Meet the people behind our parks
Did you know that all our adult only touring parks are independently owned? In fact, most are small, family run businesses. Tranquil Parks helps these small businesses to do marketing and promotions on a national scale.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Tranquil Parks. So we thought you might like to meet some of the people behind our parks (if you haven’t already met them) and find out how they came to be running these stunning sites. We’re starting our series with a look at the parks that are currently represented on our Board, or are founding members.
The people behind our parks have very different stories to tell. But what they do have in common is determination and a passion for great customer service, as well as a desire to provide first class facilities. They also care deeply about the environment and want to ensure peaceful and relaxing holidays.
Bath Chew Valley Caravan Park, Somerset
If you’ve stayed at Bath Chew Valley Caravan Park, you won’t be surprised to hear that Ray Betton, the park’s owner in 1998, was actively involved in the formation of ‘Tranquil’ Touring Parks.
It’s a uniquely peaceful park, set in Somerset’s Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a short walk from Chew Valley Lake wildlife reserve. In keeping with its surroundings, the park is landscaped in a country garden style with trees, shrubs and flower beds separating 45 touring pitches and two lodges. Keith Betton, Ray’s son, now owns the park with Marc, his own son. They employ a small team of grounds care, reception and cleaning staff.
Bath Chew Valley is among the leading touring parks for guest facilities, achieving top marks in both Visit England’s 5 Star Touring Grading and AA 5 Platinum Pennant inspections. Keith can reel off a whole cabinet-full of other awards, including the UK’s Best Adult Only Site.
But it’s the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award that emerges top on his list. The Betton family’s enthusiasm for wildlife and energy conservation never falters. “Over 25% of the park area is preserved as managed woodland for birds and wildlife,” Keith explains, “We also generate 20% of the park’s energy requirements from solar panels through the Summer months.”
“Our guests have been wonderful…” Keith says, referring to the Coronavirus pandemic. He points to informative signage, hand sanitiser stations and guest disinfectant stations around the park; then to the park’s 10 individual hotel-style shower-room/WCs. “At the time we were told to suspend all bookings and close, we feared it might close us for good. However, almost all of our guests re-booked and are now enjoying their holidays safely”.
As we were talking to Keith, beside us at the security barrier warden Paul was ‘valet parking’ a caravan for a guest who changed their booking date. They are now arriving ‘contactless’, excited to set up for their holiday. The mood around the park is relaxed and friendly.
Bath Chew Valley is open all year round, so we asked Keith what he likes to do in his ‘spare’ time. “After taking down the park’s Christmas lights in January, there are a few quiet weeks when we like to tour and camp abroad with our motorbikes.” he answers.
- Keith Betton is a Director of Tranquil Parks
Back of Beyond Touring Camping & Glamping Park, East Dorset
Martin and Victoria Bowrey had a photographic shop in London’s West End before becoming touring park owners. Martin says, “The rent and rates got so high that we were working for the landlord rather than ourselves!” After looking for a new business in a customer-service oriented sector, they took over Back of Beyond in 2013.
It was a big move with three school-age children. It’s also been a challenge with so many different hats to wear – maintenance, landscaping, cleaning, managing staff and contractors, accountancy and health and safety, to name just a few. But it’s also very rewarding. “We have a great team and we enjoy living here” says Victoria.
Their biggest test came in March this year with the COVID crisis. “We’d just opened for the 2020 season, having invested in new hardstanding pitches and other enhancements over the winter” she recalls. “We made the difficult decision to close the park before the lockdown was announced because it was the right thing to do. I don’t know what we would have done without the support of our fantastic customers. Thankfully, most of them were able to re-book their stays for a later date.”
While the Bowreys have introduced glamping, upgraded the facilities and improved the pitches, their main focus has been environmental. Named ‘Best Green Site 2020’ and ‘Regional Winner’ in this year’s Top 100 by Practical Caravan and Practical Motorhome, they also received a special conservation award earlier this year from Rufus Bellamy, son of the late botanist and broadcaster, David Bellamy. This was partly awarded for planting thousands of hedge whips to increase the park’s biodiversity and create more privacy on pitches.
