A holiday less ordinary
Love a luxe break? A sucker for heritage holiday rentals? Or is it all about the location? They all have their place but, for pure fun value, there’s little that can beat a really quirky stay. My fellow Muddy editors in counties from Cornwall to Norfolk, Kent to Warwickshire, have each found two brilliant, alternative properties with which to whet your travel appetite. And if you know a fantastic quirky stay somewhere that you think should be included, please comment in the box below – let’s share the knowledge!
The Shepherd’s Hut, Chieveley
Little Bo Peep may have lost her sheep, but who cares when you can rest your head in this amaaaazing Shepherd’s Hut in the North Wessex Downs? Located in the hamlet of Beedon, a few miles from Chieveley, the hut is in a paddock with a lily pond and few chickens. So your breakfast eggs couldn’t be much fresher and you’ll find them tucked into the breakfast hamper delivered to your door each morning. Inside you’ll find a double bed, wood burning stove and a Baby Belling cooker, DAB radio, board games and books. No en-suite, but a guest bathroom can be found in the barn – a 10-sec walk through the garden. It’s a place to escape the modern world, kick back and enjoy the stunning nearby walks and cosy village pubs. The weekend rate is £75 per night, but discounts are available for longer stays.
I’m not sure you can get much closer to the river without getting wet. Boathouse19 is a unique and blissfully indulgent converted boathouse with its own Thames jetty and kayaks. Neighbouring Eton College Boathouse and Windsor Castle, this historic self-catering cottage was used to celebrate the winners of The Eights cup (its a rowing race, *ahem* I knew that). In fact you’re so close to the castle, you can practically see what Her Maj is having for brekkie. Keeping its boathouse history alive, today an EW Hobbs four skiffs wooden racing boat props The Courtyard wall, with the other half hangs upside down in The River Room. The cottage sleeps seven, has all the mod cons you would expect from a boutique stay, and owners Mark and Kim provide a top notch hamper for you to tuck into on arrival.
Wendover Windmill, Wendover
A great option for a weekend away with fit friends with a love of stairs. This huge windmill sleeps 10 and has 5 bathrooms – hurrah for not having to share! Fabulous views of the Chiltern Hills too – the windmill is actually in a street in the attractive town of Wendover with its boutiques, indie shops and the Ridgeway Path and child-friendly Wendover Woods close by.
Chiltern View, Ewelme
A 10 minute walk to the picturesque village of Ewelme, itself 2 miles from the Midsomer Murders market town of Wallingford, the Chilterns View offers romantic luxury lodge accommodation overlooking the beautiful Chiltern Hills – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We’re talking a kingsize bed, en-suite wet room style shower, a wood burning stove and kitchenette, floor-to-ceiling glass frontage, your own private raised veranda and a 24-hour heated hot tub for two (or three if naughty DI Barnaby has his way). There are beautiful walks, cycling routes, clay pigeon shooting and fantastic pubs all nearby but seriously, why move?
The Arc Cabin, Elton, Peterborough
If you need an escape – away from everybody and everything – then this timber-built, luxury riverside cabin nestled in beautiful woodland could be your perfect hideaway. A couple of hours drive from London, in the village of Elton, not far from Oundle, the Arc Cabin has a homespun and rustic feel. Nature is at the forefront here – you’re surrounded by it and the large safari-style verandah, lit by fairy lights at night, is an ideal vantage point for taking in the river views or enjoying al fresco dining. Inside it’s vintage-style with antiques sitting alongside more contemporary touches – high quality bed linens, a wood burner, a fab kitchen with zinc worktops, an iPod dock and a gorgeous roll top bath. It sleeps 4 (2 adults and 2 kids), with a king size antique French bed and a mezzanine floor with twin beds accessible via a ladder – you have to be at least 8 to climb this one. Can’t be bothered to travel far? Immerse yourself in a book on the verandah or enjoy the many walks along the river – Kenneth Grahame is said to have stayed next door, drawing inspiration for The Wind in The Willows. You’re not completely in the wild– there are two great pubs in the village if it’s the chef’s night off.
