On holiday, a bed isn’t necessarily just for rest and recuperation. Sometimes it is the holiday. Pick your accommodation wisely, and you won’t need to plan much else: the plush beds, lush gardens, quirky décor and fancy restaurants will provide all the entertainment you need. To help you choose, we’ve drawn up a list of the best UK hotels, hostels, B&Bs, campsites, caravans and – ahem – lighthouses. And for ease of browsing, we’ve chopped up the list into three sections: the best cheap and mid-range hotels, our fave quirky accommodation, and the finest in alternative camping. Sweet dreams.
Cheap and mid-range hotels
Planning a staycation? We’ve selected the best budget and mid-range beds around Britain offering the perfect place to get some shut eye before exploring some of the country’s most idyllic and interesting locations…
The Falmouth Townhouse
Given its arty air, Falmouth was long overdue a hotel with design flair – and with the arrival of Falmouth Town House, crafted with care from an incredibly handsome double-fronted Georgian house, it finally has one. The ten rooms at this retro-styled hotel are artfully scattered with vintage modernist design classics, original art and bespoke furniture, amassed with care by the owners, as well as equipped with king-sized beds, spacious luxury bathrooms (with toiletries from natural specialists Korres) and an unbeatable location in the centre of town – right opposite the harbour and the National Maritime Museum. The cool little bar in the reception rooms serving tapas, wines and cocktails is a neat addition.
Falmouth Grove Place, Falmouth & Roseland (01326 312 009). Doubles from £85.
The Gurnard’s Head
With the desolate Penwith moorland on one side and the foaming Atlantic on the other, this country inn with restaurant and rooms is ideal for that weekend when you really want to get away from it all. Located a touch west of the pretty village of Zennor, the coastal pub sits a few fields away from the namesake Gurnard’s Head, a spectacular rocky outcrop (shaped like a gurnard’s head) that takes you out into the Atlantic for great views of the cliffs on either side and the feeling of the wind in your hair (and quite possibly the Cornish drizzle on your anorak). Rooms are simple and comfortable, and though the upmarket menu and rustic chic decor place Gurnard’s squarely in the gastropub category, the food is fuss-free British comfort food of the highest order. The Inkins are firm believers in ‘the simple things in life done well’. So, now, are we, as are many other – so booking is essential.
Nr Zennor, 5 miles W of St Ives Gurnard’s Head, St Ives (01736 796 928). Doubles from £160.
Burngate Farm Bed and Breakfast
Half an hour’s walk inland from the coast at Durdle Door, close to Lulworth Camp, Burngate is a sturdy, stonebuilt old farmhouse, in part dating back to the Middle Ages. The chosen HQ of Rob da Bank and his crew for the first Camp Bestival at Lulworth Castle in 2008, it has three very comfortable first-floor double bedrooms – French beds, cotton sheets, plenty of books – all with their own bathrooms. Guests are also welcome to use the large sitting room downstairs, with its wood-burning stove, mags, TV and generous sofas, where they might even be joined by Guinness, the cheerful pointer belonging to proprietors Sophie and David Weld-Davies. Lifts to the pub are all part of the service, though not after midnight, wedding guests should take note. Exceptionally good breakfasts are served in the dining room: homemade bread, kippers from Bideford, and Dorset oats in the porridge.
West Lulworth, Purbeck Coast (01929 400 783). Doubles £75.
This extraordinary old stone tower of a house on the edge of Lulworth Castle’s park – you can just see the castle’s chapel over a distant ridge – probably dates from the 17th century. It has been both a farmhouse and a gamekeeper’s house in its time but looks as though it was destined to be part of something much more impressive. Guests get to stay in the roof, up a steep and wide old wooden staircase, where there are two rooms, simply furnished and perfectly clean, one with a free-standing roll-top bath in the corner. There’s a quirky little sitting area on the landing, while breakfast is served downstairs in the dining room, with its huge fireplace, log-burning stove, and stone-mullioned windows. All in all, Park Lodge has got a lot of character, and Hennie Weld runs the place with enthusiasm and charm.
East Lulworth, Purbeck Coast (01929 400 546). Doubles £75 for one night; £70 for consecutive nights.
Forest of Rowland
This B&B bills itself, with typical eccentric humour, as ‘a mini country hotel’. Mini indeed: it’s a tiny 18th-century cottage on a narrow cobbled street whose front door opens directly into the living room. Here you’ll find a quaint dining table and chairs adorned in white and chintz, alongside a range of homemade cakes – non-guests are welcome for afternoon tea, and guests are offered all-day refreshments, plus candlelit silver-service dinner. The three rooms are small, pretty, a tad old-fashioned and excellent value.
