Adrian Mourby

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All the hotels I’ve stayed in since the Covid pandemic began have been very safety-conscious.   I’ve felt reassured there was no danger of catching anything, not even a cold — which so far I haven’t. Nevertheless this year has seen a huge surge in the popularity of self-catering accommodation, places where families can holiday all over Britain without mixing with other households. Add in the UK government relaxing rules on self-catering accommodation earlier than hotel accommodation and 2021 really is shaping up to be the year we discover the glory of the DIY holiday.

There are some great properties to hire from castles to farmhouses, old roadside toll-booths, manor houses and even converted water towers. Here are just ten unique properties to whet your appetite. They’re all very different although three of them are in Cornwall. But then Cornwall has pretty much become synonymous with self-catering in Britain. It’s simply cottage heaven. 

Ludlow is a charming market town on the border between England and Wales. It was founded after the Norman Conquest on a bend in the River Teme and contains almost 500 listed buildings within its medieval walls. Two of the tallest as you cross the river from nearby Whitcliffe are St Laurence’s, the biggest parish church in England, and Ludlow Castle. Both have towers that rise high over Ludlow’s roofline.

English Heritage calls Ludlow Castle "a remarkably complete multi-phase complex" and "one of England's finest castle sites". It was one of the first built in stone by the victorious Normans after 1066.  Though now a ruin it contains many notable rooms, including a great hall and great chamber, solar block (sleeping accommodation for the lord of the castle) and a circular chapel, modelled on the shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

After the English Civil War the castle fell into neglect.  In 1772 the Earl of Powis leased the semi-derelict castle from the Crown, and in 1811 his brother-in-law, Edward Clive, son of Clive of India bought it outright. Clive eventually took the titles Viscount Clive of Ludlow and Earl of Powis.  

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the castle was a picturesque ruin with a bowling green and even an inn in its outer bailey. Viscount Clive closed the inn and rebuilt it as a gentleman’s residence which was available to rent from 1826.  Today this building is still owned by the Powis Estate and since 2007 has been available as a wedding venue with three self-catering apartments on the first and second floors.

The largest of these is named Prince Arthur & Catherine of Aragon after Henry VII’s ill-fated son and daughter-in-law who spent their honeymoon in Ludlow Castle. It sleeps four people but can accommodate six for dinner should you make friends in the town. Cut into the kitchen ceiling is an elegant nineteenth-century lantern that lets in direct sunlight. The second four-person apartment is slightly smaller, but with an attractive window seat, and is named after Sir Henry Sidney who was Elizabeth I’s Lord Deputy in Ireland and who lived out his retirement at Ludlow Castle as president of the Welsh Marches. 

On the second floor of the Castle Lodgings is the smallest apartment, cottagey in style and directly under the rafters. It is named Comus after a masque written by John Milton which was presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634.

Boconnoc House is a beautiful Cornish mansion built in the eighteenth century by two members of the influential Pitt family. The first house was constructed here in spacious grounds in 1721 by Thomas Pitt who had been Governor of Madras. Thomas was also the brother of English prime minister William Pitt the Elder. This means that in due course he was to become uncle to another English prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. 

In 1772 a second Thomas Pitt – grandson to the first - added a second wing to form an L-shaped stately home surrounded by landscaped gardens. The Pitts were a remarkably successful political family (even if they lacked imagination when it came to choosing Christian names).

During the nineteenth century the estate passed through various family members, including Lord Grenville (yet another prime minister) until it ended up in the hands of the Fortescues who still own it today. They demolished the secondary wing in 1971. In 1993 they leased the house as a location for filming the Walt Disney version of the Three Musketeers. This version starred Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Chris O'Donnell, who found himself nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Supporting Actor in a film (he lost to Woody Harrelson).

