For more than a decade Richard Coulter and John Maddy have helped people enjoy thousands of nights under canvas surrounded by some of the most spectacular environments the Lake District has to offer.  

However, through their business Long Valley Yurts, the pair have also been on a mission to help people learn to appreciate nature and join them in their efforts to look after the planet. 

Richard and John met at Newton Rigg College, where they were both studying outdoor education. 

“We became good friends and climbing partners and just shared a love of the outdoors,” says John. 

After finishing their studies and pursuing separate careers they both ended up working for global development training firm Impact, based at Ecclerigg, near Windermere and began talking about the idea of setting up a business hiring out yurts.  

They launched Long Valley Yurts in 2008, renting out two on the site of National Trust’s campsite in Great Langdale, with the trust leasing them the space. 

"At that time there weren't many people doing this type of holiday," says John.  

"It was in the middle of a recession and most people would have wanted to stay in a stable job. It was certainly a bit of a wing and a prayer." 

The initial two yurts in Great Langdale grew to three and were then followed by six more at the trust’s site at Low Wray on the shores of Windermere.  

"It's about having that back-to-nature and close-to-nature experience that allows people to not feel like they're in a solid structure, or a bricks and mortar building," he says. "It's that feeling you get when you're at a campsite, or you're camping under the stars, and you have that connection to nature. That's what we want to try and create. 

"We get people telling us how much they loved hearing the rain on the tent. 

“You've got these beautiful locations where you can hear a pin drop. You can see every star in the sky with no light pollution.” 

For the first seven years, Richard and John ran the business as a pair, doing everything from taking bookings and dealing with customer service to setting up and maintaining the yurts.  

The business now has a full-time team of four, which increases to seven during the busy summer period. 

It no longer has yurts on the National Trust sites, but has four other locations across Cumbria - in Witherslack, Broughton-in-Furness, Bassenthwaite and at Lakeside - mainly working with partner campsites who lease them space to place the yurts and rent them out.  

These partners then deal with the day-to-day management of the yurts and welcoming guests. 

The exception is Moss Howe Farm, in Witherslack, where Long Valley Yurts has purchased the site and is running it directly. 

In Cumbria:

"When we started at Langdale we were servicing the yurts ourselves," says John.  

"As we grew we knew that we just couldn't deliver that on a bigger scale. We wanted to make sure that the quality was there and the service. So we looked at a joint venture partnership model, where we offer diversification opportunities to landowners, farmers and campsites as well.  

“We put all of our units on the ground and install them and train the team on site. We manage all of the bookings, the customer communications, the maintenance, the risk assessments, any training and then we share a percentage of the income. 

"We have a relationship with all of our partners, which is not just on paper, it's not just a signature on a contract; it's a phone call, it's a sit down and have a chat and a cup of tea, it's popping by and seeing them and talking about how they're feeling.   

“It's a really, really good opportunity for them to bring in additional income to their offering.” 

From the very start they have been focused on making the business as sustainable as possible.  

They work with an artisan British yurt maker - whose identity they keep under wraps - to design and make yurts with canvas which is coloured to blend in sympathetically with the landscape, using responsibly sourced wood. 

“Our yurt maker is our biggest kept secret,” says John.  

“What we love about the structure is that everything is sourced in this country, we know the forest where our ash comes from. We have an open dialogue with our canvas maker about how the canvas is made and where it’s from.”  

They also design the bases for their futons alongside Ulverston-based community interest company Digital Woodoo, using carbon neutral plywood.  

The mattresses are also especially designed by another British manufacturer using recycled materials.  

The pedestals which the yurts stand on are also made from recycled material and free-standing - saving the need to lay down concrete or hammer wooden posts into the ground, while allowing plants to grow beneath. 

Long Valley Yurts’ hot tubs are specially designed for them so they are slightly smaller than usual - although still with space for six people - achieving a saving of 168,000 litres of water on each site compared to a larger tub.  

Like all of its structures the hot tubs are off grid and heated by burning sustainable heat logs and, although they do use chemicals for sanitisation for now, the company has been working with Lancaster University to develop a chemical free filtration system. 

The wood burners for heating the yurts are also specially made by a blacksmith in Devon, with a flue system which reduces the regularity of cleaning required, cutting down the amount of driving staff have to do from site to site to service them. 

All the experience that John has gleaned over the years has enabled him to start a spinoff consultancy business named Canopy, putting his background in corporate development training to use. 

This covers everything from working with fledgling glamping businesses, to advising on health and safety and insurance.  

“We’re starting to create health and safety qualifications that are specific for our industry,” he says. 

During the pandemic, John also completed an MBA with University of Cumbria, writing a thesis on the environmental impact of around 9,500 tourists travelling to six of Long Valley’s sites over a three year period. 

His research identified that even though individual tourism operators are focused on reducing their footprints, the county will fail to hit its net zero target for 2037 unless they work together to tackle the emissions associated with customer travel to and from their businesses. 

John says the findings have made clear that businesses need to focus on changing people’s travel habits so they make fewer journeys to the area. 

"The path that we're working on now is looking at open dialogue with our customers about reducing travel whilst they're staying with us as well," says John, whose thesis is due to be published this year. 

"We're promoting longer holidays and reducing the high turnover.” 

He says larger players in the tourism industry also have to begin taking action and working together. 

“We can’t just rely on the rollout of electric vehicles,” he says.  

 "Yes, we are looking at implementing power and charge points on our campsite and rolling them out, but there has to be a different narrative as well.”