An Anglesey farming family have switched from suckler cows and lamb production to running a popular Go Karting circuit.
The farm’s location, just off the main A5 and a short distance from the port of Holyhead, means it attracts visitors from Ireland as well as holidaymakers from all over Britain.
Cartio Mon takes its name from the Welsh name for the island, Ynys Mon, and developed directly from a passion shared by Martin and Eirian Williams and their sons, Dafydd 18 and Dewi 15.
The family always sought out Go Karting tracks on holidays abroad and during visits to other parts of Britain, and came up with the idea of doing something similar on their own 70-acre farm.
Martin says: “We realised that there wasn’t anything like that here in North Wales. When we went on holiday I would always look for something like this to do and I increasingly felt there was an opportunity here.
“We were farming 20 suckler cows and had 650 ewes, but then we were taken out by foot-and-mouth in 2001. Initially, it was too depressing to restock and then we decided we would look for something different.
“We’ve had to learn quickly. It has been a steep learning curve and, as in any new business, if you want to make it a success you’ve got to get on and do it.”
The couple both work full-time on the circuit and as members of CLA Wales, have benefited from the organisation’s help and advice. Martin had given up his job as an area secretary with the Farmers Union of Wales and Eirian, a police officer with the North Wales force, is on a career break.
Family life revolves around the business, much as it does in farming. Dafydd is studying agricultural engineering and is hoping to go on to do a degree in sports performance car engineering. Dewi is still at school, but totally involved and has a particular passion for stunt driving.
Eirian says: “It was a big risk and a step into the unknown, but it’s a daily challenge. The holiday periods are the busiest.
“It’s hard work when you’ve got an event booked in and it’s piddling down with rain and you’ve got to get on with it outside the same as if you were lambing. If you’ve got bookings in and it’s raining, you’ve got to get on with it.”
There’s a terrific buzz in the small booking office and café as visitors bustle in and out, changing into smart overalls, gloves, balaclavas and helmets.
The family and their customers are extremely competitive about their timings on the circuit and a daily score is kept on the wall.
Every effort is made to involve the whole family with bright-painted cub karts available for three- to seven-year-olds to operate on a separate circuit.
The budding Lewis Hamiltons are a force to be reckoned with and presently the top cub kart speed is just point eight of a second behind the highest adult speed. At the other end of the scale a 78-year-old couple were thrilled with the challenge the sport offered.
Now into their fourth year, Martin and Eirian are planning a permanent clubhouse so that they can offer improved facilities to regular customers, and are keen to develop the corporate aspect of the business.
The season began well. The litmus test is always the February half term, which went much better than had been expected, and the glorious Easter weather was a boost.
The Williams family have had to learn the business quickly
They’re confident that the business will continue to grow. They attracted 15,000 visitors in the first year and have now reached 24,000 witha turnover increasing from £140,000 to £200,000.
But there are continuing challenges. Insurance costs are still steep, but have reduced from an annual £10,000 to £4000. Safety is a constant and huge consideration.
Martin says: “Safety is always to the forefront. We’re inspected regularly by the local authority. The karts are checked daily by a mechanic and no kart goes out without having passed the check.”
The karts have also developed from the early two-engine models and have been replaced by a new fleet of single-engine karts which run on the purpose-built floodlit 400m circuit. They run on LPG, which ties in with the family’s general concern for the environment.
Visitors can opt for a six- or 12-minute session – and it’s said to be as strenuous as a workout in a gym. Concentration, co-ordination and fast hand movements are crucial. Groups of 12 or more are offered a mini or full Grand Prix and there are also team endurance sessions.
And Martin still likes to keep his hand in: “You might get some crowd that entice you to have a race, but it’s a waste of time going around with the kids, they just thrash me every time. I have got to have someone a little less experienced than myself to have a good race.”
As their boys grow up, the couple haven’t ruled out a return to hands-on livestock farming. Meanwhile Martin is proud that their enterprise is just another means of the family remaining “keepers of the land”.