It’s funny when customers arrive at Hadrians wall campsite and are immediately thrown by our Welsh accents! Sometimes when we have Welsh visitors the language changes into Welsh which is even more bizarre! When I go home to Wales now people say I have lost my accent and am definitely from Northumberland! Home is where your heart is and our hearts are in Northumberland on Hadrian’s Wall!
Tracy and I met in 2006 and we got married a year later in 2007. Tracy was living in Cardiff when we met and I lived in Pontardawe, near Swansea. It was on our second date that Tracy told me that she had applied for a job in Newcastle Upon Tyne and a month later she had been offered the job and our connection with the North East, with Northumberland and with Hadrian’s Wall began!
We had both separately always been outdoor people and had always enjoyed camping and glamping breaks away. When we met, I had a 1972 VW camper and we did a lot of touring around. To begin with Tracy lived in Northumberland and me in Swansea with Easyjet bringing us together at weekends. I would pick Tracy up from Bristol airport in the campervan and we would spend our weekend together camping in the South West somewhere.
Tracy used to be a speech and language therapist and had a long career specialising in adult voice work, firstly at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and then subsequently at the Freeman hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. My own “proper job” was as an estate manager/ project manager which ended up with me working as Estate Director at the University of Cumbria. So back in 2008 we both had proper jobs and we were living in the Roman town of Corbridge, Northumberland. We spent a lot of time back then exploring what Northumberland had to offer and most weekends we were walking Hadrian’s Wall, we especially loved the area around Sycamore gap.
In 2009 we decided to buy a plot of land and design and build our own eco house. We found a rare plot advertised very near Hadrian’s Wall and just outside the National Park in Humshaugh, Northumberland. (Humshaugh has a great pub called the Crown and is near Chester’s Roman fort).
I am a carpenter and Joiner by training originally and obtained my degree and professional qualifications as an adult and so designing and building our house in Northumberland was a career high for me, bringing together my practical and project management skills along with a personal interest in sustainable building methods – quite tricky to build something that looks very traditional in a conservation area but performs way better than building regulations requirements.
The Old Joinery, our wonderful house, also brought Tracy and I together working as a team. We didn’t always agree on things, especially in relation to house layout, design and colours but we got there in the end and it was a fantastic experience. We worked on the site every weekend and in every bit of annual leave for 2 years. In the summer, I would set a 5am alarm and work for 2 hours in the morning before driving to work and then another 3 hours at night – so getting 5 hours of work done alongside my day job – neither of us are afraid of graft!
6 years ago, in 2016 we were getting itchy feet, neither of us were really enjoying our jobs and just feeling like we were on this treadmill to retirement some point in the distant future. Not an unusual situation I guess but its brave, or maybe stupid, to turn your back on a successful career, a high salary and pension and do something completely different. After a lot of soul searching and looking at businesses for sale, we sold our house and bought a pub! On the principle that we both loved pubs, we loved to cook, we knew about real ale and good wine and loved chatting and making new friends = naive!
The Nag’s Head is in North Pembrokeshire and is a large Inn with a dining capacity of 70 with a traditional bar and 3 letting bedrooms. At the time we bought it the place was in a very poor state indeed and needed investment but we had a vision and saw its potential. We immediately built a new kitchen and employed an excellent kitchen team and we quickly developed a reputation with customers travelling some distance to enjoy our food, drink and hospitality. We were living in an awful flat upstairs and for the first year we had to shower in the guest bedrooms between guest stays – if they were all full for a couple of days we didn’t shower! We refurbished the restaurant and developed outside eating areas.
The romantic (foolish even) notion of running a pub is interesting. The Nag’s Head is a very successful and profitable business but we worked so hard for 3 years that it just about finished us off! 6am alarm to cook room guests’ breakfast then working all day (inside) before asking the last local to leave at 11pm so that you can eat some supper and go to bed – 7 days a week. The new owners have taken the business further forward but are able to stand back now and employ more staff. We have no regrets and in many ways the monster we created has helped us in managing Hadrian’s Wall campsite in the best way possible.
We sold the Nags Head really quickly at the end of 2018, it was an amazing feeling of freedom and we put our furniture into storage, bought a campervan and set off around Europe in the spring of 2019. We spent four months in our great little campervan visiting France, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
During our time away we were thinking about what to do next, returning to our former careers perhaps or another business and we began searching for suitable jobs and suitable businesses. Hadrian’s Wall campsite showed itself and we first came to look at it in the Spring of 2019.
It was quite an interesting time, driving around the most beautiful countries and sampling the very best campsites while trying to apply for a mortgage and negotiate the purchase of Hadrians Wall campsite from Sardinia! Like most business purchases it wasn’t straightforward but with the help of Santander we completed the sale and got the keys of the campsite at the end of October 2019.
It was quite surreal driving onto the campsite in our hire vans full of furniture in the dark having driven 350 miles from west Wales – a new chapter had begun!!