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 best, which are remote, romantic, historic, and a little bit bonkers.
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 over 30 former keepers’ cottages into holiday lets, dotted all around the coast (01386 701177, www.ruralretreats.co.uk). 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 810514, www.burghisland.com). Noël Coward came for three days and stayed three weeks, and 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 weekly 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 this 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.
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 75-foot pineapple folly at Dunmore Park, near Stirling, is one of the oldest examples of the fashion for architectural flights of fancy. Built as a garden retreat for the earl and his wife, the fruit was chosen as it represented the height of gourmet luxury in the 1760s. These days, the peculiar pavilion can be rented out through the Landmark Trust (01628 825925, www.landmarktrust.org.uk), which specialises in rescuing quirky old buildings and turning them into holiday homes with a difference.
If you’re after less frivolous accommodation, book in at the austere House of Correction at Folkingham, Lincolnshire; part of a former prison, it sleeps up to four inmates. Other unusual options include the Wardrobe in Salisbury, a cosy attic apartment in a former bishop’s storehouse, and the unexpectedly palatial-looking Pigsty in Robin Hood’s Bay – probably the world’s only folly created for pigs.
5. Stay in a train station
Set on the gloriously scenic Settle to Carlyle line, high above the Yorkshire Dales, Grade II-listed Dent Station is now an unusual holiday let (07824 665266, www.dentstation.co.uk). This is a true rural retreat, and no mistake: the nearest village is four miles away. 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, www.bardsey.org) rents out a handful of charmingly rustic cottages to visitors. Be warned: they don’t have running water or 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: Highway 1 in California, say, or Australia’s Great Ocean Road. On a breezy day the wind might whip you raw, but you can always seek shelter in the Worm’s Head Hotel (01792 390512, www.thewormshead.co.uk), 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 (www.english-heritage.org.uk) offers 13 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.
Couples might prefer to cosy up in the snug Custodian’s House at Henry VIII’s Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, whereas Field Hall Lodge accommodates groups of up to six at Northumberland’s Belsay Hall, a medieval castle and Greek Revival house; there are also loads of places to visit locally, including Hadrian’s Wall, Durham Cathedral and Alnwick Castle. Our other favourites include the elegant Sergeant Major’s House at Dover Castle, with its lovely views over the channel, and the Prior’s 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 (www.yha.org.uk). Planning a trip to London? You can stay in the middle of Holland Park (one of the capital’s costliest neighbourhoods) in a Jacobean mansion for around £20 (0870 770 5866). Equally impressive surrounds can be found at Bath’s Youth Hostel – an Italianate mansion, refurbished in early 2008 (0870 770 5688).
Grander still is Hartington Hall in Derbyshire, a sprawling Tudor mansion set in lovely grounds (0870 770 5848). 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
This famed folly was erected in 1923 as the new water tower for nearby Thorpeness. The water tank was cunningly ‘disguised’ as a quaint little cottage – now a highly unusual holiday let.