A History of Stowford
2015 was a special year for us here at Stowford, it was our 50th anniversary year. We have put together a history of Stowford to commemorate this.
During 2015 we plan to create a blog showing some of the history and development of Stowford over these years from a working farm to one of the leading Caravan and Camping names in the UK.
In the Beginning
In the mid 1970’s, whilst farming at Stowford, Winston Rice sought planning permission to build a new agricultural shed on the farm, then known as East Stowford Barton. This shed now houses the main site Reception area. At that time the main drive down onto Stowford was single width, with a gate at the end to the main road. The planners insisted on having widening work completed at the junction in order to grant the planning permission and Winston suggested that whilst they were about it, why not do the job in such a way that it would be suitable for caravan use in years to come. That was really the first step towards Stowford becoming a Touring Caravan and Camping Site.
It later became apparent that the Devon County Structure Plan had identified a need for a large inland Touring Caravan and Camping Park within North Devon. It so happened that Stowford lay just inside the preferred area for potential development within North Devon, just outside the Coastal Preservation Area. So discussions began about a caravan site development. Winston initially asked for planning permission for 35 caravans and was subsequently given permission for 400! The rest as they say, is history!
Stowford Through The Years
Stowford Farm Meadows Touring Caravan and Camping Park first opened at Spring Bank Holiday in 1978. Initially consisting of just Field 1 (Barn Park) with the amenity block and holiday shop (pictured right). By August the Take-Away and Old Stable Bar were added to the list of facilities on offer. Busy times! During this time Winston received many requests for Caravan Storage, and so this option was also made available. To see more aerial photos of Stowford over the years, read our blog.
You might be interested to know that Stowford Farm Meadows Touring Caravan & Camping Site took £8,000.00 in its' first year of trading!
With the first year as a Touring Caravan & Camping Park being such a huge success, Stowford Farm Meadows found that more pitches were needed... and soon! During the winter of 1978 work began in earnest to open a further camping meadow. Field 2 (Bulls Field) was earmarked for the development and the amenity block was built during the winter of 1978 to be ready for the following season.
Did you know that there were only ever 12 electric hook-ups on the whole site until the late 1980's?!
The popularity of Stowford was growing year and year and still more pitches were needed. Work began on Field 3 (Broad Meadow) which opened with it's own amenity block in 1981.
In the early years, Rallies were a major feature of the caravanning world and Stowford Farm Meadows was a popular venue. Often Rallies would consist of over 100 units! Some of our long-standing customers may remember the time when Cow Field, Gutter Close, Hatchet Field (now the top storage field), Front Meadow and Snow Close were all used as Rally Fields. Nowadays the only Rally Field left is Outer Front Meadow.
The original Old Stable Bar was developed in the very early days of Stowford Farm Meadows with an extension being built in 1984. Further improvements and upgrades have been carried out over the years. At one point there were actually two Bars within what we now know as the Old Stable Bar (one Bar serving the upper rooms and one Bar serving the main Bar area).
The Old Barn Bar has been used for many years as a venue for Disco's and Barn Dances, originally with feeding troughs, mangers and lots of straw! I wonder if some of you will remember Norman who ran the Bars for many years in the early days?
Field 4 (Great Western Park) was originally used as a Rally field. As you can see from the old photograph there were no roads or amenities back then - proper camping! It opened as part of the main site with it's own amenity block in 1987. Field 4 is the largest single touring caravan & camping field at Stowford Farm Meadows with large flat pitches making it perfect for tents. It also has the largest amenity block of our five meadows.
Field 4 is now home for many of our Seasonal Pitches too.
Building work started in 1987 and Stowford's very own Swimming Pool opened ready for Easter in 1988. Ever since, the pool has been a popular facility for caravanners and campers of all ages. Stowford Farm Meadows is still one of only a handful of North Devon campsites with a swimming pool. Our 22 metre indoor heated swimming pool is open to guests daily between April and October inclusive.
During the winter months our swimming pool is widely used by the local community with swimming clubs and schools making use of our wonderful facility.
In the early days, Stowford Farm Meadows Reception was run from the Holiday Shop. In 1990 it was relocated to within the same building as it is now, albeit in a much smaller office with just two members of staff. Some will remember this building also housing the Payphones immediately outside the Reception area but still within the shed itself. During this time, Stowford Reception also went computerised! Some of you may remember when bookings were written on large sheets of paper on the wall!