“We want the park to remain as natural as possible,” explains Martin. “Guests have the freedom to explore our 30 acres of parkland, heathland and woodland, including an SSSI and wildlife lakes, within a safe environment. It feels as though you’re in the country here, but with the benefit of modern facilities.” He emphasises the importance of reinvestment each year. “We’re a work in progress, never satisfied and always striving for improvement.”
When they’re not working, Martin and Victoria devote much of their free time to family and friends. They also like to get away in their motorhome and walk their dog in the nearby New Forest or on local beaches. Martin is hoping to learn to sail next year.
- Martin Bowrey is Treasurer of Tranquil Parks
York Caravan Park
“When the family decided our small farm had to diversify in 2000, the idea of a campsite was just a dream” says York Caravan Park’s owner, Andrew Wilson. “I could imagine a campsite on the meadow alongside Stockton Road, but getting planning approval for one of the city’s few remaining green field sites seemed almost impossible.”
Five years later, in 2005, planning permission was given for a 20 pitch campsite! “We started landscaping and laying hardstanding pitches around the fishing lake. Our dream was coming true and we were conserving the land that we loved,” Andrew recalls. “Now, our campsite had to be the best, the only 5-Star touring caravan park within York City.”
When the park opened in 2007, it offered large, level, full service pitches, the type we call ‘superior’ pitches today. New low-level hedges had been planted around each pitch for added privacy. Just a few months after opening York Caravan Park received its 5-Star grading.
“Our reputation grew, quickly.” Andrew explains. ”Most of our guests were grown-ups who came for the park’s peaceful location, trees and green spaces, and fishing, of course.” Soon after, Andrew remembers seeing a Tranquil Touring Parks brochure arrive in the post. He decided the park’s future was going to be ‘adults only touring’.
“We joined Tranquil Touring Parks in 2012 and immediately started work on an ambitious new facilities building” he says with enthusiasm. Featuring large, individual shower-room/WCs, as well as separate ladies and gents toilets, and having wash-up and laundry rooms, York Caravan Park’s facilities building deserves the ‘luxury’ label.
The new facilities building meant the park could stay open into winter for guests to visit York’s famous Christmas Markets, and stay for Christmas and New Year holidays. Each of the park’s 55 superior pitches has a lighted services bollard and free WIFI.
Andrew talks about the COVID-19 lockdown with some emotion. “It was very difficult for everyone.” he says. “The three wardens and I spent our time keeping the park looking its best, just as if we were open. A new dog-walk was built and all the safety measures for re-opening were put in place. It’s so good to welcome guests back and hear happy voices around our pitches again.”
With three young children to keep him busy, Andrew spends any free time enjoying trips all over Yorkshire, and regularly visits the Yorkshire coast. He says “If, in the unlikely event I get some time to myself, I like to go out for meals with my wife, play hockey for the York Veterans team or play golf.”
- Andrew Wilson is on the Tranquil Parks Board
Red Kite Touring Park, Llanidloes, Mid-Wales
Richard Onions was still at school when his parents bought the field next to their static caravan park, Clywedog Riverside Holiday Home Park. He says, “Developing it into a caravan park was like a school project!”
After a lengthy planning process, and after ensuring that all the Great Crested Newts on site were safe, Red Kite Touring Park opened in 2016. The whole park, which is right in the centre of Wales, was completed in one go (see the time-lapse construction video).
The family’s experience in the holiday park industry shows. Red Kite Touring Park is spacious, well laid out and cleverly built into the side of the scenic valley with immaculate facilities. The park was AA Campsite of the Year for Wales 2018 and is a Top 100 Site for 2019 and 2020.
Red Kite Touring Park has been adult only from the start to preserve the peace and quite for guests at the holiday home park next door. In addition, the family recognised that this was an up-and-coming market. The name comes from the Red Kites that would swoop down and pick up small mammals when Richard was mowing the field before it was developed into a touring park.
Richard now runs both parks with his wife, Emily. They married three years ago and have a toddler and a baby. There’s not much free time for them, but when possible Richard enjoys fishing and going away on family holidays.