Waddington, 2 miles N of Clitheroe The Square, Forest of Bowland (01200 422 367). No credit cards. Doubles from £65.
Park House is a bit of a find: it has all the charms of a small, personal hotel and none of the institutional tics of the B&B that it really is, with concommitantly reasonable prices. It’s a handsome Georgian house opposite Gisburn church, with six rooms and a beautifully furnished guest lounge. Proprietor Glenis Jollys has a passion for antiquing and an eye for style: the rooms are furnished with pretty and individual one-off pieces, and the details are thoughtful. Beds are comfortable, the glasses cut glass, the flowers fresh and the fires real. Park House doesn’t serve dinner, but there’s a decent pub nearby, the White Bull, along with a smart and friendly Italian restaurant, La Locanda.
Gisburn, 6 miles NE of Clitheroe Church View, Forest of Bowland (01200 445 269). Doubles from £75.
Isle of Wight
There are just two rooms in this charming B&B, situated in the early 14th-century annexe to 17th-century Gotten Manor on the rugged south of the island, but both are beautifully decorated, with limewashed walls, quality textiles and polished wooden floors. They are as luxurious as any first-rate hotel, housing rosewood double beds, sofas and huge cast-iron baths, with fluffy white robes, soft towels, crisp bedlinen, fresh flowers and candles completing the picture of loving care and attention to detail. Breakfast, served in either the walled garden or the former creamery, is as good as you would expect; local and organic produce features heavily, as do home-made jams, yoghurt and smoothies. A couple of attractive self-catering cottages in converted barns are also available to hire for weekends or whole weeks in this highly recommended, unique, discreet hideaway.
Chale Gotten Manor, Gotten Lane, Isle of Wight (01983 551 368). Doubles £105.
The Coledale Inn
A functional, unfussy affair set in the comfortable frame of a former Lakeland mill, with a hilltop location and stunning views across the valley to Skiddaw, the lemon yellow Coledale Inn remains a firm favourite with families. Facilities are limited to a suitably cavernous Victorian bar, a bright and airy restaurant (serving cheap and cheerful pub-style grub) and a small residents’ lounge furnished with a few battered sofas, a handful of antique lamps and a well-worn Persian rug. The 20 recently refurbished are simple, clean and cosy, and many have superb valley views.
Braithwaite, 4 miles W of Keswick, Lake District (01768 778 272). Doubles from £88 (discounts available, depending on season and length of stay).
The George Hotel
Delightfully idiosyncratic Cley is a great place to hole up for a night or two, and this pretty country inn makes an appealingly calm base. All ten rooms are unfussy, furnished in neutral colours and delicate fabrics. Three offer glorious views and plenty of space; the attic rooms are cosier but have the same expansive views across the marshes. Food in the understated, modern restaurant ranges from pies and curries to fancier pub grub.
Cley-next-the-Sea High Street, Norfolk (01263 740 652). Doubles from £105.
The Lifeboat Inn
On its ground floor, this pleasantly ramshackle 16th-century country pub serves crowd-pleasing bar meals (cottage pie, fish and chips) alongside a full restaurant menu and real ales to an appreciative wide-ranging clientele (dogs and children welcome). Upstairs and in the adjacent building, the Lifeboat offers 14 light-filled, pine-furnished rooms prettily decorated with patchwork quilts and bright fabrics and featuring big comfy beds. Some have views over the marshes and across Thornham harbour to the sea, but the pub’s location (away from the main road) means all the rooms have decent views. Free Wi-Fi is included, and the huge hearty breakfast should send you on your way sated and happy.
Thornham Ship Lane, Norfolk (01485 512 236). Doubles from £80 (discounts for long stays).
Rose & Crown
Part village pub, part smart restaurant and part boutique hotel, the Rose & Crown makes a lovely base from which to explore nearby Sandringham and Hunstanton. The setting, on the edge of the large village of Snettisham – near the church and opposite the cricket pitch – is serene. Three snug bars are at the centre of the pub, the oldest part of which dates from the 14th century. The 16 bedrooms are more modern and pleasingly varied, from oak-panelled spaces to contemporary, pastel-hued rooms in the extension. All are bright and pretty, with a note of luxury provided by power showers, Molton Brown toiletries, bottled mineral water and Wi-Fi, magazines and books. There’s ample choice for breakfast, including a vegetarian assembly, a whole kipper (with poached egg and spinach) as well as a hefty full English.
Snettisham, 5 miles S of Hunstanton Old Church Road, Norfolk (01485 541 382). Doubles from £110.
