The first year was very much spent finding our feet in running a holiday cottage business. The 3 smaller cottages were up and running and came fully furnished and equipped down to the teaspoons (as well as some bookings already made). We were able to start taking guests in these cottages from day one.
That wasn't the case with the main house. We had to turn it from a normal family home (complete with Walmsler range in the kitchen that had to be regularly fed logs to keep the house warm -and only just at that!) into a 6 bedroom house that was fit for self catering guests to live in. That meant installing a fire alarm system and fire door, an alternative cooker and heating system and of course completely furnishing the house. Thanks goodness for ebay! We'll never forget turning up to a warehouse in Acton, West London, to collect a three piece suite that we'd bought on ebay, to be met by Nicky Chapman (of TV fame) and her husband. Her husband had a bad back so Nicky had to help us to lift the sofas into our rental van.
Outside, walls were knocked down and car parks made , as well as patios created for each property, as up until that year there was really nowhere for guests to sit outside and enjoy the amazing views out across the sea towards the Lleyn Peninsula.
An area in the field was created as a play area so that the lawned area of the garden could remain as just that.
A new website was constructed by our friend Stuart Smith and advertising on various other holiday cottage websites was taken out. Bookings began to trickle in. The first guests arrived in the main house in May 2008. We were very nervous and showed the guests around the whole house, into every room, with up to 17 people in the party all following us round! Needless to say our welcome to guests has become shorter and shorter each year. After all guests are quite capable of finding their own way round a house!
Before we opened for business we thought long and hard about whether we should accept dogs, as the previous owners didn't. In the end we decided to accept one dog per cottage and on the whole we're glad we have, as probably about 30-40% of guests do bring a dog. In most cases there's been no problems. We've just had the odd owner who has neglected to pick up their pet's poo and one party who left their dog indoors to howl away for hours while they went out for the afternoon. Oh and we did have one group who brought their tortoise on holiday with them!
Gradually over the years we've improved each cottage by installing new kitchens, laying new carpets, renewing furniture, curtains and soft furnishings. We've completely modernized the heating system and installed new boilers as well as extended the Wi-Fi system to be accessible by guests. This was never that reliable and so in the last year introduced a completely new system which is much better. You don't need to sit in the upstairs bathroom to get a good signal any more! We've had photovoltaic panels installed on the main house roof to provide us with some electricity as well as contributing to the national grid. We've tried to continue as the previous owners did and grow our own fruit and vegetables. Result - fruit going well but vegetables are still a challenge for us.
In the first 6 years we still continued working at our old jobs and living in our house over in Cheshire, so were travelling back and forward every weekend to do each changeover. Thank goodness for Gerald who manned the fort for us here, looked after the place, kept guests happy, sorted any problems that arose, etc., etc. Without Gerald we couldn't have done it!
Happily in 2014 we were able to move permanently to Wales and now live in one of the cottages, Pen Y Lon. Life is now considerably easier without all the travelling that we used to do. We're here all the time to look after the cottages and the grounds , as well as be here to look after (and keep an eye on!) the guests. We've started keeping our own bees and had mixed success over the last few years. However we did catch 2 swarms last year!
Down the side of the large field we've established a wild flower meadow from what used to be another vegetable area. This provides foraging for the bees as well as something pretty for the guests to look at in the summer. Now that we have a permanent base we've finally been able to get a dog so Nellie is very much part of the Pentre Bach family.
We've also been able to become more involved in village events and activities. Mike is now a fully fledged First Responder and runs the local Oil Cooperative. I've been learning Welsh for the last 4 years (but don't ask me to have a conversation in Welsh!), attend the local Art Group and contribute a tiny bit to the local Yarnbombing displays in the summer.
Low points? Well when we were travelling backwards and forwards every weekend, and all 4 properties were available to let, we would stay in whichever cottage was available. If all were booked then we stayed in the caravan. Nothing wrong with that. However one weekend we had a large group of 20 somethings from London, who had booked all 4 properties and for some reason they'd decided to lift the huge patio table for the main house, in through the dining room window!!! Not only that but a few of them thought that playing bongo drums on the patio until the early hours of the morning was a good idea.
We've also arrived early on a Friday morning (during our travelling days) to find a flood from a pipe in the attic, coming through two floors, down to the entrance hall. Two beautiful Asian rugs were saturated and one had to be replaced, as well as lots of redecoration of walls. There was also the storm that caused huge slabs from the chimney to crash down onto the roof, destroying 2 solar panels.
However we're delighted to be able to say that the number of bookings that we take, has been steadily rising each year and that we are seeing an increasing number of guests returning again and again. We must be doing something right!
Most of our large groups tend to be extended families who come to celebrate significant birthdays and anniversaries. We also get many groups who perhaps went to university together and now get together for an annual reunion, along with their growing families. The group who came over New Year had been meeting annually for the last 40 years! Other reasons for coming to Pentre Bach have included weddings, walking holidays, various courses, viewing aeroplanes in the Mach Loop and to scatter ashes of recently passed away relatives.
Oh and last year we had a completely new website constructed. Its also now mobile and tablet responsive! Do have a look at http://www.pentrebach.com
Will we still be here in 10 years time? Who knows?