Today Boconnoc House has come to the end of a 12-year restoration project and is a gracious self-catering property filled with family portraits, modern art, and busts of the Pitt family. It is run by Elizabeth Fortescue, her daughters and a small staff.  The main house contains nine bedrooms and must be rented in its entirety – perfect for a house party. Some people cook for themselves but many hire a chef, something that Boconnoc can help arrange. If that sounds too expensive, there are three self-catering cottages in the grounds. Dairy Cottage sleeps up to nine, Grooms Cottage up to seven and the Head Groom’s Cottage six.

There is much to do when staying at Boconnoc. The Eden Project and the mellow south Cornish Coast are both about ten miles away. Cycling, riding, canoeing and paddle-boarding can all be arranged but if you fancy something more restful there are three walks through the gardens and grounds. Climb to the top of the Shrubbery or Deer Park for sundowners, try the 35-minute Lake Walk or the 1 hour 20 minutes Deer Park walk, which takes you along the Valley Crucis and brings you back to the house by the river, taking in a view which you may well recognise as the location for the film’s opening duel and pursuit. 

Long Crendon is a picturesque village in Buckinghamshire that used to be known just as Crendon. It gained its adjective after the Civil War, partly because it had developed along one long street (the modern B4011) and partly to differentiate it from Grendon which lies ten miles away and is now known as Grendon Underwood. Such is the eccentricity of English place names.

With its thatched roofs, half-timbered cottages and fifteenth-century court-house, the village is pretty enough to have been used in a number of British TV dramas. Between 1944 and 1958 one of its larger houses, Notley Abbey was the very glamorous home of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. 

Long Crendon Manor stands at the top of Frogmore Lane behind a medieval gatehouse that leads into a courtyard. It’s basically a Tudor building that was restored and extended in the 1920s.

Today the manor is a working pig farm and home to two large friendly St Bernard dogs. There is an artisanal bakery in the stables block, a farm shop offering the farm’s own Posh Pork and Long Crendon Cider, and various other local delicacies. There is also a licensed cafe serving breakfast, coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.  Inside the manor house there are three guest rooms – Laline’s Bedroom, Lady de L’Isle’s Bedroom and the Yellow Room – that are available on a bed and breakfast basis. Meanwhile in the stable block, the manor’s old granary has been converted into a two-person self-catering apartment. The bedroom is upstairs on a mezzanine level and there’s a log-burning stove down below. The Granary has its own garden.

This is a lovely place to get away for a quiet weekend amongst dogs and pigs and artisan bakers although if you want more excitement, Bicester Village is only 12 miles away and the university city of Oxford 15.

The Brewhouse was built in 1832 as part of the Royal William Victualling Yard in Plymouth, This massive, stately neo-classical complex sits behind a gateway surmounted by a statue of King William IV. The purpose of the victualling yard was to supply food and drink to all the ships in the nineteenth-century Royal Navy. There was a slaughterhouse, a warehouse, a bakery and a brewery - although by the time the Brewhouse was completed, modern technology had worked out how to carry large quantities of fresh water at sea and the Navy no longer needed to create its own beer.

For much of the nineteenth century the Brewhouse served variously as a slaughterhouse, meat store and rum store. In the twentieth century it housed a torpedo workshop. Then in 2006 much of the Royal William Yard was converted to office, restaurant and leisure usage and the Brewhouse became an apartment block with 78 modern flats. 

No 45 is a two-bedroom self-catering apartment at the top of the block with one en suite bedroom up in the eaves on a mezzanine floor. The style is modern with original art, a stainless-steel kitchen and a dining table overlooking the Mayflower Marina. If you don’t want to cook for yourself, the redevelopment of Royal William Yard has brought in restaurants like Wagamama, Bistrot Pierre, Las Iguanas, and Prezzo. This is an ideal place to stay if you’re visiting Plymouth or on your way down to Cornwall.

Chatsworth in Derbyshire is one of the most gracious houses in England. It’s also proved itself a major entrepreneur ever since the 11th Duke and his wife, the former Deborah Mitford, showed the world how to open a stately home to the public and yet maintain its integrity.