Broomhill Art Hotel
In a mildly forbidding Victorian mansion set on a steep wooded hillside enlivened by curious open-air artworks, the hotel isn’t the raison d’être of Broomhill, but it’s perfectly serviceable and pretty good value. There are only eight rooms and so long as you’re not expecting the utmost luxury – the shower rooms are tiny and the beds aren’t the best – you’ll appreciate the adventurous vibe established by the welcoming Dutch owners and curators Rinus and Aniet van de Sande. The mellow (and award-winning) Terra Madre restaurant espouses the ‘slow food’ philosophy, and features a menu with a faintly incongruous Mediterranean slant. The sitting room gallery is just the place to enjoy a Somerset apple brandy digestif.
Barnstaple Muddiford Road, North Devon (01271 850 262). Doubles from £75.
Hartland Quay Hotel
A quirky establishment on the farthest-flung outpost of Hartland. The location is unmatchable, and remains the hotel’s strongest reason for recommendation – vast waves lash at the fantastic jagged rocks of the north Devon coast just a hundred yards from the door. Inside, the rooms are basic and functional, and only those on the upper storey have good views. Corridors and stairs are decorated in an alarming white and pea-green colour scheme. The Wreckers Retreat bar, with its log-cabin look and plastic fish on the walls, is a spirited place, featuring an awe-inspiring chart of where ships have foundered on the terrifying coast. This is not such a bad place to have washed up in.
Hartland, North Devon (01237 441 218). Doubles £100.
The Joiners Shop Bunkhouse
You don’t expect luxury in a bunkhouse, but you hope for somewhere clean, well run and welcoming, and that’s just what proprietors Wal and Annie Wallace provide. There are 18 bunks, arranged in curtained-off dormitories. The bunkhouse has self-catering facilities, but meals and packed lunches are provided if requested in advance. You can either bring a sleeping bag or rent them here. Joiners is in a rural area, with easy access to the A1 and coast, and a nearby railway stop at Chathill.
Preston, Nr Chathill (10 miles N of Alnwick), Northumberland Coast (01665 589 245). No credit cards. Bunks £15/person (£8 for under-15s).
The Crown and Anchor
The Crown & Anchor’s guest rooms – at least three of the four – have the best views available to anybody staying on Holy Island, with outlooks over priory, castle and bay. Rooms are simply furnished and clean, and the proprietors, islander Keith Shell and all-but-islander wife Rachel, are good hosts. The pub, decorated with old photos of fishermen, has an open coal fire and serves good pub food.
Holy Island Market Place, Northumberland Coast (01289 389 215). Doubles from £70.
St Cuthbert’s House
Jeff and Jill Sutheran took a semi-derelict Presbyterian church and turned it into an exemplary modern B&B. Here you’ll find all the comfort and most of the refinements of a major hotel, but also the personal service and human contact of the best B&Bs. The cooked breakfast is excellent. Guest rooms are clean and well thought out, but the highlight is the communal area, with natural light flooding through the arched windows of the old church, and the old lectern repositioned in the overlooking gallery. It’s a glorious space, ideal for relaxing in at day’s end. Jeff and Jill are musicians, and if you ask, Jill might play the Northumbrian small pipes.
Seahouses 192 Main Street, Northumberland Coast (01665 720 456). Doubles from £110.
The Victoria Hotel
The Victoria looks over the village green in Bamburgh. Only three new additions to its 37 rooms have views towards the castle; the rest look towards the parish church, the sea beyond, or inland to the Cheviots. Superior rooms have four-poster beds, and are decorated in earthy colours in keeping with the pleasing Victorian feel of the hotel. The ambience is enhanced by winding staircases leading up to some rooms.
Bamburgh Front Street, Northumberland Coast (01668 214 431). Doubles from £75.
Ben Nevis Inn (Fort William)
If you’re not averse to cosying up with a few strangers (bunkhouse accommodation is in three eight-bed dormitories), then there couldn’t be a much more convenient spot to lay your head before an ascent of the big mountain – the main path up Ben Nevis starts right outside the door. Sleeping conditions are a little cramped, to say the least, but to help you drop off in such confined surroundings there’s a lively bar with reasonably priced simple meals and a decent selection of malts on offer.
Achintree (1 mile NE of Fort William), Scotland (01397 701 227). Bunks £15.50/person.
Cambo Estate (East Neuk)
Indulge in some country house grandeur by sleeping in a four-poster bed in the Victorian mansion on the Cambo Estate. As well as three sumptuous bed and breakfast suites, there are five self-catering apartments in the main house, and three self-catering cottages by the main gate. Tennis courts, basketball, a games room and a children’s play area are also available.
Kingsbarns Cambo House, East Neuk (01333 450 054). Double suites from £110. Double cottages and apartments from £205.
