CAMPING has come a long way from heavy canvas tents and toilet blocks that linger uncomfortably in the memory, and nowhere is this more apparent as the emergence of shepherd’s huts.

Essentially a curved roof structure on top of cast iron wheels – but with all sorts of whistles and bells thrown in – they have become an option for campsite and caravan park owners, and a cosy home from home for numerous holiday-makers.

Stuart John, of Abercorran Farm, near Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, finally has planning permission for five shepherd’s huts after a lengthy planning process which cost him a five-figure sum in reports and other costs.

He is sure to save money on the shepherd’s huts, though, as he makes them from scratch.

Always keen to try something new, the self-employed builder put one together during the evenings some years back. It took him around six months, and he sold it on the website eBay for £4,000.

“I knew there was a market for it,” said Mr John, speaking from his farmhouse, which he shares with his wife Andrea, her two teenage daughters, and four monkeys. “People were commenting, saying they looked good.”

At the time he was doing a demanding job on a hotel in Tenby, Pembrokeshire. He said: “My missus said to me, ‘Why don’t you go full-time on the huts?’ I built another one – that sold, then another.”

He now has four full and part-time staff – Ben John, Steffan Thomas, James Watkins and Gwyn Davies – with Mrs John in charge of painting the huts’ interiors.

The couple also run three holiday cottages at the farm –  and then there’s the small matter of the donkeys, goats, alpacas, lambs, owls, kookaburras, raccoons and marmosets to looks after.

There are three shepherd’s huts in various stages of manufacture at the farm’s workshop during a visit by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Mr John said he provided customers with a list of options, and the huts are then built to their specifications. They do not exceed 3m in height, but there is more leeway in terms of length and width.

Generally comprising a bedroom, kitchen-living room and bathroom, they are normally double-insulated, double-glazed and can have underfloor heating, central heating, a log-burner – even a hot tub. Mr John said they fully withstood the elements, allowing year-round use.

“No two are the same – that’s the bit of it I like,” said the 53-year-old.

Creating things from scratch, he said, was a passion. “You build something, stand back, and it’s so rewarding,” he said.

His business, Abercorran Shepherd Huts, arranges delivery of the finished products, which have been used as a cafe-bar, kebab retail unit and toilet block as well as accommodation.

Mr John said he’s currently got an order book of seven, and that a shepherd’s hut from start to finish could take as little as four weeks. The cheapest costs around £22,000.

“The dearest one we have sold was £38,000, but two years ago that would have cost £28,000,” he said, citing the soaring cost of materials.

Not that long ago, he said, he paid £3,000 for steel for three shepherd’s hut trailers. “Six weeks later and it was £5,200,” he said.

Mr John conveyed a sense of pride about his work. “My favourite saying is, ‘If we can’t make it, it can’t be made’,” he said.

“People ask me, ‘What’s your warranty?’ I say, ‘Me.’ I’m not going to run away. We over-engineer everything – the steel, the woodwork, the screwing.”

He said the larch and Douglas fir often used as cladding normally lasted 15 years and could then be replaced.

Mr John grew up in the Rhondda Valley and said he never sat an exam at school, instead learning the building trade and renovating houses which he bought for as little as £7,000 or £8,000.

“When I was 25 I owned 12 houses,” he said. He refitted several properties for council social services departments, whose staff often asked him if he knew anywhere that people with disabilities could go on holiday.

He bought 18-acre Abercorran Farm from Carmarthenshire Council in 2001, and went to work transforming its milking parlours into three disabled-friendly holiday cottages, which opened around 14 years ago.

He has also extended the farmhouse, added a conservatory, and built enclosures for the animals. The four monkeys will have a shepherd’s hut of their own before too long.

He and his wife greet cottage guests and said around 75% of their bookings were repeat stays. “The relationships we’ve got with people is lovely,” said Mr John.

He said his own five shepherd’s huts would be on site in a field behind the farmhouse next year. And while the order book looks solid, Mr John is always keeping his eye out for new trends.

“I watch the market, and I’m always looking for something different to build,” he said.

Asked if he enjoyed his work, he replied: “Oh, too much.” Addressing his wife, he said with a smile: “I’m a b*gger to work for, aren’t I love?” The reply, “Yeah,” came back quickly from the kitchen.