The owner of Motcombe’s Black Pig Retreats says she is ‘very excited’ at being nominated for two awards. Alfred’s Keri Jones visited Carolyn Bourchier to see how the glamping business has creatively embraced sustainability measures.
Carolyn’s family-run accommodation enterprise is still relatively new. “This is the end of our third season,” Carolyn said. Anyone who maintains the high satisfaction evident by online reviews of the Black Pig Retreats must be customer focused.
Carolyn’s people skills were honed with her former hospitality role. “I was an air stewardess with British Airways, hundreds of years ago,” laughs Carolyn. That glamorous lifestyle is a world away from walking around a 36-acre site, wearing wellies.
Carolyn hadn’t intended to start a glamping business. When her family relocated from Fordingbridge, they had not envisaged such a major undertaking. “All of us agreed we did not want a project,” laughed Carolyn. “Look at us now! And we’ve built our own house.”
Black Pig Retreats occupies land that housed a riding school with thirty horses, but Carolyn wasn’t seeking a ready-made business to buy. “I have my own horses but I treat them in a different way to traditional riding schools. I started by developing my own way of teaching people about horses, rather than expecting horses to allow us to ride them without their permission,” said Carolyn.
She had expected to run a horse-related business until she visited a trade show in Birmingham. “They were talking to farmers about diversifying into horses. I said my situation was the other way around,” said Carolyn, who praises the advisor she met. The pair discussed Carolyn’s objectives and the advisor helped her realise the opportunity glamping offered. “We started with who we are, what the family wants, where we’re headed and what we want to do with our land and home life. We ended up deciding that glamping was the way to go but with my idea of having retreats. I wanted yoga, pilates, tai chi and horse retreats as well.”
Before her ‘light bulb moment’ in the Midlands, Carolyn had been against glamping. “The first thing I said was, ‘We’re not doing glamping’. The thought of people wearing stilettos and white shoes coming here and expecting luxury wasn’t my idea of fun,” she said. Carolyn still dislikes the ‘g’ word and uses the term ‘luxury camping’.
I arrived just after 10am and Carolyn was in full flow, moving between the eco-lodges on her electric golf buggy, collecting linen from the overnight guests. I joined her rounds, chatting as we stopped between each unit to pick up bedding.
Her family are closely connected with this project. “My eldest son is a pilot and he’s flying with Tui out of Bristol. He lives next door. My son, his girlfriend and the children live here. My sister lives on site and my daughter lives with us. Working with family has issues but we’ve worked that out. We have our own jobs within the business, so we don’t tread on each other’s toes.”
The buggy whirred with the satisfying sound of an old milk float as we descended the grassy hill, embedded with matting to prevent buggies becoming grounded. Wet weather could turn the Motcombe clay into a quagmire. At the bottom of the incline we reached what I thought was a shepherd’s hut. Carolyn stopped to show me the ‘chuck wagon’.
“My husband built this,” she beamed. We walked up the steps and Carolyn opened the door to reveal a gas cooker and fridge. It’s a cooking space. “And on the other side there is a bathroom.” Carolyn gesticulated to a screen tucked away in the bushes behind. “If you are hardy, there is an outdoor shower,” she said.
We walked between the trees that provided some privacy and looked around the corner to see Carolyn’s pride and joy. The straw bothy stood proud at the end of the next field. What appeared to be a wooden structure with a slightly sloping roof stood next to an expanse of decking. At its front door, words painted on slate informed visitors to leave wellies outside. Carolyn checked my shoes. Unlike nightclubs, I could venture inside wearing trainers.
The room was larger than I had expected, containing a double bed on the left-hand side of an exotic, Moroccan-styled wooden room divider. On the right was a Bohemian lounge space, filled with chairs and sofas covered with vibrantly coloured throws. The rich scent of the woodburning stove was wonderful. “The warmth is wonderful in here in the winter and it is as cool as a cucumber in the summer. It’s that wood burner that makes it cosy,” she said.
I turned around and faced the bothy’s front door. It was then I could see how this eco building was constructed. Framed in glass, like a picture, was a square recess cut into the ochre-coloured wall. It revealed straw.
“These are straw bales,” said Carolyn, patting the wall. “It is covered in clay that we dug out from our ground to put the foundations in.” Carolyn said that straw has natural insulating properties. A company called ‘Huff and Puff’ created the structure – their clever name made me smile.