Crusoe Hotel (East Neuk)
It’s old-school Scottish but has the advantage of being right at the water’s edge. This is no longer the East Neuk proper, but a convenient halfway point en route to the bright lights of Leven and Kirkaldy. The crepuscular bar and restaurant are popular with locals.
Lower Largo, 5 miles NW of Earlsferry 2 Main Street, East Neuk (01333 320 759). Doubles from £89.50.
Golf Hotel (East Neuk)
A 16th-century coaching inn with a decent, if rather retro, restaurant and sun terrace. Expect pleasant, comfortable and unpretentious rooms (two doubles and three twins) and a friendly welcome. Golf packages are available.
Crail 4 High Street, East Neuk (01333 450 206). Doubles from £60.
Clachaig Inn (Glencoe)
Situated right in the heart of Glencoe, a couple of miles south-east of Glencoe village, this 300-year-old inn is a classic staging post for climbers and walkers. There are 23 en-suite bedrooms, all of them en suite, some of them with glorious views of the mountains. Food is a Highland theme menu, with haggis, venison casserole and clootie dumpling all making an appearance. The boots bar, with a cracking open fire, has loads of live music and malts galore, perfect for elaborating on that overhang you climbed earlier in the day.
Glencoe, Scotland (01855 811 252). Doubles from £47.
Kings House Hotel (Glencoe)
Built in the 17th century, the Kings House Hotel sits in splendid isolation, just off the A82 opposite Glencoe’s most famous peak, Buchaille Etive Mhor. The 22 bedrooms could do with some updating, but after a day on the hills, most guests are generally after a comfy bed, a hearty meal and a large dram, and the Kings House wins through on all three counts. The climbers’ bar at the back of the hotel is a lively place to numb the pain after a day on the hills.
Glencoe, Scotland (01855 851 259). Doubles from £90.
Stein Inn (North-west Skye)
Want to stay in a small and simple 18th-century inn? Thanks to some illustrious venues, Skye is often associated with the upper end of the hotel market, so these more affordable beds are a welcome addition to the island’s hotel roster. The rooms at Loch Bay’s Stein Inn are simple in decor, the seafood is fresh (weather permitting), and there’s a decent bar with around 125 single malt whiskies to choose from, plus a clutch of cask ales. There’s even an agreeable (if snug) self-catered apartment for the independently minded. No frills, good vibes.
Stein, Waternish, 6 miles N of Dunvegan, North-west Skye (01470 592 362). Doubles from £77. Apartment from £335 for a week.
This former village school became a youth hostel in 1931. Present owners Mick and Gill Boulton bought it in 1992 and have devoted themselves to its running ever since. A full catering service is available, including packed lunches and evening meals. The Shropshire Way passes the hostel’s front door, there’s a large garden, and Mick bought the stream some years ago. With 37 beds, including two family rooms. Watch out for the Natterer’s bats that live in the attic.
Nr Ratlinghope (2.5 miles NW of Church Stratton), Shropshire Hills (01588 650 656). No credit cards. Bunks £19/person, £11.50 for under-18s (discounts for families and YHA members).
Boasting a secluded, postcard-perfect setting in a lush valley, these two stone mill houses are among the area’s most appealing accommodation options. The buildings date from the 17th century, but their beautiful old furniture is complemented by tasteful hints of modernity. They’re popular with walkers, as the Shropshire Way and Offa’s Dyke paths are nearby. Be sure to pick up a jar or two of the moreish, own-made jams and chutneys before you leave.
Nr Clun, 5 miles NW of Craven Arms, Shropshire Hills (01588 640 409). From £325/week; shorter breaks available.
This unspoilt Elizabethan manor house (built in 1585) is a youth hostel as well as a National Trust property. Set in grounds below Wenlock Edge, the building is largely unaltered and features a wonderful oak spiral staircase, a grand dining room and original garderobes (no longer in use). The whole thing was given a handsome facelift in 2012, to the tune of half a million quid. There are five family rooms, one double room and 52 (count ’em) bunk beds over four dormitories, plus a bar serving local beers and wines. An unforgettable place to stay.
Nr Longville in the Dale (10 miles SW of Much Wenlock), Shropshire Hills (0845 371 9149). No credit cards. Bunks from £11/person; private rooms from £20/room (discounts for YHA members).
Boutique hotels might be relatively commonplace these days, but boutique B&Bs are far more unusual. However, the best place to stay in Cirencester is just such an establishment – within a Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse in the centre of town you’ll find four large, immaculately groomed bedrooms with extra long beds (including a French bateau lit and an antique leather sleigh bed), feather pillows and sleek, contemporary bathrooms (equipped with Molton Brown toiletries and bathrobes). Friendly service and a top-notch breakfast (included in the price) complete the package.