Although lockdown was a huge challenge, Richard did enjoy spending more time with his young family. “My plan for the future is to create more free time to spend with the kids” he says.
- Richard is on the Tranquil Parks Board and looks after website issues.
South Wales Touring Park, near Llanelli, Carmarthenshire
Hywel Davies and his sister Cathrin took over this site in 2011 after their father passed away. The Davies family had originally bought the Llwynifan Farm smallholding in 1976, starting a small campsite in the mid-1980s.
The siblings have developed the site into an award winning 25 pitch caravan park with 10 fully serviced pitches. This year, South Wales Touring Park was named Regional Winner for Wales in the Top 100 Sites. Cathrin (now Jones) and her family live in the main farmhouse and Hywel has a converted cow shed. Some of the fields are rented out to local farmers.
Lockdown has without question been their biggest challenge to date. “It was absolutely horrendous” says Hywel. “The hardest thing was phoning people and telling them they couldn’t come. It’s the opposite to what I usually say and it broke my heart.”
Hywel didn’t stop stop working during lockdown, however. He says, “I worked like a Trojan! I cleaned out our big shed, re-did the chemical emptying point, which you can’t do when you’re open and we’re open all year round. I also worked on the boot wash, the new dog shower, painted everything in sight and got ready for reopening with markings on the floor, virtual welcome packs and a payment system. We now fog the toilets every day and want people to feel safe. When people leave we even spray the bollards and picnic benches.”
When he’s not running the touring park, Hywel is into physical fitness. He typically goes for a run at 5am every morning, covering three to six miles. He also goes to the gym (when it’s open) and has a small makeshift gym on site.
Before taking on the family business, Hywel worked at Walt Disney World, Epcot Centre in Florida, as a Cultural Representative for Wales. He has an official ‘Duckterate’ in Management and Communications signed by Donal Duck and Mickey Mouse!
“I really enjoy running the park” says Hywel. ‘We try to make upgrades every year, based on the feedback we get from our guest questionnaires.”
- Hywel manages the NEC exhibition stands for Tranquil Parks.
Somers Wood Touring Park, North Warwickshire
Marc Fowler was a builder and Angela Fowler was working in a bank when they decided to start a caravan park. “Back then, it was the early 1990s and Marc was having to travel to Germany for work” Angela recalls.
Keen caravaners themselves, the Fowlers realised that there was nothing near the NEC for those with caravans and motorhomes wanting to visit events there. They came across a parcel of derelict woodland in their area which had previously been part of a shoot on the Packington estate. There was also a golf course under development on an adjacent parcel of land, with well established coarse fishing lakes next door.
The Fowlers worked through the planning challenges of green belt land bordering two local councils, and various covenants controlling building on their site. They opened Somers Wood in early 1996, when their own children were in infant school. Originally, it was a family site with a pets’ corner, goats and chickens! Angela says, “After just a few years, we decided to try Adult Only and we’ve never looked back!”
Over the years, the Fowlers added more pitches with EHUs. During lockdown they upgraded 15 of their standard pitches to fully serviced, increasing the number from 4 to 19! “Being open all year means we never get a chance to do major digging” Angela explains. They have 48 pitches in total.
Lockdown also gave the Fowlers an opportunity to do some business analysis. They have now decided to close for January from 2021, although the office will remain open (limited hours) to take reservations. The couple are looking forward to being able to have a complete break and possibly go abroad.
The family’s hard work has been recognised with numerous awards and a 5-star rating from Visit England. Somers Wood was recently West Midlands winner in the campsites.co.uk awards 2019 and regularly appears in the Top 100 Sites.
When not working, the Fowlers enjoy caravanning, golf and walking, They no longer live on site and the family cabin is occupied by their son and his family.
- In 1999 Somers Wood was one of the first adult only sites to be approached to join Tranquil Parks. “There were just seven of us in the first year,” Angela remembers. “Back then, we’d put adverts in magazines, requesting potential guests to send us a stamped addressed envelope for more information on various parks! At first there was only one side of A4 with a list of independent adult only sites!”