A CUMBRIAN woman is blending new with old as she carves out a new life in the county she loves.

Kate Johnston worked for years in medical device sales in North Yorkshire but returned home in September 2019 to set up a campsite on one of the family’s working farms.

This year, the hardy Cumbrian and her partner Jonathan Burniston have seen tourists flock to Dalegarth Farm in Eskdale to enjoy a much-needed break, despite managing the campsite around a very different type of flock – 980 traditional Herdwick ewes.

So popular has the attraction proved to be that this year, it broke the record on camping website Pitchup.com for the farm-based campsite with the greatest number of bookings.

Kate, who is part of the Stanley family of Dalegarth Hall, Eskdale, said there were great synergies between the traditional sheep side of the business and the new campsite.

Although the shepherding is on different parts of the farm, visitors still get to see the hardy hill sheep out on the fells and Kate must manage visitors around the shepherding year.

She said: “The two sides of the business work really well. We lamb in April and then the sheep are in surrounding fields. Those with single lambs go to the fells, those with twins stay closer to the farm.

“As the ewes are going out with their lambs, the first visitors are coming here to stay.

“Towards the end of the season is when we turn the tups out to run with the ewes to produce next year’s crop of lambs, and that’s when the campsite is winding down.

“It all runs in harmony, with the new and old working together well.”

Despite an extremely successful 2020/2021 season, establishing the campsite has not been all plain sailing for Kate.

For years, she longed to return home to her family and the place she grew up, but it wasn’t until divorce forced her to consider what she wanted in life that she finally had the opportunity to follow her heart.

She said: “I always wanted to leave the commercial world and go back to my family and camping was something I wanted to try. It was a leap of faith, but I thought I would give it a go.

“I had a grant agreed from the RDPE (Rural Development Programme for England) for safari tents and camping pods but that fell through during lockdown, so I decided to set up a pop-up campsite instead.

“Boris announced on June 23, 2020, that campsites could open up and by July 22 we had lots of people here. It was fantastic. But then last summer turned out to be the worst on record for this area. There was just so much rain, so we had to close early.

“Thankfully, 2021 has turned out to be a much better year and we managed 10 weeks in total.”

Kate set her campsite up under the extended Permitted Development Rights (PDR) – planning regulations that enable farmers and other landowners to operate a campsite on their land for up to 56 days without planning permission.

Previously, PDR were limited to 28 days, but it was extended by the government in England in June 2020 to help power a post-COVID rural economic recovery as well as increase capacity for staycations as people were unable to travel abroad.

The difficult start didn’t put her off and she reinvested what money she had made in the first year in improving the tracks on the farm, as well as the facilities.

“This year has been amazing,” she said.

“We could have opened up field after field and filled them all.

“My family can trace their connection to Dalegarth Hall back to the 12th Century and it feels fantastic to be back where I belong. The campsite has made it possible for me to come home.”

Dalegarth Campsite is marketed via online booking platform Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – and has attracted the greatest number of bookings of any farm-based campsite in 2021.

Pitchup.com was recently crowned a 'Pandemic Hero', winning the 'Trade Heroes' category at the National Farm Attraction Awards (NFAN) 2021, for helping rural communities recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, said: “Hearing success stories like Katie’s is a true source of pride for everyone at Pitchup.

“I started my business journey by setting up a temporary campsite at my parents’ holiday park in Devon and had very mixed feelings about moving away to London to further my career, so I understand what Kate has been through.

“COVID has put immense strain on everyone but initiatives like the 56-day PDR ruling have enabled rural communities to recover something from the pandemic and at the same time, open up some of the UK’s most stunning places for people to visit.

“Stories like Kate’s are a win for everyone. We are delighted camping has enabled her to follow her dream and we’ve played a part in that.

“These types of stories are happening all over the UK and we hope they inspire the government to keep the 56-day ruling.”

Founded in 2009 by former lastminute.com man, Dan Yates, multi-award winning Pitchup.com lists 4,200 outdoor accommodation locations in 65 countries in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, providing 30 million annual users with a simple platform where they can search for and book a holiday with ease.

Since creation, the platform has handled £190 million worth of bookings, with five million holiday nights booked via Pitchup.com in the last 12 months alone.

Pitchup.com enables users to search for all types of parks and sites from more than 100 chains right through to one-off campsites and unique outdoor accommodation options, which may have previously lacked a web presence.

Awards include 2021 Pandemic Hero of the Trade Heroes category at the National Farm Attraction Awards (NFAN), 2020, 2019 and 2018 inclusions in the FT1000 (Financial Times’ 1000 fastest growing companies in Europe), Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 2016, ‘Best Place to Stay – Budget’ at The Independent Travel Awards 2015 ("a website that’s doing wonders connecting us with the countryside in Britain and beyond"), Best Travel / Leisure / Sports / Mobile Strategy / Campaign at the Marketing on Mobile Awards 2014, and Best UK Travel Website of the Year at the British Travel Press Awards 2011.

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