Cirencester 12 Park Street, South Cotswolds (01285 640 232). Doubles from £130.
Probably Llandudno’s best guesthouse, Carmen is affectionately tended and a pleasure to visit. All rooms are uniquely decorated and have en suite facilities. A major refurb and redesign in 2008 earned it Wales’s four-star guest accommodation status, but it’s the personal touches from the charming owners that make the place stand out.
Llandudno Sylva Road, Conwy (01492 876 361). Doubles from £62.50.
The Old Smithy
The Old Smithy bed and breakfast lives up to its characterful name. It’s a 150-year-old cottage in a sleepy hamlet, with low beamed ceilings, exposed brickwork and antique furniture, complemented by shiny modern bathrooms. The cottage proper houses three double bedrooms; a nearby chalet serves as a slightly larger fourth room. Barafundle Bay, one of Wales’s most treasured beaches, is a short drive away, but so are a range of other supreme strands, including Freshwater West, Broadhaven, and a little further afield, Tenby and Manorbier. Other attractions include birdwatching at Stack Rocks and the nearby Bosherton Lily Ponds.
7 Merrion Village (3 miles W of Castlemartin), Merrion, Pembrokeshire Coast (01646 661 310). No credit cards. Doubles £70; chalet £75 (discounts for longer stays).
High above Fishguard, Cefn y Dre has bucolic views of the Preseli Hills, framed by an acre of gardens and mature ash, sycamore and yew trees. It’s also got history: the house dates back to the 15th century, and more recently, Lloyd George stayed here. Though the house has classically proportioned rooms and handsome Regency and Victorian touches, it has an unpretentious and informal feel. Rooms are comfortable and mumsy – lots of beige, with the odd piece of antique furniture handed down from the family of owner Gaye Williams. Indeed, Cefn y Dre’s biggest selling point is the personal touches offered by Williams and her husband Geoff Stickler: there are family heirlooms and oil paintings, but more importantly, personal advice on where to go walking and birdwatching, and where to eat in Fishguard and Newport. They know it all, and will tell you as you sip tea by one of the crackling fires in the homely drawing room or elegant dining room.
Fishguard, Pembrokeshire Coast (01348 875 663). No credit cards. Doubles from £89.
Not too long ago, the Grove would have been a simple chain pub where you could grab a cheap room for the night in St Davids. Nowadays, Welsh pub chain Brains is trying to take it more upmarket. The menu has gastropub aspirations, and if you wanted to be trendy you could call it ‘a restaurant with rooms’, though the whole place still feels chainy and slightly middle-of-the-road. Upstairs, the seven bedrooms are going for a boutique look, with white duvets, flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi access. It’s all very comfortable, if not memorable, and offers very good value for money.
St Davids High Street, Pembrokeshire Coast (01437 720 341). Doubles from £75.
The Stackpole Inn
The main attraction of Stackpole Inn is its proximity to Barafundle Bay and the Pembrokeshire coastal path. But it has plenty of other charms. With its ivy-covered stone walls, gabled windows and sweet garden, the 17th-century inn is the epitome of quaintness. Yet the four bedrooms are cool and contemporary (and two have pullout sofas for family stays). The area’s best local grub is offered downstairs. Served in a modern rustic setting, the food comprises classy gastropub fare – such as Welsh Black beef steaks, Welsh cheeses, Tenby crab, Pembroke sausages – and a selection of real ales.
Stackpole Jasons Corner, Pembrokeshire Coast (01646 672 324). Doubles from £90.
Warpool Court Hotel
Some say that Pembrokeshire is like Cornwall was 40 years ago. The Warpool Court Hotel could make a similar claim: there’s a distinct whiff of the ’70s about this country house hotel. The decor is formal but fusty, comfortable but forgettable. It’s the views, however, that will linger in the mind. Built majestically on the edge of a cliff, the hotel boasts vintage Atlantic vistas, complemented by formal, statue-filled gardens that open on to the coastal paths. The hotel attracts a seasonal cast of regulars, of the type who prefer tradition to trendiness and scenery to style, who might enjoy a game of croquet before dining amid the white tablecloths, chandeliers and frilly drapes of the retro dining room. Still, the glass-covered, heated indoor swimming pool is a unique selling point in these parts. And those amazing views trump designer makeovers any day.
St Davids, Pembrokeshire Coast (01702 720 300). Doubles from £120.