The 35,000 acre Chatsworth estate also operates one luxury hotel, The Cavendish at nearby Baslow and two four star hotels, both Devonshire Arms, one at Pilsley and the other at Beeley. These three inns ring the main house, as do 25 holiday cottages. At Ball Cross Farm there are six converted out of restored barns and other agricultural buildings, while the original Ball Cross Farmhouse itself, which dates from 1688, is the largest of the self-catering properties and sleeps up to ten guests.  A real favourite is the three-person Park Cottage which is a sweet little thatched dwelling that looks like it comes straight out of a fairy tale. Then there’s the Russian Cottage, which has recently been redecorated by the current Duchess of Devonshire. Extremely comfortable on the inside, it looks from the outside like a Derbyshire dacha.  The building of the cottage was inspired by a gift to the 6th Duke of Devonshire of a model of a Russian farmhouse. In 1844 Tsar Nicholas I had to call off a planned visit to his friend the 6th Duke, so he sent him an intricate model of a farmhouse as a token of regard, and this became the inspiration to build the Russian Cottage in 1855.

Most impressive of the Chatsworth cottages is the Hunting Tower, which stands on an escarpment 400 feet above Chatsworth House itself and looks like four vertiginously narrow Tudor towers knitted together in stone. It was built in 1582 for the formidable Bess of Hardwick who was the mother of William Cavendish, first Earl of Devonshire and a direct forebear of the current dukes.   The tower may have been intended to be a banqueting house or summerhouse, and it was probably used by the Devonshire ladies to watch their menfolk  hunting in the park below.

If you’re visiting Glasgow there is no more splendid address to stay at than Blythswood Square. This perfectly complete neoclassical development dates from 1802, which was when the textile manufacturer and builder, William Harley purchased 35 acres of land in what was to become Glasgow’s new town to the west of the old city. Harley also pioneered the supply of piped drinking water in Glasgow and built the first public baths in Scotland.

In the twentieth century the Royal Scottish Automobile Club made an entire side of the square its headquarters. The club’s badge can still be seen over the Bythswood’s eastern terrace, which is now the Blythswood Square Hotel. 

Blythswood Square Apartments are next to the hotel, just across West Regent Street. This former townhouse occupies a corner position on the square with lovely views over to the leafy gardens that were created originally for the exclusive enjoyment of residents. There are two duplex apartments inside the house, one sleeping a maximum of eight and the other six. The décor is modern throughout, designed for comfort. 
The square is in easy walking distance of the Theatre Royal, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Glasgow Film Theatre, and The Lighthouse, a landmark Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed exhibition space dedicated to his architecture and designs.

The Headland Hotel sits on a peninsula north of the Cornish town of Newquay. On the approach to the Towan Headland, north of the hotel there seems to be a small village of whitewashed cottages and slate roofs. In fact this “settlement” is the hotel’s 39 holiday cottages linked by narrow winding streets. Some are two storeys high, but many are single storey structures, like a real village. There are 11 two person cottages,  18 four-person cottages and seven six person cottages. Self-catering guests are free to use the hotel’s brand new aqua club with its spa facilities and to dine in the Headland’s Samphire Room with its chandeliers,  white tablecloths and spoonback chairs. Dining Room.  

The Headland itself has the look of a very splendid railway hotel embellished with lots of terracotta pediments and columns. It’s had quite a history since it opened in 1900.  Clark Gable, Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) stayed there at different times. The prince was joined by his brother (the future George VI) when the two boys were training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.  

But the Headland made history even before it opened. During construction in 1897, local Newquay fishermen attacked the foundations because they claimed that Towan Headland was where they had dried their nets for generations. This incident became known as the Newquay Riots. Fortunately when this imposing hotel was finally opened in 1900 it was able to attract the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to come and stay and the town began to be proud of its new addition. 

Over the years The Headland has featured in a number of films including the Cold War thriller Never Let Me Go (1951) starring Clark Gable (with Newquay cast as the Russian coastline) while in 1990 it “played” the Hotel Excelsior in the film version of Roald Dahl's The Witches. According to hotel lore, Rowan Atkinson (playing the hotel manager) went to his room at one point for a nap  and accidentally left the bath taps running in his room, flooding the floor below and writing off much of the production team's electrical equipment.