In 1997 we upgraded the whole area and developed the current Reception and Offices, together with the Disabled and Private washroom facilities next door and also widened and upgraded the entrance and drive area outside the Reception building.
In 1996 Stowford acquired a further 70 Acres of woodland and developed for the enjoyment of customers. There are over three and a half miles of marked nature walks which start and finish on site providing an excellent network of waymarked paths through the beautiful Bittadon Valley.
Since this time, Stowford has been working hard for the environment; over the past ten years Stowford has planted over 40,000 trees in the surrounding areas, creating over 50 acres of new woodland. This has helped create a new home for the local wildlife – owls have been spotted in our purpose built homes and deer are very frequent visitors.
Field 5 (Bridge Park) was originally used for grazing for our riding stables ponies and also for Rallies and even quad biking! However, the ever-growing need for more pitches meant that Field 5 opened as a touring caravan & camping meadow in 2002. The amenity block was the first facility to be built to a winter specification, including underfloor heating, quality double glazed doors and windows. To minimise heat loss, porches on the entrances keep the wind at bay, and on the field itself 16 amp electric hook ups and tarmac hardstanding pitches were added. These new facilities in Bridge Park created an unusual amount of excitement (and confusion!) in Reception with one member of staff proudly explaining to a customer about our new 'under-pitch' heating!
The opening of Bridge Park coincided with Stowford obtaining a site licence to open all year round and we have been an 'Open All Year' venue ever since.
In 2000 we opened our own Caravan Workshop, initially with just 1 technician and this quickly grew to 3. Further expansion led to Stowford Caravan Centre being built opposite Reception and we quickly began selling caravans from this new facility. Initially, we sold pre-owned caravans, but before long this included new caravans too. Our first ever franchise was with Fleetwood Caravans and we were presented with a “Best New Caravan Dealer” Award in our first year. Since then, at various times, we have sold new Adria, Buccaneer, Coachman, Elddis, Lunar and Sprite but in more recent years have finally settled with Bailey Caravans. We regard it as the best value product in the industry.
In the inaugural Practical Caravan Owner Satisfaction Awards 2013 Stowford Caravan Centre were awarded a Gold Award for supplying New Caravans and a Silver Award for supplying pre-owned Caravans – one of only a small number of dealers nationally to win awards in both categories.
2004 was also the year that Stowford Farm Meadows was awarded the Practical Caravan Top 100 UK sites 'Overall Winner'. A great year all round for Stowford!
Work on the Stowford Country Lodge development begins. By this time, Stowford Farm Meadows was already established at the very top of caravan industry standards and it seemed a natural progression for the company to expand into the provision of holiday homes. Of course we wanted this development to be special and plans were carefully drawn up to offer customers the opportunity to purchase luxury timber holiday lodges in tranquil surroundings.
The location of the holiday lodge development is so idyllic that in the 1300′s an early farm settlement flourished in this precise area. Doubtless they appreciated the sheltered position, south facing aspect and the outstanding countryside views. Now, seven centuries later, the beauty that attracted them to this area can be enjoyed by a new generation of visitor.
In 2011 award-winning Stowford Farm Meadows opened a new caravan dealership near Llantrisant, South Wales, just north of Cardiff. Stowford South Wales has become the leading Bailey touring caravan and motorhome dealership in South Wales, supplying new Bailey caravans, Bailey motorhomes and always with a great selection of used caravans and used motorhomes for sale.
Stowford South Wales also incorporates a caravan accessory shop, new workshop facilities and secure caravan storage.
Over the winter of 2012/2013 we installed a brand new Biomass heating system. This system provides the heating and hot water for all of the buildings on-site, the only oil used now is in the AGA in the farmhouse!
The boilers are run using woodchip as fuel. Wood is low carbon (meaning when wood is burnt it emits the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as is absorbed during the life cycle of the growing plant) and is a naturally sustainable fuel source. We can also use wood from our own woodland meaning that less emissions are used transporting the fuel to us.
In recent years we have made the observation that Campervans are growing in popularity year on year and so have spent time researching this product. Eventually in January 2014 we stepped into this market with a forecourt display of VW T5 Campervans in both Devon and Wales. Our experienced technicians are fully qualified within the leisure industry with specific training in 12V electrics, 240V electrics, LPG Gas and Caravan Industry City and Guilds and are able to carry out some stunning conversions on nearly new VW T5 vehicles.