A retro American-style motel in traditional St Davids? It sounds unlikely, but the Waterings is more 1960s motorway than 1860s cobblestone – a sprawling one-storey building with rooms that open on to a courtyard, and a deliciously kitsch lobby filled with conch shells and shark’s teeth. The marine paraphernalia is a nod to the Waterings’ former incarnation, as a tourist aquarium. Back in 1989, it was converted into a motel, but the family held on to its heritage, hence the pond of koi carp. All the fishy stuff goes well with the motel’s nautical motif (buoys flank the entrance and the rooms have cute names like First Mate, Cabin Boy, and so on). Rooms are done up in pine furniture, all have a double and a twin, and many possess skylights. And, in contrast to its American counterparts, this is one motel where the car isn’t king: you can walk into the centre of St Davids in ten minutes.
St Davids Anchor Drive, High Street, Pembrokeshire Coast (01437 720 876). Doubles from £75 (discounts for longer stays).
Fancy staying somewhere a bit different? As you’d expect, Britain has plenty of extra-special, even eccentric, hotels and holiday lets to get your head down in. We’ve chosen ten of the most remote, romantic, historic, bonkers – in short, the best.
1. Head for a lighthouse
Holidaying in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage is about as remote and romantic as you’ll get. Views of the open sea, the sound of waves as a bedtime lullaby – there’s no better place to unwind and relax those stiff city shoulders. Trinity House, the UK’s Lighthouse Authority, has converted a bunch of former keepers’ cottages into holiday lets, dotted all around the coast. They’re great spots for wildlife watching, and there’s something thrillingly Enid Blytonesque about seeing the sweep of a lighthouse beam in the darkness. Just be aware that some of the lighthouses are still operational, which means a powerful foghorn is liable to sound on misty nights; earplugs are thoughtfully provided.
2. Escape to Burgh Island
Although easily reached from shore, ten-acre Burgh Island feels wonderfully remote. Pilchard fishermen and pirates once made a lonely living here – one Tom Crocker was shot by customs men right outside the 14th-century Pilchard Inn – but for most of the 20th century the island was the preserve of socialites, who holed up in the Burgh Island Hotel (01548 810 514). Noël Coward came for a three-day vacation and ended up staying three weeks; Edward brought Wallis Simpson here. ‘Uncle’ Archibald Nettlefold built the ‘country house by the sea’, with its copper-green turret, ballroom and sea-fed Mermaid Pool in 1929.
After a period of post-war decline, painstaking restoration has returned the hotel to its art deco glory. Nowadays, Burgh offers a distinctly old-fashioned luxury. Televisions are out; ballgowns and billiards are definitely in. (As are regular arrivals by helicopter, greeted with champagne.) The evening brings dances to the strains of a white grand piano, cocktails and excellent meals made from local produce.
3. Wind down in a windmill
Is Cley Windmill (01263 740 209), a tranquil 18th-century windmill-turned-guesthouse, the perfect romantic hideaway? It has the requisite four-posters, an atmospheric circular sitting room with roaring fire, and spectacular sea views. If you’re weekending with friends, it’s like being on a Famous Five adventure, with odd-shaped rooms, crannies and ladders that lead to lookouts – but crucial grown-ups’ stuff such as quality linen on comfortable beds isn’t sacrificed. Go for gentle ambles on the shingle beach, birdwatch, wander around Cley village’s charming flint-walled cottages and stock up on local goodies before heading back for sunset views over the salt marshes and a top-notch dinner. The mill has six bedrooms; there are three more in the courtyard cottages.
4. Get fruity in a pineapple
There’s no need to venture abroad for a taste of the tropics, when you can stay in your very own prickly pear – albeit one made of stone. The Pineapple (01628 825 925), a 75-foot folly at Dunmore Park, near Stirling, is one of the oldest examples of the fashion for architectural flights of fancy that gripped the aristocracy in the late 18th century. Built as a garden retreat for the 4th Earl of Dunmore and his wife in the 1760s, the fruit was chosen as it represented the height of gourmet luxury at the time. These days, the peculiar pavilion can be rented out through the Landmark Trust, which specialises in rescuing quirky old buildings and turning them into holiday homes with a difference.
5. Sleep in a train station
Set on the gloriously scenic Settle to Carlisle line, high above the Yorkshire Dales, Grade II-listed Dent Station (07824 665 266) is now an unusual holiday let. This is a true rural retreat, make no mistake: the nearest village is four miles away (though at least you won’t get lost trying to find it). You can roam the countryside in splendid isolation – although with regular train services passing through, you’re not completely alone.
6. Get rustic on Bardsey Island
In the Middle Ages, the abbey on Bardsey Island was a magnet for pilgrims. Today, the abbey is in ruins and the visitors to this tiny island off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales are more likely to be in search of peace and quiet than spiritual sustenance. That and the wildlife, which is abundant: Bardsey is a great spot for spotting seals, dolphins and porpoises. The trust that looks after the island (0845 811 2233) rents out a handful of charmingly rustic cottages to visitors. Be warned: they have a limited water supply and no electricity.
