Travel writer Ianthe Butt picks out five of the most unique places to holiday in Britain this year
After months of curbing our collective travel yearning and muddling through a long, wintry lockdown, at last, joyful news: travel restrictions are set to ease, making UK summer holidays a possibility.* Now we know every inch of our homes inside-out, we’re jubilant at the prospect of mixing up Zoom calls, endless nights in and back-to-back baking with explorations further afield. And what better way to indulge that craving for escapism with a UK getaway that’s stylish and surprising. From a floating boat in Devon to a back-to-nature treehouse in a vineyard and a kooky space age orb in Wales, here are five unique places to stay with availability (for now!) this summer ...
*subject to the government guidance on travel and COVID-19 regulations
Twin a shepherd’s hut stay with llama trekking at The Merry Harriers, Surrey
This cute 16th-century coaching inn and pub in Hambledon, in the Surrey hills, has a cluster of five dinky shepherd’s huts to bed down in. All cheery rural-luxe and circling a pretty pond, they’re kitted out with pom-pom fringed cushions, bold neon artwork, rainbow-bright bedspreads, Egyptian cotton bedlinen, snuggly throws and a wood burning stove. Outside, there are teak sun loungers to laze on and a firepit ripe for an al-fresco marshmallow-toasting session at dusk. Smart digs aside, the real USP is the Merry Harriers’ other residents; a herd of 12 rather adorable - often cheeky - llamas which you can take on a guided yomp through the picturesque countryside nearby.
Insider tip: Book a gin-tasting experience at just-down-the-road boutique distillery The Village Collective, or enjoy classic pub grub and craft ales in the Merry Harriers’ garden. Shepherd's Hut sleeps two from £195/night, Llama Treks from £55.20/ £27.50 (adult/child aged 8-13)
Stargaze from a sci-fi look sphere in an off-grid Welsh glampsite
A glinting copper-clad orb atop a grassy hill in the heart of a private 80-acre conservation site in Powys, Wales, staying at the Red Kite Conker is about as contemporary-cool as glamping gets. The brainchild of an ex-Bentley and Rolls Royce engineer with serious design smarts, the gloriously unusual crashpad has a double bed (which transforms into a sofa) squashy seating, Bluetooth sound bar and LED lighting (in-conker disco sessions anyone?) as well as a micro-kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven - ideal for showing off lockdown-honed dough-making skills. An adjacent log cabin bathroom has a shower - with mid-Welsh Valley patchwork views - and eco compost loo. Days can be spent rambling through the Elenydd mountains or visiting Dyfi nature reserve’s sandy dunes, while come nighttime the Conker’s firepit is a peaceful stargazing spot.
Insider tip: Do sun salutations on the terrace, while watching fork-tailed kites swoop through the sky. From £270 for 2 nights
Take a floating getaway aboard Blackbird, a swish new narrowboat in Devon
Bobbing on a privately-owned three-acre freshwater lake on the North Devon/Cornwall border against a backdrop of oak and beech trees where kestrels perch and, this boutique boat accommodation is the first floating outpost from Tregulland & Co, and it’s a corker. Well-known for their design-led Cornish holiday properties, the Tregulland team have reimagined trad narrowboat Blackbird as a slick on-the-water retreat for two, with solar roof panels and monochrome-cool interiors. White-washed timber cladding creates a calming atmosphere, while colour-pop embroidered cushions, a wood-burner and king-size bed dial up the countryside charm. Digital detoxing is de rigueur, as is picking a book from the on-boat selection for an afternoon’s leisurely reading. On the grassy lakeside bank is the ‘Bathouse Boudoir,’ an elegant space stocked with REN goodies to use in the William Holland verdigris slipper bathtub.
Insider tip: Fish for Rainbow Trout for a lake-to-table supper or drive to Sandymouth Beach for a surf session. From £400/4 nights
Retreat to a peaceful, adults-only wooden pod in Laxfield, Suffolk
Ever slept in an Igluhut? Us neither, but these hand-crafted wooden pods set in a 10-acre tree-filled patch in the Suffolk countryside look like a house that Squirrel Nutkin and an architecture whizz dreamt up together. Built in sustainable materials and powered by renewable energy, it’s eco-friendly and nails slow-living style with vintage-look armchairs, burnt sienna and olive-hued cushions, and romantic, tucked-into-a-nook double bed. A fully-kitted out kitchen and barbecue on the terrace make cooking a breeze, and there’s an honesty shop on-site for those who don’t fancy catering. While it’d be easy to bask by the lake and wildlife-filled meadows, it’s worth driving to Iken, a nearby fishing village for a paddleboarding adventure and the chance - if you’re lucky - to spot wild seals.
Insider tip: Pack swimwear for hunkering down in the scattered-between-the-trees sauna huts, and dips at nearby coastal reserve - and birdwatching haven - RSPB Minsmere. From £95/night.
Sip wine at the UK’s first treehouse in a vineyard, The Damselfly in Hampshire
For nature-loving wine aficionados, things don’t get more appealing than the unique Damselfly Treehouse, a chic, wooden affair in the Hampshire treetops where you can sip a glass of wine whilst relaxing in a vast, al-fresco copper bathtub, enjoying views of the very vineyard where your tipple’s grapes were grown. Pared-back elegance is the watchword; the bedroom and living space fuse woodsy details with crisp white linens and fern-toned furnishings which mirror the leafy setting. A welcome hamper packed with bread, coffee and other local produce sets home-away-from-home tone, and an outdoor Sycamore-tree shower offers a second soundtracked-by-birdsong bathing option. Black Chalks winery is close by for tastings and tours, and there are masses of hiking routes and bike trails through the bucolic, stream-filled Test Valley too.
Insider tip: As you drift off to sleep, listen out for the rustle of the badgers who live below the treehouse. Available from September for £274/night.