Boutique houseboat, Fen Ditton, Cambridge
You’ll struggle to find better views of the famous River Cam than from this stunning widebeam houseboat, found a few miles northeast of the centre of Cambridge. Owned by a retired boat builder who clearly knows what he’s doing – it’s beautifully appointment with hardwood floors throughout, hand built solid hardwood kitchen, a full size bath and master bed (no pokey baths and hammocks here) and insulated against cold weather. It comes with a private mooring – a garden, decking and table and chairs for al fresco dining. What’s there to do? Where do I start – you’re only a walk, cycle or drive into Cambridge where the delights of this famous city await. There are two pubs in the village to feed you if you want somewhere local or explore the culinary delights that the city offers and breakfast is provided at the boathouse.
Sally Port Cottage, St Anthony’s Lighthouse, Roseland Peninsula
For a proper edge-of-the-world escape, you can’t beat a lighthouse and this one is situated at the most southerly point of the Roseland Peninsula. The accommodation couldn’t be more private, reached via a steep path leading down to the rocks from the headland and car park (worth considering when you’re packing). There is an observation room with large windows that are perfect for watching the waves and two cosy bedrooms, complete with ear plugs for occasions when the fog warning sounds. And if you fancy rejoining society at any point, the gorgeous villages of St Mawes and Portscatho are a short drive away.
The Studio, Orchard Flower Farm, nr Penzance
A former artist’s studio, Patrick Heron and Grayson Perry are one-time residents of this secluded countryside cabin. The setting is romantic and picturesque, enough to inspire the least creative of souls, with floor to ceiling windows that make the most of the surrounding landscape. This wood and glass hideaway has an open-plan kitchen and living space downstairs and bedroom and en-suite upstairs, so you can enjoy the views whilst snuggled up in bed. Though the location is rural, the sea in just ten minutes walk away in Penzance, where you can soak up some more arty culture at the Newlyn Gallery and Exchange, sample the amazing eggs benedict at The Front Room and enjoy some delicious local seafood at The Shore.
Beach Hut 2, Shaldon Beach Huts, South Devon
We have to give you both rural and beach charm, don’t we? So let’s start with the sandy part. The beauty of a beach hut is that you’re perfectly placed for the sea if the sun decides it’s going to check in for an extended stay; and you’ll love snuggling up and listening to the sounds of the waves crashing onto the shore when the weather is fresher. You can’t really stay somewhere like this without embracing the nautical stripe and painted weatherboarding and this bijou rental delivers, along with a touch of the 21st century, like underfloor heating for extra cosiness. The hut itself is nestled amongst a row of huts on the beach front by the estuary of the River Teign. This one has the largest outdoor terrace, by the way. It’s an open-plan configuration to make the most of the space, with a mezzanine floor for sleeping (up to 4 people) and there, smack bang in front of you is the open sea. The location is amazing, too, since the village of Shaldon just happens to be one of South Devon’s prime beachfront spots, with a serious foodie reputation. You know that stretch of the Paddington to Penzance line where you tunnel through red cliffs? Yeah, there.
Shepherd’s Sky Super Hut, near Tiverton
For rural charm, this super green Shepherd’s Hut sitting on a mid-Devon farm in the corner of a field, sheltered by hedgerows and with views of rolling hills, also happens to be super-stylish inside. You’re almost straying into glamping territory with a firepit outside for toasting marshmallows, but fear not, there’s a fully kitted-out kitchen inside along with a cosy wood-burner and a TV for snuggling up with a box-set when the mizzle draws in. Bedrooms at either end sleep up to five (a double and a triple room). The hut isn’t just green in colour, either. You can polish your eco-warrior halo whilst staying, since there are solar panels, wildlife boxes and rainwater recycling. The nearest pub in the village of Cheriton Fitzpaine is a mile away, so within tottering distance for a pint or two and there is a farm shop for stocking up on local produce and, like all good farm shops, there is cake. If you’re taking small people with you, they’ll be so knackered from all the walking and fresh air that comes from being sandwiched between Dartmoor and Exmoor, that you’ll be guaranteed quiet nights.