“This was a lambing shed built out of straw. It is clad with timber on the outside to stop any prevailing weather from hitting the straw. There is also clay on the outside under the cladding. It’s well reinforced. I don’t think that any wolf could ‘huff and puff’ this building down,” laughed Carolyn.
We left the bothy and Carolyn led me towards a line of trees 50ft away, where a horsebox was parked under an awning and surrounded by wooden decking. The trailer was decorated with colourful images of African elephants and lizards. Carolyn opened the door to reveal no horse. “A luxurious toilet and shower,” Carolyn said. “It’s on the mains water and has hot water from Calor gas. It’s the only thing that’s not eco, which is a shame, but we have to make allowances. We have a special system which cleans wastewater and puts it back in the brook.”
We stood and listened to the calming sound of the babbling waters. I could hear why the stream, which flows down to Motcombe, enchanted Carolyn. She told me that it was one of the reasons she fell in love with the property. “This would’ve been the main water source for the village. There is a holding tank underground built from red brick. It is a cistern. It’s beautiful. I want to put a lilo and some candles in there and float,” she smiled.
Carolyn is full of enthusiasm for the wildlife that she spots around the watercourse. “We’ve got camera traps up and we are taking pictures all the time. We’ve seen foxes and badgers. We did see a mink, which is amazing because I didn’t think mink came along riverbanks where there’s no fish.” We joked that when word gets out, visitors would soon come to view the ‘Motcombe mink’.
The family passively observes and actively encourages wildlife and biodiversity. “The brook goes down onto Frog Lane and there is a copse. Maintaining that for wildlife has been a real privilege. My husband has got a beehive, so we are learning all about bees, pollen and growing the right flowers. What we want to do is put in a veggie patch and a flower garden for the bees and insects. The little bit of wasteland by the brook will be changed in two years. It’ll take a year to get rid of what is there. The following year it’ll be in flower and looking lovely,” said Carolyn.
We jumped back inside the buggy and headed up a track running alongside the Motcombe to Shaftesbury lane. Carolyn hopped out to open a gate and, to the left, I could see the pen that housed the star attractions. “Beauty!” Carolyn shouted a greeting to one of the pigs as we trudged across the field bordering their enclosure. “She was our first pig, given to me by my son. He has a country park near Keynsham with racing pigs. She was in the petting corner and was really well-handled. When she got to a certain size, Dougie said, ‘It looks like it is sausages for her’. I said that he couldn’t! So he put her in the back of my car,” Carolyn explained.
Most mums would not be impressed if their son gave them a pig, “I was,” said Carolyn. “I brought her back and found a boyfriend for her but that didn’t work, so I bought another little pig who has now grown quite big,” Beauty is slightly smaller. Both pigs appeared pleased to see Carolyn. She was clutching a food bucket and that, possibly, had a lot to do with the warmth of the welcome.
It’s easy to see how the tranquil Dorset countryside setting enraptures people who stay at Black Pig Retreats. Carolyn loves hosting entire families because there is so much for the different generations to experience. “One of my favourites is when they book all three tents and use the bothy as a big dining hall, so they can all eat together. We can sleep sixteen,” she said.
Carolyn and her family live and breathe Black Pig Retreats. Now, her dedication has been recognised with nominations for two Dorset business award categories, the BV Dairy ‘Investing in Dorset’ award and the ‘Dorset Environmental’ award.
“I never dreamt I would apply for an award. I can’t tell you how exciting this has been to have somebody say, ‘Write down what you do for the environment’ or ‘Write down what products you use from other Dorset businesses’. I was blown away by how much we do,” said Carolyn, who is passionate about working with locals.
A Dorchester blacksmith made her fire pits. Shaftesbury’s JD Kitchens and Joinery crafted the bespoke kitchens. “We’ve almost done it unknowingly. We’re all Dorset-based and like to promote Dorset, so entering this award has done us good.” She can’t wait until the awards ceremony and dinner on 28th November.
Seeing what Carolyn and her family have achieved in under four years, it seems that the Black Pig Retreats’ magic will continue to attract awards and visitors to our part of North Dorset for years to come. And she’s right. The term ‘glamping’ just doesn’t do this business justice.