With the glorious North Cornish sunlight bouncing off the Atlantic, the Headland and its cottages are ideal places to stay. The cottages lie on the South West Coastal Path so this is ideal for walking territory too. 

In Jane Austen’s time Camden Crescent was known as Camden Place and was considered to be one of the best addresses in the city of Bath. In Persuasion the Elliot family take the finest house there, No 16, an extra-wide mansion with the Earl of Camden’s arms over its entablature. This house should have been at the centre of the crescent but in 1789, soon after the terrace was completed, a landslide demolished nine houses at its northern end.  The long graceful terrace is truncated today, neither as long nor as graceful as it was intended to be. 

Camden Lodge sits at the south end of the crescent. Originally there would have been a matching lodge at the north end, both buildings guarding and maintaining the street. The northern lodge was presumably swept away with those nine houses. The lodge is comparatively low compared to the crescent. It’s built on just two floors whereas houses in the crescent are three storeys with an attic for servants and a basement kitchen. 
Nevertheless its compactness is cozy and the décor id modern throughout.. There are two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and small walled garden to the rear which can be used for al fresco dining.

The lodge’s location is ideal for sightseeing with the Assembly Rooms and Museum of Bath nearby and both the Royal Crescent and Circus just a half mile walk downhill. Milsom Street for shopping is not much further away and if you walk back from the Pump Room, along Union Street and into Camden Terrace you’ll be tracing the exact route that Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot walk at the end of Persuasion when they resolve their marriage and to live happily ever after.

Lendal Tower was built around 1300 as part of the city defences of York. It is located on the River Ouse at the point where the river enters the old walled city from the north-west. Originally the tower stored a huge iron chain which was linked to Barker Tower opposite that could be raised to stop boats entering the city in times of war and to exact tolls in times of peace.

In the seventeenth century the tower was used to bring water up into the city from the river using a horse-powered pump. In the English Civil War it reverted to its defensive function and was damaged in a bombardment by Oliver Cromwell’s troops. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, it returned to water-pumping. Eventually a steam engine was installed to supply water to a lead cistern that fed the city’s water supply.

In 2010 the tower, now a semi-derelict Ancient Scheduled Listed Monument, was converted into living accommodation. More recently it has been offered as a self-catering historic house in this beautiful city. 

Inside there is lots of wood panelling, old stone walls and decorative ceiling plasterwork. There is also a wooden spiral staircase, a four-poster bed in the master bedroom,  a modern kitchen and gorgeous rooftop terrace.

Everyone visiting Britain should spend a few nights in York and if you want to cater for yourself I can think of no better place to stay.

The Cornish cottage epitomises British self-catering at its best and in the tiny village of Tregonetha you have a perfect example. Tregonetha stands inland midway between its tourist hotspots of Newquay and Padstow. You might drive through it and hardly notice. There’s a chapel, a few low-rise white-washed houses and an old Nissen hut - and then you’re out in the countryside again. But hidden behind the unremarkable houses that line the B3274 is one of the most popular holiday lets in North Cornwall. Tregonetha’s Old Barn has won the Self-Catering Property of the Year Award two years’ running in South West Tourism Awards. It’s a small, three-bedroom conversion run by Stephen Chidgey whose eco-credentials include taking silver and bronze in the Sustainable Tourism Awards. The barn also won gold in the Cornwall Tourism Awards.

Perhaps the greatest accolade accorded to this property is how many people come back time and again. The Old Barn is often booked out for months ahead. What is its mystique? It’s a relatively simple space that is very well run. It sleeps five and has a gorgeous modern kitchen with a state-of-the-art electric Aga, and a separate utility room should you come in wet from a healthy hike. There are also so many cosy places to eat once you’ve finished cooked - on the balcony off the main bedroom, in the dining area by the stairs,  in the conservatory or on the patio in the garden. There is also a grand piano in the living room - and a wood-burning stove. Now not many properties can make a claim to both of those!

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