East and West Banqueting Houses, Chipping Campden
Imagine being so darned rich, you could build a whole house just to eat your pudding in? Hello Sir Baptist Hicks, we like your style! The 17th-century merchant’s abode near Chipping Campden included not one, but two banqueting houses, East and West, where he and his guests could retire for their dessert course and admire the host’s impressive domain. Sadly, the main mansion was razed to the ground during the Civil War, but the two banqueting houses still stand in all their resplendent Jacobean glory – and you can stay in them! The East BH is the bigger, sleeping four (plus two, in an ancillary pepperpot lodge), and is three storeys of fabulousness built into a hill, while the West BH is a more bijoux, but equally des-res affair, sleeping just two, though again there is another building a short walk away that sleeps a further two. The standout room in both is, not unsurprisingly, the eating quarters where you can replicate history and tuck into sweetmeats and wine while enjoying views of Gloucestershire at its most Cotswold best. Nearby is Chipping Campden, a chi-chi market town, Hidcote Manor which has the country’s first arts and crafts garden, and Capability Brown’s brainchild Broadway Tower, which will keep you amply occupied when you’re not chowing down in splendour.
The Regency House, Cheltenham
A stay in Regency Cheltenham surely calls for a Regency House, no? And this five-bedroom, Grade II-listed townhouse comes with a twist. It ticks all the requisite boxes of a chic, spa town break: it’s slap bang in the middle of Montpellier Gardens, the town’s most elegant address replete with swanky cafés, boutiques, wine bars and restaurants; it’s five minutes’ walk from The Promenade, Cheltenham’s equivalent of the King’s Road; its perfectly proportioned rooms – especially the double reception room which would only be right to call a drawing room – make you feel like donning an empire line dress and taking the spa waters; and the furnishings, well, here you can swoon like a Jane Austen heroine because they’re truly drop-dead gorgeous. A very stylish mix of antiques with quirky, contemporary touches, you’ll find Chesterfield sofas, Persian rugs and four-poster beds alongside antler chandeliers, Vivienne Westwood wallpaper and a Pop Art-style painting of Her Maj. So where’s the quirk? All the furniture and collectibles are for sale! Could make for an expensive holiday, but you are in Cheltenham!
Chewton Glen Treehouses, The New Forest
A Treehouse. That magical totem of childhood: a secret space, your own space; far away from adult rules, surrounded by leaves and birdsong and shafts of sunlight. Sounds like heaven doesn’t it? The child in us would love to escape into the canopy, but being adults we need a bit more comfort than dad’s rickety carpentry skills could ever muster. Enter Chewton Glen and its fabulous treehouses. Suspended in The New Forest’s ancient woodland, guests can wallow in childhood escapism with a generous helping of grown-up luxe: King-size beds, outdoor hot tubs, private terraces and a roaring woodburner. Spaces range from a studio for romantic stays à deux up to the private treehouse for eight people.
If it’s quirky you want, then grab your glad rags, jump into your private boat and make like a Bond Girl to one of the remote forts in Hampshire’s fiercely beautiful Solent, a stretch of water that positively froths with naval history. Once functional coastal defences these forts are now uber-luxe havens – we’re talking Changing Rooms on a grand scale. Choose between two locations, No Man’s Fort with its Officers Mess, huge atrium, Cabaret Bar and room for up to 200 guests, or the smaller Spitbank Fort for 60 guests, where staff practise the French art of sabrage or using a saber to whip the cork off a champagne bottle. Sabre or no, once the bubbles are poured ease yourself into the roof-top hot pool and enjoy the astounding view or jump into the rib for a high octane ride (best leave the bubbles behind for this one!). Elsewhere there are saunas, spas and most importantly no neighbours, so the party could last all night if it wasn’t for those chic rooms tempting you with their huge beds and views of endless water.
Treehouse Hideaway, Whitstable
Nestled six metres off the ground amongst willows, conifers and fruit trees, this rural retreat is crafted almost entirely from driftwood gathered on a local beach and is made up of two hexagonal pods joined together, which sit upon two tree trunk pedestals. Happily it’s also home to plenty of mod cons and little luxuries, including a hamper and bubbly on arrival, its own private hot tub, under floor heating and a log burning stove (Sky TV and Wifi too – let’s not be savages). Outside there’s a Chimnea, BBQ and an incredible view of the Wildlife Park next door. Perfectly positioned in every way the Treehouse Hideaway is located in the village of Blean, almost exactly half way between the pretty seaside town of Whitstable and the bustling city of Canterbury.
