By Karen Carruth

Anyone that has gone through the process of diversification for the first time will tell you that there is no steeper learning curve. There’s so much to plan for, to think about, to answer and so many forms to fill in and hoops to jump through.

However, when the project is finished and you see what you’ve achieved, that’s when the satisfaction comes.

Richard and Alison Close, of Nethermill Farm, in Langbank, can now walk all of 100 yards from their house to their three, five-star holiday lodges, which allows guests the chance to enjoy the hot tub while taking in the elevated view over the Firth of Clyde, up towards Ben Lomond which sits on the skyline.

Three one-bedroom lodges set among a small area of sycamore woodland have been in operation since June last year. Aimed directly at the couples’ market, they all have luxury fixtures and fittings, the aforementioned hot tubs, and a secluded, private outlook.

They take me in for a quick tour of one of their lodges, Alison says as we enter: “It’s nicer than our house” ... It’s certainly nicer than my house.

All the mod cons, leather sofas, tasteful furnishings, a glass deck rail which doesn’t interrupt the view from either inside the lodge, or for when you are sitting on the deck, but also gives protection from the breeze should you wish to sit outside.

A hotel-standard bathroom with double shower, a king size bed in a spacious bedroom, and a dining area, it really is a comfortable and rather swish home from home. Plus, you can bring your faithful hound to accompany you on the numerous walks in the area.

The location has many advantages. It’s ten minutes from Glasgow airport, it’s in the countryside, overlooking fields and situated a short stroll from Gleddoch Golf Club and Spa, they are within walking distance of a train station, it’s 20 mins from Loch Lomond, and it’s a short drive to Gourock, which has ferry links to the islands.

There is also quite a dramatic view of Dumbarton Rock from the driveway of the lodges as the site sits directly across the Clyde from it.

For the more energetic, the lodges sit near the Clyde Coast Path, and are on route 75 of the cycle path. Location gets a big tick. Luxury lodges, tick. Hot tubs, tick. Pet friendly, tick.

Getting to this stage has certainly been hard work for the couple, but Richard tells me that when he has decided on a course of action, he is like a ‘dog with a bone’, he wasn’t for waiting around.

Last summer the couple had the idea of maybe utilising their woodland as a location for holiday lets. Lodges, and luxury ones at that, came top of the list.

First things first, finance. LEADER Renfrewshire and Inverclyde funding was going to be part financing the project costs, and yes it was a long process to get the application completed but it was essential.

And to give credit where it is due, the funding was awarded in October, less than four months after the application went in.

Next step was planning. Richard said: “A planning consultant came out to visit us and they were very positive and helpful. We had the planning consent by November which meant we could start the groundworks in December.”

They were grateful for the help of the lodge manufacturers, Island Leisure, which had plenty of similar projects under their belts.

A rough drawing by the couple of what they visualised was firmed up by Steve Miller, who basically drew a sketch to show what they could have and what worked in this kind of market, and three bespoke lodges were ordered.

Richard is an auctioneer with UA and Alison works in social work, so the marketing side of things wasn’t something that they had any experience in.

The first two lodges went onto the Holiday Cottages website, which did bring in lots of bookings, from a wide range of areas across the UK, exceeding their expectations.

However, always on the lookout for new opportunities, they were approached by Travelnest which is a company which specialises in helping holiday lets increase their bookings to maximise the income for their properties.

It gives owners access to more than 30 different property bookings sites, Airbnb,, Expedia, TripAdvisor and HomeAway – and helps to ensure that the properties are visible in searches on each of those sites.

The 'Brucie bonus' is that owners have only one point of contact which means that it takes away the admin burden and the risk of double bookings.

The sales team came out to visit Nethermill so that they could make informed decisions on how to market them, so Richard and Alison decided to give them a shot with one of the lodges to see how it went. And it has been a great success in bringing in guests, with the minimum of time and effort for the couple.

Richard says: “We still have a lot to learn, we are constantly learning about trends in the staycation market. It appears that most bookings are made in the springtime, however, we missed that time of year last year, as we weren’t open yet, but we are hoping to do well in the springtime with bookings.

“I’ve been told that the first year is the toughest, the second year you should see some returns, and after five years you should really just be filling the gaps between bookings, that’s what we are aiming for anyway.”

With Richard and Alison working, and little toddler, Harris to entertain, the couple have had to outsource some of the work that the lodges have generated, jobs like the cleaning and laundry just don’t fit into their working lives, but it also means that they can be as hands on, or hands off depending on the time available.

It’s been an eventful year for the Closes, so were there any surprises along the way that they would highlight to others that may be thinking of diversifying into the holiday let market?

“Water!”, they both said at once. Their water came from a borehole, which is perfectly adequate for the house, but when you add on three lodges, power showers, and all the extra needs, then their borehole just wasn’t going to cut it.

They had to take advice and in order to satisfy the demands, they had to back up their system, build a hut etc, which tipped them over their budget by an eye watering amount. But as Richard pointed out: “When has a first time project ever come in on budget, ever!”

To round things up, I ask whether they have enjoyed the process?

Alison answers: “Actually, yes, we have got a lot out of seeing a project through from our first ideas to having the lodges up and running.

"I really enjoyed the run up to the first guests arriving, the nervousness of wondering whether they were going to like it, and thankfully, our first guest was so communicative with us, sending us lots of positive messages, and so far, we haven’t had a bad review yet.”