The National Trust
Whether a carefully restored cottage, an imposing gatehouse, or a turret transformed into a one-bedroom nook, the National Trust’s holiday properties put you at the heart of its most spectacular estates.
Take 89 Church Lawn, a four-bedroom bolthole in the gardens of Stourhead, just a few steps from its magnificent lake. Here, surrounded by centuries of history and glorious landscaping, you’ll enjoy out-of-hours access to the entire demesne; for twilight strolls beneath ancient sweet chestnuts, and sunrise coffee beside the misty, mirror-like water.
At Sissinghurst, Priest’s House is an Elizabethan treasure with 450 acres of parkland on its doorstep. Or, for a wilder escape, The Tower (pictured) stands sentry on Norfolk’s Blickling estate, amid patchwork pastures and ancient woodland. Its spiral staircase leads up to a Rapunzel-style roof terrace, with views as far as the coast.
Each one of Sawday’s self-catering sanctuaries is gloriously, unabashedly unique.
No 2, for example, combines the wild beauty of Cairngorms National Park, in the Scottish Highlands, with painstakingly restored Victorian splendour. It’s a four-bedroom haven for hikers, nature-lovers, and design devotees, stuffed with plush furnishings and an enviable collection of old and new treasures – such as a large leather Chesterfield, two woodburners, and a wooden weather observatory built by Prince Albert himself.
Meanwhile, The Old Laundry (pictured) is set in Pitlochry’s Dunalastair Estate: you can spot ospreys and red squirrels from its deep-soak bathtub, with views of the mountains and munros beyond. Spend your days trout-fishing, trail-stomping, and picnicking on the banks of the loch, before tumbling into the four-poster bed. And that’s just the start: Sawday’s offers properties all over the UK, and throughout Europe, too.
When Audley End closes its gates every evening, leaving its Victorian mansion and Capability Brown-garden in peace, the residents of Cambridge Lodge have the glorious grounds all to themselves – a playground for anyone with a passion for history. Built in 1842, this beautiful red-brick sleeps four people and is dog-friendly, too, with cosy interiors hidden behind its heavy, hand-carved wooden door.
It’s just one of English Heritage’s many notable boltholes, each of which offers exclusive access to estates throughout the country. In North Yorkshire, you can sleep in the shadow of Rievaulx Abbey’s mighty 900-year-old ruins at Refectory Cottage (pictured) – a snip from just £25 per person per night for a week in low season – with a wood-burning stove, a private garden, and a hamper of locally sourced goodies.
Meanwhile, in Kent, Peverell’s Tower (a two-person retreat) is built right into the 13th-century fortifications of Dover Castle, with a roof terrace overlooking the ramparts.
Sheepskin’s collection is rooted in rural life – all farmhouses, cottages and converted barns, where sylvan surroundings meet traditional craftsmanship and winsome decor.
The most characterful cluster is in the Cotswolds: built from the area’s famous honeyed stone, and rich in timber beams, oak floors, and original leaded windows. The result? The kind of weekend retreat you can barely tear yourself from – where days are spent cuddled up beside crackling fires, and drinking wine in bubble-filled bathtubs.
Thimble Mill (below) sleeps two guests (plus dogs) with riverside rambles right from its front door. Pineapple Spa, meanwhile, combines Cotswolds charm with a few ritzy extras, like a gleaming copper tub and chandelier-lit sitting room.
Under The Thatch
While rescuing a dilapidated Welsh cottage from ruin, architectural historian Dr Greg Stevenson dreamt up the idea of Under The Thatch. By renting out finished restorations, he realised he could plough profits back into new projects, and give history-loving holidaymakers the getaway of their dreams. ‘The first one was a gamble,’ says Greg, ‘but it paid off and I’ve gone on to restore perhaps a hundred buildings since.’
Today, 20 years after that first revamp, Under The Thatch represents properties all over Wales, located in fabulously far-flung locations. On the Llyn Peninsula you’ll find Yr Hen Fynydd (pictured), a stone-built mountain hideaway that overlooks Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay; while Penrhiw in Pembrokeshire combines easy beach access with a rustic aesthetic – think natural woods, low beams, and a cosy open hearth.
‘Each one combines authentic conservation with modern convenience,’ says Greg, ‘so expect lime-washes and hand-mixed paints – alongside Netflix-connected TVs and decent-quality kitchen knives.’
As its name suggests, The Temple of Diana (pictured) is no ordinary holiday rental. Set amid Capability Brown’s Weston Park, this Yorkshire idyll dates back to the mid 1700s and was designed by architect James Paine (whose credits include Nostell Priory and the stables at Chatsworth).
The three-bay Orangery is its centrepiece, with panoramic views out over the greenery: a superlative spot for dining, entertaining, or just kicking back to admire its Italianate columns and intricate ceiling design. Remarkably, a week here costs from just £900, with space for six guests in three double bedrooms.
It’s part of the Rural Retreats portfolio, which is renowned for one-of-a-kind properties throughout the UK: from sea-spritzed lighthouses to Grade II-listed beauties.
In County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Belle Isle Castle is another of its treasures, with sumptuous interior design by the late David Hicks, magnificent oil paintings and mahogany furniture, and two wings that can be hired individually or together, sleeping up to 26. A humble abode this is not.
‘It nearly killed me, but it was the most rewarding job we’ve ever done,’ says John Evetts, Landmark’s Furnishing Manager, of restoring The Grange, the family home of architect Augustus Pugin.
Reinstating its wood-panelled library, where Pugin penned designs for the House of Lords in the mid 1800s, required the utmost attention to detail – particularly for the stained-glass window, hand-painted friezes, and jewel-hued wallpaper emblazoned with the family motto ‘En Avant’ (Forward).
The effect is spellbinding: step inside, and you’ll be transported to the heyday of the house, with the added perks of a modern kitchen, space for eight guests, and even Waitrose Delivery.
John has spent more than 40 years bringing the Landmark Trust’s historic properties back to life, carefully treading the line between faithful restoration and rental requirements.
Other highlights include Queen Anne’s Summerhouse in Old Warden, a charming brick folly that dates back to the 18th century; and Woodspring Priory (pictured), near Weston-super-Mare, an Augustinian house founded in 1210. ‘I try to make the properties into somewhere that you can be comfortable and at ease,’ says John. ‘But it shouldn’t feel ‘designer’ done; I don’t want people to feel they have to tiptoe around it.’