The Strawberry Roan Horsebox, Stone-in-Oxney
Where do you go when you want to escape from it all? A vintage horsebox in the middle of the postcard pretty farmland of Stone-in-Oxney, that’s where… And, before you say it, there’s more room in a horsebox than you’d think! This one boasts a cosy King sized bed and a wood burner. Two stable doors open from the side of the box so you can take in beautiful views of the rolling countryside and get heady on all that fresh air. You’ll have to nip outside to use your private toilet, but at least it’s close by in the accompanying pony trailer (but, of course). There’s even an outdoor fire pit and a picture perfect homemade swing under the oak tree. You’re smack bang in the middle of two of my favourite super cute towns – Tenterden and Rye (loads of indie shops in both). The Ferry Inn pub is just a 5 minute walk away, for evening refreshments and enjoy your own picnic breakfast hamper in the morning.
The Old Lighthouse, Hunstanton
There are plenty of quirky places to stay in Norfolk but few compare to über-beautiful and newly-refurbished The Old Lighthouse. Located on the cliffs between Hunstanton and Old Hunstanton – and overlooking the caramel sands of Hunstanton Beach – this iconic, historic building is the perfect blend of classic and contemporary – think original exposed brickwork, silver Rangemaster cooker, sleek fireplace, achingly-hip bathrooms, with fluffy white towels, and a telescope for studying the night sky. Set on two floors, the landmark property boasts an upstairs open-plan lounge-cum-diner-cum kitchen, with panoramic views of the sea (and Norfolk’s famous big skies), plus four gorgeous en-suite bedrooms sleeping up to eight guests. Upstairs has a balcony, too – perfect for watching the sun set – while outside, a large garden and patio make al fresco dining possible. In the morning, perch at the breakfast bar with a fresh cup of coffee and stare at that sky. Or climb to the top of the Lighthouse Tower (built in 1840) and marvel at 360-degree vistas across the Wash.
Wind in the Willows, East Ruston
Wind in the Willows is a cute-as-a-button, purpose-built Shepherd’s Hut accommodating two guests, plus two small (or one medium-sized) dog (this is Norfolk after all). Located in a quiet corner of North East Norfolk – with patchy mobile signal ensuring a peaceful stay – the hut is positioned near several pristine beaches and woods, making it perfect for cycling, country walks and beach-lovers. The market town of Stalham is just two miles’ away. Built by a local craftsman, the hut has been decorated in vintage folk style, with gingham curtains, red loom chairs, stained glass windows, a real wood fire and a small veranda – perfect for watching the sun set. Furniture includes a raised 6′ double bed, a small table, storage and a concealed sink. On sunny mornings or starry nights, fling open the stable door and let nature in. The paddock is set in open countryside and boasts an enclosed grass area, flower gardens, and a table and chairs for enjoying evening meals outside.
Jubilee Barn, Astwell
Warm summers evenings soaking in the hot tub, sausages sizzling on the BBQ while watching the young lambs prance around and the cows show how a true family hierarchy can work. Yup, that’s what you’ll be doing when you get away to Jubilee Barn in the hamlet of Astwell, Northamptonshire. A smallholding with a boutique Yurt for a luxurious escape, it’s more than just glamping! There’s an eco bathroom with hot and cold running water, and did I mention the hot tub? Sip Prosecco on balmy summer evenings and soak up the quietness with your special someone (and the kids if you prefer a noisier affair, the yurt sleeps 4). Perfectly placed in the idyllic countryside of Helmdon there is adventure in every direction. From an experience at Silverstone to punting in Oxford, to fishing on the owner’s lakes or horseback riding from nearby stables, there are endless possibilities. Take a stroll down one of the winding lanes, you never know you might even end up in local pub if you walk far enough!
Champing (glamping in a church), Aldwincle
Canoe2 is a Muddy fave already, having spent an awesome half day on the river Nene in one of their canoes last year. Now they’re adding another string to their bow (or paddle to their canoe), ‘champing’ (Church Camping for the uninitiated – who knew that was even a thing?!). Champing mixes two short days of paddling with an overnight stay at a church. But how, I hear you cry? Well Canoe2 has teamed up with The Churches Conservation Trust, so that customers can combine a canoeing adventure with the magnificent medieval All Saints Church in the picturesque Northamptonshire village of Aldwincle. The church is cavernous with few furnishings, offering a rare chance to see its beautiful limestone arcades and arches up close (why am I thinking great place for a rave?!). You’ll have exclusive use of the church (minimum two people) and the canoe bit offers you the opportunity to paddle to some of the most beautiful and peaceful sections of the River Nene combined with some excellent walking along the Nene Way. Breakfast is delivered to the church in the morning to complete your stay before you set off for your second day paddling. As with all Canoe2 trips, pick up is from the end of the second day, as well as the all-important baggage transfer to/from the church which are included.