7. Perch on the cliff’s edge on Rhossili Bay
There are beaches for walking and talking. There are beaches for swimming and surfing. And then there are beaches for sitting and staring. Rhossili Bay is made for the latter: this is the landscape of the sublime. The Gower Peninsula, in the south-west corner of Wales, was the first area in Britain to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s not difficult to see why. The beach gives new meaning to the word sweeping (it’s about three miles long and, at low tide, seems about three miles wide); the dunes are mountainous; the downs behind are majestic and windswept; and the thundering surf is relentless. The scene from the hills above could compete with the world’s great coastal vistas. On a breezy day the wind might whip you raw, but you can always seek shelter in The Worm’s Head Hotel (01792 390 512), perched right on the edge of the cliff – and soak up the view, along with a welcome pint.
8. Kip in a castle
English Heritage offers 18 self-catered holiday cottages and apartments on its properties, from castles and ruined abbeys to rambling grand estates. Each is unique, and all boast stylish, contemporary interiors; there’s history enough when you step outside. If you opt for a stay in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, banish any images of a cold, dank dungeon: you’ll be kipping in a swish second-floor apartment (sleeping a family of four), set within the castle’s walls. Once the officers’ barracks for the castle garrison, it offers commanding views over the ancient ramparts and main courtyard. Our other favourites include the elegant Sergeant Major’s House at Dover Castle, with its lovely views over the channel, and the Priors Lodge at Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire – a single-storey stone cottage, nestled in the tranquil priory grounds.
9. Be grand on a budget
Forget your preconceptions about dank dorms and basic huts: there are some seriously stylish joints on the Youth Hostel Association’s books. Planning a trip to Bath? You can stay in an imposing Italianate mansion, refurbished in early 2008 (0845 371 9303). Grander still is Hartington Hall in Derbyshire, a sprawling Tudor mansion set in lovely grounds (0845 371 9740). Many of the rooms have en suite bathrooms, and there’s even a little romantic luxury to be had in the two-bed apartment known as the Roost. Bonnie Prince Charlie once slept here, so it’s got the almost-royal stamp of approval.
10. Sleep with your head in the clouds
Suffolk’s famed House in the Clouds (020 7224 3615) was erected in 1923 as the new water tower for nearby Thorpeness. The water tank was cunningly ‘disguised’ as a quaint little cottage perched atop a steel tower (precarious as the structure may look, it’s pretty solid – it stayed standing even after a stray shell hit it during the war). In 1979 the tank was removed and the structure was eventually converted into a guest house; where 50,000 gallons of water were once stored, now five bedrooms welcome inquisitive holidaymakers. The gloriously roomy two-floor top room affords lovely views of the Suffolk countryside.
Bored with the canvas suburbia of organised campsites? Then forget the rows of neatly marshalled tents, chemical toilets and trappings of civilisation and try one of these unusual ways to sleep over in the great British outdoors.
1. Cosy up in a Romany caravan
A traditional Romany caravan now has a permanent home, in a wildflower meadow near Llangrannog in West Wales. Built in 1924, the Gypsy Caravan Cardigan Bay has a wood-burning stove and is just big enough for two; best of all, you get exclusive use of the tranquil meadow. As well as the caravan, there’s a cabin with a shower room, kitchen and wooden veranda; sitting out here on a balmy summer evening is heavenly.
2. Camp out on the Thames in a skiff
The idea of navigating the Thames in an antiquated, round-bottomed rowing boat might sound alarming at first, but bear with us: it’s the upper stretches of the Thames, where tranquility reigns and the route is lined with idyllic waterside boozers. The boats in question are also things of beauty: a fleet of seven 100-year-old skiffs, stars of the annual Swan Upping swan census held on the river (not to mention ‘Shakespeare in Love‘ and ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire‘). Everything you could possibly need is on board – sculls (oars), mooring spikes, a stove and cooking equipment, crockery, sleeping and rowing mats and, best of all, a wet-weather cover that enables your boat to double up as a three-berth tent. All in all, it’s a Jerome K Jerome fan’s dream come true.
3. Go boutique at Bestival
Camp Bestival (an off-shoot of Bestival) is, as the name suggests, not just for music lovers, but boutique campers too. And the available options are great fun. Yurts and Squrts offer fun, cosy and green accommodation in both adult and child sizes; the Yurtel comes complete with a king-size bed and miniature toiletries; the solar-powered Podpads are lovingly decorated little wooden huts, with fitted carpet, shelving and locks on the front door; while Eve’s Tipis are set up for some serious luxury lounging on floor cushions, and sheepskins rugs. Campervans are also available for hire.
