1 Unusual Places to Stay - The Battered Black Book

Unusual Places to Stay

By Anya Cooklin-Lofting

As the summer descends in rays and frittering hours, I find myself longing for an escape from the daily grind. Instead of quick deskside sandwiches and (increasingly humid) tube journeys, I’m pining for something a world away, for something unusual, where I can be free of the iron grooves of modern life and briefly settle somewhere remote to press pause. This lust for escapism simply hasn’t been quelled by watching Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story on my phone on the District Line. Neither has it been appeased by short walks around the local park or any of the books or podcasts doing their best to offer a taste of different worlds and ways of life. What I really need is a clean break from the everyday cues to the quotidian and the corporate, a step away from busy life into a world defined by quite how different it feels from my own. So, this month, I’m on the hunt for places to stay that will tick that escapism box. And though most of these spots boast great WiFi, it’s your call as to whether you decide to connect.

First up, it’s follies, or as the architects would have it, decorative structures built without practical purpose, often in the form of castles or ruins in miniature. They tend to be set picturesquely against quintessential countryside views; nestled in copses, topping knolls or flanking gates. It wasn’t until I discovered journalist and author, Catriona Gray’s delightful Instagram account dedicated to living in such a building that I realised these places could be habitable, let alone beautifully appointed inside. There are many options should you wish to experience folly life in the UK, even if it’s only a long weekend.

A quintessential example is Grotto Lodge at Highclere Castle (the Sir Charles Barry-designed castle at which Downton Abbey was filmed). The Grotto, which is a strange, stone, circular cottage, has been decorated and restored by Lady Carnarvon, who took on the responsibility of the grand Highclere estate in 2001. Wallpapers by Colefax & Fowler and Robert Kime lend each room a classical feel, and the retention of the original features such as the curved walls and arched windows make the grotto unique and characterful.

Another incredible option includes The Towers at Penrice Castle in Gower, Swansea. The extravagant Gothic folly was built to resemble a ruin but now features delightfully cosy interiors. Or, there’s The Bridge House, a strikingly unusual river-spanning cottage in Ballintuim, Scotland. The home, which is listed on AirBnB, is reminiscent of an Arthur Rackham illustration, all turrets, arches, gables and finials, towering over the rushing River Ardle. 

Next up, the remote, dramatic coastal locations of lighthouses should offer a surefire way to prompt your mind to switch off. Lighthouses, often perched rather majestically atop craggy edifices, provide sweeping views, charming architectural features and a delightful vintage feel (see also: windmills). Coolstays.com has several lighthouse listings, including this lighthouse cottage, Eilean Sionnach Lighthouse Cottage, a four-bedroom home off the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Situated on its own four-acre island, guests can access a private beach, plus a traditional highland pub, bars and restaurants are within walking distance. While Eilean Sionnach boasts the views and remoteness of a lighthouse, it isn’t in the lighthouse exactly. Instead, it sits just behind the rather pretty yellow-topped tower. 

However, Sally Port Cottage in St Mawes, Cornwall, offers the opportunity to stay inside the lighthouse itself. The two-bedroom home also features an observation room with blankets and a wood-effect stove to keep you warm while storm-gazing. Better still, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project are nearby if you did fancy dipping a toe back into reality (ie. interacting with other humans, queuing, etc.), albeit via visits to otherworldly attractions. 

Winterton Lighthouse is also an excellent option for a luxurious, remote, lighthouse getaway with all the curved walls and spiralling staircases you could possibly want. Located on the edge of the pretty village of Winteron-on-Sea, Norfolk, the lighthouse is close to a great pub and a national nature reserve, which is part of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The lighthouse itself was mentioned in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and was used as a lookout during the Second World War. At the top of the tower is the Lantern Room, accessed via an almost vertical staircase, which has wrap-around seating and panoramic views of the Norfolk Countryside and the North Sea.

And finally, for the ultimate in nostalgia-first escapism, seek out cosy treehouses to while away your annual leave allowance. Canopy and Stars, a great website for sourcing unique, creative places to stay in the outdoors, has a range of gorgeous treehouses to choose from. Treetops Treehouse in Devon, for example, is a curious hodge-podge of luxuriously furnished rooms, including a bathroom with a deep rolltop bath, a cosy double bedroom, a living room with a wood-burning stove and a generous deck for watching the sunset over the trees of the local Heywood Forest. 

Another great option is The Treehouse in Herefordshire, which sits amongst a lush canopy on 18 acres of land, which happens to be a local wildlife reserve. It is also a short drive away from Hay-on-Wye, perfect for book lovers, whether you coincide your visit with the Hay Literary Festival or not. Its many bookshops, markets and restaurants make it the ideal location for a relaxed day out. A perfect romantic retreat, The Treehouse is not suitable for children (its sole super king-size bed looks too divine to leave), but fur babies are very much welcome.