Tales from End to End
The Tale of the Wigwams
by Rena Baillie
Like many a good idea, the tale of the Wigwams started in a pub. In 1994 Charles Gullard met a representative from ‘Visit Scotland’ and the rep told him he was desperately keen to give away some money. He said he was looking for a project that would provide jobs and increase tourism in Scotland. Grants were available. Was Charles interested?
Charles took the bait and came up with the idea of building wigwams. He wrote to all the accommodation providers along the West Highland Way (WHW) and outlined his idea. At that time, I did Bed and Breakfast and so received a letter. Although I had had experience with B & B, I had no idea of the scale of the operation I was about to embark on.
In order to get planning permission to erect the Wigwams, our application had to show that the venture would create jobs for farmers’ wives and their families. We were delighted when our application was accepted and we received a 50% grant from Visit Scotland to set up the project.
Charles was responsible for the design of the Wigwams (he went on a course in Dorset to learn the tricks of the building trade) and our first two were built in 1994. We had to move the hen houses to put them up! Charles had found that the Scottish Forestry Commission had no real use for their ‘thinnings’. These are the young trees that have to be cut down from the forest in order to allow the other trees to grow to full maturity. However, they were to prove ideal for the making of our Wigwams and so pine, Douglas fir and larch thinnings from the forests around Aviemore and Kingussie are manufactured into our ‘wooden tents’ at a factory near Perth.
All our Wigwams are double-glazed and insulated with rock (mineral) wool. Last winter (2010-2011) the temperature here dropped to -18C and yet the Wigwams remained habitable inside.
At first I had imagined that our main customers would be walkers doing the WHW trail. We certainly do get walkers but most of our visitors are families and quite often we have groups of families that come together. Our Indian theme obviously attracts children and, we imagine, Dads who want to re-live their childhoods. But the idea of the Wigwams appeals both to campers (who think the wooden tents are a real luxury) and also at the same time to those who would normally choose to go to a hotel (they get the thrill of really roughing it!).
Since about 2,000 AD the ‘Go Wigwam’ idea has exploded and this year (2011) there are 46 Wigwam sites spread over Scotland, England and Wales from Orkney to Cornwall and to Snowdonia with more being planned for the future. They are usually on farms like ours here at Tyndrum but a number are on caravan parks. Each site is individually owned but the managers pay for a licence to permit them to use the Wigwam Holiday brand name.
We are building a reputation for stag and hen party nights. It’s a great opportunity to dress up, have a pow-wow around the campfire and generally go silly. If you forget your head-dress, we can provide them at the camp Trading Post. My husband Tom’s ankle will never heal completely, so he cooks the Bacon Rolls (an Indian’s culinary favourite). Unfortunately, the Scottish Office won’t give us a licence to sell Firewater (you’ll need to bring in your own) but we can sell you our Firearms instead. Toy ones, of course.
Editor: Strathfillan Wigwam Holidays was the first Wigwam Holidays to be established. Rena is its manager and she also does the marketing and sales for all of the national Wigwam Holidays Network. For further details, see http://wigwamholidays.com/