to Masons from the ferry port was quite a challenge and we had to use a famous stock car racing driver who had the skills required to deliver the Airstream via the extremely narrow Yorkshire dales roads and on to the site.
Our original Airstream is now classed by the Yorkshire Dales as a famous landmark and our passion for the Airstream brand has gone from strength to strength.
As a family we have a modern touring air stream which we take all over Europe and sometimes this can be seen on site. One of our campers placed his Airstream on the site for a number of years which was available to hire for our campers and recently purchased a 1980’s Squarestream.
Our original 1960’s Airstream served us well as an office and shop but after nearly 10 years in service and over 20,000 customers passing through its doors, it is in serious need of some restoration. We decided that the office would be better served by a 1980s Square Stream which again, we shipped in from the states. The square shape of the new office makes it much more practical to house a shop and office furniture and the two doors means that customers and staff can enter and exit the Squarestream via separate doors. Our Old Airstream is about to be restored and we have yet to decide what it’s next chapter will entail but it will be back on-site next season.