Diversification: Farming family turns to AMC to expand thriving holiday cottage business

Today’s farmers have to look beyond traditional income streams. With the help of AMC funding – facilitated by Sarah Tyson, Bell Ingram’s Head of Valuations and an AMC agent – one farming family is creating a business model which should thrive in these times of economic uncertainty

Stunning exterior of Craigengar, part of Crosswoodhill Farm’s holiday lets portfolio.

Crosswoodhill Farm is a real family business.

Situated at the foot of the Pentland Hills, it is owned and operated by Hew and Geraldine Hamilton, their son Angus and daughter Caroline, and has been in the family for generations.

But at Crosswoodhill Farm there is far more than just a working farm.

Open plan living at Craigengar.

For almost 30 years its thriving holiday cottage business has made it a hotspot for visitors drawn to the idyllic setting and convenient location near Edinburgh.

In fact, Crosswoodhill Farm Holiday Cottages has won more Scottish Thistle Awards than any other self-catering accommodation business since the awards started, and most recently was one of three regional finalists in the Best Self-Catering Experience section.

The popularity of staying in a range of 3 to 5 STAR accommodation on a working farm has seen the business expand from a single holiday let in 1992 to its current portfolio of four luxury properties with exciting plans in the pipeline for future expansion.

These plans centre around neighbouring Crosswoodburn and Colzium Farms which the Hamilton family bought in 2018 after securing AMC funding.

“It is vital that farming businesses today don’t rely solely on traditional income streams,” said Sarah Tyson, Bell Ingram’s Head of Valuations and the AMC agent who secured the finance for the Hamilton family after meeting them at last year’s Royal Highland Show.

“Farming now isn’t just about sheep and cows – managing those and selling them well. It’s managing all the resources at your disposal and looking at them as business assets.

“By expanding their acreage and developing a number of diverse enterprises at Crosswoodhill Farm and beyond, the Hamilton family are creating a business that should thrive in these times of economic uncertainty.”

The Hamilton family with Bell Ingram’s Sarah Tyson (far right).

Angus Hamilton continued: “We were aware that Crosswoodburn and Colzium were likely to come onto the market at some point, but we didn’t have a masterplan. However, when the next door farm comes up for sale you would be foolish not to give it serious consideration and explore what the fit might be. Going through that process we saw a good opportunity to purchase it at a reasonable price and use the existing farming operation as a springboard for further development.

“We met Sarah on the AMC stand at the Royal Highland Show just a few weeks after Crosswoodburn came onto the market. Although we did talk to other lenders, we felt that AMC was competitive and more likely to understand our situation and what we wanted to do.

He added: “If you deal with a high street bank you wouldn’t necessarily get the cultural understanding that you get with AMC …. and that is important to farming families like ours.”

Fast forward 12 months and the Hamilton family are drawing up ambitious plans using award-winning architects to rescue the quadrangle of derelict farm buildings at Crosswoodburn. They plan to link them into self-catering accommodation with the “wow factor” for up to 20 guests.

The project is being driven by the indefatigable Geraldine Hamilton who juggles part-time nursing with managing Crosswoodhill Farm Holiday Cottages.

The new property will be inspired by the lessons Geraldine has learnt during her three decades of running the holiday cottage business.

Geraldine explained: “The holiday lets started in 1992 when we moved out of the Wing and into the main Crosswoodhill Farmhouse when Hew’s mum died. This left the problem of what to do with the Wing. Hew, who had been born in Crosswoodhill, didn’t really like the idea of strangers next door so it was quite an uphill battle to get him to agree that we would try self-catering.

“We got very few guests that first year, but we persevered and it grew from there. The guests used an entrance round the back and I don’t think Hew even saw them. He also really appreciated the revenue and so when it came to the next holiday project there wasn’t quite the same resistance.”

Two further properties, Steading Cottage and Orlege End, were rescued from near dereliction before the stunning new-build 5 STAR Craigengar Lodge was added to their property portfolio in 2010.

Geraldine believes a key secret of her success is giving guests the experience of staying on working farm. The location is so close to Edinburgh yet with wide open spaces is matched with luxury accommodation and thoughtful touches.

“People just love waking up on the hill. I remember a couple on their honeymoon telling me how they looked out of their patio door to see a newly born calf with its mother. We can offer that magical experience,” she added.

There is still plenty of farming done at Crosswoodhill Farm. It is kept in hand and operated by Hew Hamilton who, along with John Robertson, masterminds the Blackface sheep flock and cattle operation.

The recent acquisition of Crosswoodburn and Colzium Farms means that the Hamilton family is now perfectly placed to review the future direction of their operation. The extra land will help spread costs, keep stock closer to home and allow an expansion of sheep numbers as well as providing a new home for Angus.

Sarah Tyson said: “This is a classic example of AMC funding being used for the ‘once in a lifetime’ purchase opportunity when the farm next door comes on the market.”

This is complemented by the family’s associated recycling and resource management company – Levenseat – now in its 33rd year which is managed by Angus and has seen significant growth in the last number of years.

Angus said: “At Edinburgh University I studied general agriculture and one of the courses was Natural Resource Management, but at the time waste and recycling wasn’t seen as a big topic. In more recent years my old tutor has been bringing those students out to Levenseat to carry out case studies; it’s great to give something back and think that I was in their shoes 20 years previously. It’s a complete change of perception that waste is now more widely recognised as a resource.”

There’s little doubt that Crosswoodburn and Colzium will help the Hamilton family go forward and their enthusiasm will ensure their vision is achieved.

Angus concluded: “It’s a key part of our strategy to now take stock, review the overall family enterprise and identify the most balanced approach to create a clear vision going forward.”

More information about Crosswoodhill Holiday Cottages at www.crosswoodhill.co.uk

➤ If you would like to investigate AMC finance call Sarah Tyson for confidential advice on 07710 308614 or email sarah.tyson@bellingram.co.uk

Published on 19th August 2019