Jamie and Laura Cowan run Caerlaverock Cottages, a group of 7 charming holiday lets in Dumfries and Galloway.
We went to visit them recently to see how they were getting on, and asked ‘What makes life brighter for you?’ Here’s their story.
Where it all started
For Jamie, you can track his love for the Caerlaverock area, and his interest in holiday letting back to his childhood. His father worked as a gamekeeper on the Caerlaverock Estate, and his mother managed a holiday cottage on the grounds, involving the whole family in the job.
Inheriting the family cottage from their parents, Jamie and his brother renovated it to become their first holiday let.
“It enabled us to keep the house, with all its memories, which was great.”
Jamie’s next venture – now Caerlaverock Cottages – launched when his brother decided to move back into the family home and live there full-time, giving Jamie the means to buy another nearby property.
It needed a lot of TLC to bring it up to holiday rental standards, but with a clear vision, energy and dedication, Jamie gave the property a second lease of life. It’s now been home to countless holiday-makers over the last 10 years – a cosy home away from home.
A business so enjoyable, it feels like a hobby
Over the last 10 years, Caerlaverock Cottages has evolved into a business that Jamie says is a real pleasure to run, and it brings the whole family together too. Jamie says,
“It’s a hobby that’s grown out of hand! We started with one, and we’ve now got seven. It really is an enjoyable hobby.”
The merits of a lifestyle business
Looking after the properties involves the whole family, just as it was when Jamie was a boy helping his mother with the Caerlaverock Estate cottage.
“In my role as a chartered surveyor, I work a nine-day fortnight, so every other Friday I take the kids and a picnic and we tend to the gardens of our properties. My wife always asks why we’re gone so long, but we always have such a fun time and often end up chatting to the neighbours, who are friends too. We love being out in nature and Caerlaverock is the perfect place for that.”
Jamie’s wife Laura has created beautiful wildflower borders in the cottage gardens, which attract bees and butterflies – perfect for their guests, many of whom are nature lovers, visiting the area for the nearby wetlands and nature reserve. For Laura, the peace and tranquillity of their cottage gardens is one of the things that brightens her day,
“Seeing the bees and the butterflies, enjoying my hard efforts in the garden, and seeing our customers, and learning how much they’ve enjoyed this beautiful scenic area.”
Laura oversees the marketing too, and looking after guests is a task shared and enjoyed by both.
For Jamie, it’s all about being able to introduce people to the area he grew up in,
“What brightens my day is meeting new customers, getting a booking, filling the houses, and selling a place that I love, Caerlaverock.”
Having put so much care and attention into developing their seven holiday cottages, earning great feedback from customers means a lot to Jamie and Laura. Jamie says,
“The thing that puts a smile on my face is repeat customers who come back time after time, and tell us how much better the properties are getting every time they come back.”
Supporting the local business community is important to the Cowans, promoting nearby eateries and attractions, and working with a local cleaning business to keep their properties sparkling clean.
During lockdown, Jamie and Laura had the opportunity to give back to the local community in a different way, when a local NHS worker was in need of accommodation. They offered one of their cottages free of charge, so that she did not have to worry about putting her family at risk from the virus.
A bright future ahead
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has had an enormous negative impact on the UK economy, but as a small business owner with a growing holiday lettings portfolio, Jamie is optimistic about its recovery.
“I think the future is extremely bright for the UK holiday lettings sector,” he says. “Even in bad times, people want to go on holiday and there’ll always be a market for quality holiday cottages in the UK.”