Under the Silver Moon, Turville Heath, nr Henley
A perfect romantic getaway for two in this beautifully restored traditional Romany caravan on a working beef and sheep farm in Turville Heath near Henley. Home for two people (no pets, no kids, bliss!) with a small traditional double bed and big fluffy pillows You’ll wake up to fabulous views of rolling fields and while there’s no TV (*thud*), you’ll be able to browse the well-stocked caravan’s collection of country books or grab the local OS map and binoculars and go walking to a nearby local country pub. Everything you need is provided in The Shepherds Hut, a couple of steps away – a small slate top kitchen with all the cupboard essentials, a full size cooker and fridge, sink and small table and chairs. There’s even roll top bath where you can enjoy a relaxing bath while looking out of the stable door down the valley for a couple of miles, with nothing man made in sight…you are totally on your own! If you can’t leave the mod cons totally behind, there’s a power point to charge your iphone in the caravan.
Combine your love of glamping with ecclesiastical nerdery (of which I am an enthusiast) by sleeping over at St Katherine’s Church, Chiselhampton, about 10 miles south of Oxfordshire. This striking, stuccoed Georgian church was rebuilt by Charles Peers in 1762-63, and in 1952 John Betjeman honoured it in verse and made a personal appeal for funds to support it. Inside it’s lit through clear glass in round-headed south windows and, apart from an earlier pulpit, the woodwork, including the altar-piece, box pews and gallery, is all contemporary. It sleeps six.
Long Hill Carriage, nr Wincanton
You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy a stay in this beautifully restored 1882 Great Western Railway carriage. Nestled in a cottage garden in the tiny hilltop village of Cucklington, on the borders of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, it’s the perfect hideaway for two. It’s all 1950s retro inside, with a living room filled with light (well it would be, with 20 windows), a wood burner and compact kitchen. Step out through the double doors onto the ‘platform’ to enjoy a drink and the view over the Blackmore Vale. At bedtime, head for the comfy double bedroom and en suite in the attached 1950s goods wagon. Jaunts out: historic Sherborne, Shaftesbury and the National Trust’s magnificent Stourhead House and Gardens are within half an hour or less.
The Corrugated Cottage, nr Glastonbury
Originally built to house ‘land girls’ (women working on farms during WWII), this cottage is built from corrugated iron and tongue and groove panelling. It combines the original style of the 1940s – an enamelled range, utility furniture, a working radiogram, Bakelite plugs and a claw-foot bath – with mod cons like an electric hob, microwave, plump duvets and wifi (phew). Suitable for a family of four, there’s even an Anderson shelter in the garden the kids can use as a den. The cottage lies in woods next to the owners’ house with a village shop and pub a walk across some fields; famous Glastonbury is 6 miles away. Interesting fact: it won the Historical Shed of the Year in 2015.
Ges, The Converted Horsebox, Chiddingfold
Meet Ges! That’s her at the back, a 1975 Bedford TK horse lorry converted into a cool, retro-style self-catering abode. Think glam camper-van meets stylish gypsy. Ges comes paired with a sweet pony-trailer bathroom called Baby Ges, and you’ll find them both in a wildflower field just outside the pretty village of Chiddingfold. Inside, the accommodation is flexible sleeping either two adults (if you’re ditching the kids for a romantic sojourn) or two adults and two kids if you’ve got the kiddies in tow. Ges comes fitted with all the comforts you’ll need to keep you warm and snuggly in the winter and cool in the summer. There’s a wood burning stove for chilly nights and snuggly duvets and blankets for the kingside cabin bed and double sofa bed. There are also cooking facilities and a picnic basket for sunny days, plus a welcome hamper stocked with homemade and locally-sourced goodies. Little Ges comes with a walk-in shower (and of course hot and cold water), a loo (no squatting behind a tree in this field), a wash basin, and of course soft fluffy towels. There’s no wi-fi so this is a holiday where you’ll enjoy the simple pleasures of a simple life.
