At this time of year, nestled deep within the Wye Valley, Herefordshire, you'll find four vintage caravans, Elsie, Gertie, Monty + Sybil, floating amongst glorious clouds of cow parsley! These delightfully named vintage vans have been lovingly restored by owners Jo + Sacha and are enjoying a new lease of life in their sixth season as boutique glamping accommodation.
The eco friendly glampsite is the perfect place for family adventures, romantic getaways and party gatherings. It is totally off grid so you can relax, have a digital detox and sit back and enjoy the stunning sunset views to the Black Mountains.
Sacha + Jo came up with the idea in 2012 and opened the van doors to their first guests in July 2013. They started with 3 vans and over the years have added Sybil + Monty and put Darcy into semi-retirement in the Orchard. She is only used as overflow accommodation for whole site bookings these days.
It is such a quirky place, I asked Jo + Sacha how they came up with the idea for Mad Dogs + Vintage Vans and the name!
"Back in 2012 Sacha had bought Elsie and was busy renovating her. We knew each other from the school gate and shared a love of all things vintage and upcycled. She asked me to come and have a look at Elsie. I absolutely loved what Sacha was doing and before you knew it we were investigating the idea of opening a glampsite in the meadow at the bottom of the garden to take advantage of the fabulous views west to the Black Mountains. Research showed us there was nothing like Mad Dogs out there – most glampsites consisted of bell tents, yurts or tipis. That summer (July 2012) we embarked on a recce trip to Cornwall. We were 3 Mums and 11 children aged 1-9. Pity the other young couples sharing the glampsite with us! We wanted to experience glamping in rain and sun – and we got our fair share of both. It taught us the importance of soakaways and what you need when the weather’s against you. Mad Dogs opened up the following year. Our name is a play on Mad Dogs & Englishmen and like a lot of good ideas came to me when I was in the hairdressers! It couldn’t be more apt as we’re dog lovers and all our vans are 100% British."
Following on the theme of cool names, the ladies name each van themselves. "Naming each van was as important and as big a decision as naming our kids! They are all chosen to match the era of the van. Elsie is named after one of Sacha’s daughters Elodie, Gertie is from the 30s, Monty is a good military name (we actually chose his name in conjunction with our social media followers via a Facebook competition) and Sybil is another ‘period’ name.
They date from the 1930s (Gertie) though to the 1970s. Sybil was handmade by a carpenter dad in the 40s for his family whilst Monty is a World War II design, built in the 1970s – one of the last of its type."
Each van has been lovingly restored and decorated by Sacha + Jo, who are magpies for all things vintage, retro and pretty. Scouring vintage fairs, car boot sales, French flea markets, auctions etc. for the vintage pieces in each van. "Monty had to be stripped right back, insulation added, new bow ceiling, bunks built and the deck extension added. He had a hedonistic past enjoying life on the rave scene and travellers’ circuit. Gertie, the oldest of our vans, dating from the 30s, needed a large dose of TLC and repairs round the window areas but considering her age, was in pretty good nick. We love choosing the fabrics for the curtains and deciding on the colourways for the vans."
I specialise in shooting for beautiful + quirky businesses like yours, and from a brand photography point of view, it's important to know how you want people to feel when they come across your brand and when they come to stay.
"We hope people will connect with our vintage/retro vibe and aesthetic and we want them to have a super comfy, relaxing and enjoyable stay with us. We want them to slow down, switch off their iPhones and gadgets, re-engage with nature and the Great Outdoors and savour the simple things – like building a campfire, toasting marshmallows, hearing an owl hoot and enjoying a glass of something cold whilst watching the sun set over the Black Mountains. And lastly we want them to fall in love with the Wye Valley. Sacha was born and bred in the Wye Valley and is a great champion of everything it has to offer."
Having the joy of running your own business in common, I am always fascinated to know what people love the most about their jobs. As if you've got it right, running your own business doesn't feel like a "job" anyway! I asked Jo what she loves the most.
"So many things but nothing beats a happy glamper. Not to be taken the wrong way but when a child leaves in tears we know we have done our job properly and created memories that will last for a long time. Watching people unwind and watching kids make friends and run free. We have lots of returning guests and this year I was particularly touched when a 4year old regular arrived clutching 3 cuddly soft toys, all named after our dogs. And beautiful Spring days and summer evenings are pretty hard to beat. May is our favourite month – the glampsite looks so pretty with the cow parsley."
Serendipity so often plays a part in people setting up their businesses. "I think there’s always an element of right time, right place and chance... we were 2 mums with kids in the same year who discovered we had lots in common. Sacha had given up a career in the veterinary world and I had said goodbye to a job in broadcasting after 18 years. Sacha had 4 girls, I had 3 and we were both keen to find something that could work around and compliment family life. We both shared a love of all things vintage and retro. And we both had different skills and backgrounds to bring to the business. Sacha was born and bred in the Wye Valley whilst I had moved down from London with a young family in 2009. Sacha knew the vintage caravan world and which vans were worth purchasing from an investment business point of view. I had good media contacts which would help with publicity in our early years."
With a long season from Easter to the end of October, the girls welcome all sorts of guests. Couples of all ages, vintage enthusiasts and during the holidays lots of families. It is possible to hire the whole site so they also welcome lot's of hen parties wanting a vintage or festival style weekend, and people celebrating big round number birthdays – 30ths, 40ths, 50ths.
Sacha and Jo have thought of everything, from delicious home cooked food (‘Van Service’) with veggies sourced from the garden, one pot meals, hangover brunches and handpacked picnics set up on a secluded bank of the Wye to holistic pampering treatments in their lotus bell tent. "We call this service ‘Glamp n Pamp’ and feel it is the icing on the glamping cake – what could be better than a deeply relaxing hot stone massage after a day canoeing down the River Wye?"
You can visit this beautiful haven of relaxation and adventure by hopping over to the website and booking online.