4. Kip in a vintage caravan
Deep in the woods of the North York Moors, La Rosa’s 20-acre site is occupied by eight kitsch and colourful caravans. Each is kitted out according to a different retro theme; Vegas Vice pays tribute to Elvis, while La Rosa’s opulent, mirror-bedecked interior is a homage to 1930s striptease star Gypsy Rose Lee. The whole site is run on low-tech lines and there’s no electricity: three of the caravans are cosily heated by wood-burning stoves, while showers are candlelit affairs in a hay byre and toilet trips involve a compost loo in a converted shepherd’s hut. There’s also a jauntily striped communal circus tent, where children can delve into the dressing-up box on rainy afternoons, and grown-ups natter and take afternoon tea from the charmingly mismatched rose-print crockery. A leftfield delight.
5. Pitch your tent at Three Cliffs Bay
This clifftop campsite is justly famed for its magnificent views over sandy Three Cliffs Bay. The pitches on the field by the cliff’s edge are somewhat sloping – but with views like that, who’s complaining? (Plus there’s a flatter back field for more cautious campers.) The beach is a short but slippery scramble down the cliff path; once you’ve made it safely down, you’re rewarded with a picture-perfect, unspoilt stretch of sand: happily, limited car parking keeps the holidaymaking hordes away.
6. Join the beach hut brigade
Beach huts began life as mobile contraptions, wheeled to the water’s edge to preserve the modesty of Victorian ladies with a horror of showing so much as an ankle in public. Sadly, they became somewhat redundant once we all stripped off into swimsuits and cavorted merrily on the sands – until someone had the bright idea of turning them into static huts; a little piece of privacy on increasingly busy beaches. These days, you’ll be lucky to get your hands on one: price tags of £50,000 and upwards aren’t unheard of, even though you’re generally not allowed to stay in them overnight. A rare exception is Mudeford Spit in Dorset, where you can sleep in the huts overnight between March and November. Prices to buy are eye-watering – but renting is more manageable.
7. Hit the road in a camper van
Based in the surf mecca of Devon, O’Connors Campers (01837 659 599) specialises in renovating authentic VWs, fitting them with new engines and interiors while retaining their classic boho look. There are 17 available for hire, from the ’60s splitscreen to ’70s bay window models. ‘A VW represents freedom and escape,’ says O’Connors’ Sam Money. ‘They’re not very big, so you can get them into a beach car park, but they’ve got everything you need inside. You can come straight out of the water, lean your surfboard up against the front and have a cup of tea – and if the waves aren’t big enough, you just hop in and drive up the coast.’
8. Rent an airstream
A bottle of cold beer, the opening harmonies of ‘Good Vibrations’ wafting through the air, the sunlight glinting off the chrome curves of an Airstream caravan: this is about as close as you can get to starring in your own American road movie. OK, so you’re stationary in the middle of a working dairy farm in a field on the Isle of Wight, with a bank of cloud scudding across the sky – but the same spirit of freedom is most certainly present. Vintage Vacations (07802 758 113) owns 13 beautifully restored old caravans, most of them classic Airstreams from the 1950s and ’60s, and they’re available to hire for short breaks of up to a week. All amenities are included in the reasonable tariff, and the caravans boast shower facilities (though you are asked to use the farm’s loo block; vintage caravan loos are a step too retro).
9. Sleep over on safari
Forget Kenya: a safari experience can be yours for a fraction of the price in Kent, at the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park. Home to some 650 animals, including the largest breeding herd of black rhino outside Africa, the park’s latest offering is an overnight safari package. After dinner around the communal campfire and a surprisingly cosy night under canvas (in commodious tents with with proper beds), you get to accompany the rangers on a magical dawn safari, getting up close and personal with the park’s free-range zebra, giraffe, antelope and wildebeest.
10. Go wild camping
In most parts of England and Wales, you have to ask the landowner’s permission before pitching your tent. In practice, many turn a blind eye if you’re only there for a night and are discreet, or don’t even notice you’re there (the golden rule being ‘pitch late, leave early’).
In Scotland, it’s legal to camp wild, so long as you follow the rules: leave the flora and fauna as you found it (party animals and budding Ray Mears take note), avoid farmland and camp well out of sight of any houses and roads. After that, it’s simply a question of remembering to pack the essentials – an Ordnance Survey map, compass, torch, plenty of food and water, and a sturdy tent and sleeping bag.
Dartmoor, England’s last great wilderness, is a place where camping is encouraged. But beware: according to folklore, Dartmoor is rife with strange apparitions – from a pair of disembodied throttling hands to the pack of demon hounds that inspired the Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s also home to a notorious prison – a dour, forbidding cluster of grey stone buildings.