Buttercup Bus Vintage VW campers, Croydon
Hit the road, retro-style, in a converted VW campers for a holiday that’s a little out of the ordinary. Based out of Croydon, you can chose from Buttercup and Belinda – both painted in pretty pastel shades – then head off into the Surrey Hills and beyond. These classic campers come with everything you need including, a BBQ and camping gas, camping chairs, cooly bag, lamps, and kitchenware from tin opener to bottle opener. You’ll just need to pack your own snuggly duvet and towels. They’ll accommodate up to two adults and three kids, and two extra bods can be squeezed in with the attachable awning. You can even bring pooch if you want. I can’t think of a better place to crash (you, not the VW) at any of the music festivals this summer, but you’ll have to be quick if you’re thinking Glasto as there’s only one left. To book a self-drive holiday you must be aged between 25 and 70, and have a valid EU licence that, held for more than three years.
Vineyard Shepherds Huts, Oxney Organic Estate near Rye
Lovely Oxney Organic Estate near Rye will be the setting for two newly constructed Shepherd’s Hut that will be available from 1 June. Positioned in separate remote and private spots in the vineyard, each hut will have a double bed, kitchen area, wood burning stove and bathroom with shower. The interior, mixing rustic and elegant touches, will be very much in keeping with the Oxney’s owner’s Norwegian heritage. Transport your luggage from the main vineyard car park using a wheelbarrow, then relax, inside, or outside your hut where you can have a fire and look at the stars. Guests will be given two tickets to the vineyard’s Walking/Talking/Tasting tour as part of their booking. To be among the first to experience this special retreat email [email protected] or, nearer June, check out the website to book. Oxney also has smart heritage cottages to rent a short way away.
Eco treehouse, Fair Oak Farm, Mayfield
Choose from one of two stunning ecolodges, each sleeping two guests in an ancient tree line. They’ve just been nominated as one of National Geographic’s unique lodges in the world and come fully heated and insulated with TV, double bed, arm chairs and dining area, plus kitchen, wet room and WC. You want more?! Well clearly the views are breathtaking from the sheltered balcony and with ramp access it’s disability-friendly too.
The Turret, Charlecote Park
Ever imagined waking up in the Turret of a Victorian home looking over a croquet lawn and deer park? The Turret, a three-bedroom apartment for six at Charlecote Park, is one of the National Trust’s loveliest and most quirky holiday lets. It used to be the servants’ quarters so there also a bit of a Downton Abbey thing going on. The apartment has been completely transformed since then. There’s a spacious dining area, kitchen with all mod-cons, TV and DVD, free wi-fi and plenty of hot water. Each of the three well-appointed bedrooms – two doubles and a twin has far-reaching rural views from every window. And when all the visitors have left for the day you’re free to roam the beautiful parks and gardens at your leisure. But access to the apartment is via a steep spiral staircase. Close-by are fine dining restaurants in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick and lovely pubs in surrounding villages. There’s other National Trust places nearby such as Upton House and Hidecote, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Shakespeare’s Houses; Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle and an award-winning art gallery at Compton Verney just a few miles away.
Brassknocker Cottage, Binton, Stratford-upon-Avon
A delightfully quirky and lovingly restored 17th Century stone cottage which has been around since Shakespeare’s time – and even has a well in the garden. This beautifully presented pet-friendly accommodation has been recently refurbished to a very high standard yet oozes character with original beams, an original cast iron Victorian range with open fire, stone walls and flagstones. As you may expect from a 400-year-old property, there are plenty of nooks and crannies, a sloping ceiling or two, a couple of low doorway. The cottage’s lovely winding staircase incorporates a rope bannister so may not be suitable for very small children, toddlers or anyone with mobility issues. The shower room is beautifully equipped but may be a little snug. There’s a small enclosed rear garden with paved patio and the original village well which used to serve the local hamlet. The cottage sleeps 5 and is in a great location, 4 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, on the outskirts of the historic village of Binton. A few minutes’ walk away is a highly regarded historic country pub, The Blue Boar Inn.