Spend the Night in a Historic British Home
Elizabeth slept here: You could stay at any old B&B or you could be the temporary lord of a famous building.
For pretty much the same price as any back-roads inn, country ramblers of England and Scotland can get an upgrade. The Landmark Trust was initiated in 1965 to rescue, refurbish, and rent out some of Britain's most dramatic ruins. Its growing stable of renewed properties--more than 200 now--means you can enact almost any time-warped fantasy. Think windmills, lighthouses, stone castles--in any part of the country, with modern electric and heating systems. You don't get breakfast, but you do get an equipped kitchen, modern bathroom, and linens. Presenting the best of the bunch, priced per property (not per person) in low season, working south to north, from the toe of Cornwall to Scotland:
The Egyptian House
In the tweedy Cornish village of Penzance, this 19th-century town house can't keep a stiff upper lip. Breaking loose with a circus facade, it looks more Coney Island than Cairo. Inside, though, the three compact rental spaces are eminently cozy and offer a view of the harbor where the town's fabled pirates pillaged between arias. From $52/night; its least expensive apartment sleeps three.
Built in 1972 (with original furniture to prove it), this unusual property in the village of Goodleigh is for people suffering from quaintness overload. The streamlined, glass-sheathed house--designed, in a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, to embrace the view of North Devon's rolling green hills--is as much an architectural landmark as any manor. From $96/night; sleeps five.
The kind of flamboyant folly that makes other follies look humorless, this ostentatious edifice about 20 miles north of Oxford is part Camelot and part Anne Rice crypt. Witness the high-vaulted ceiling of the 18th-century lodge, painted with heraldry; the two circular, Rapunzel-ready bedrooms; the stained-glass bathroom. The surrounding "Capability" Brown--designed Stowe Gardens are usually closed to the public, but they're open to Trust guests. They're also sprinkled with enough neoclassical statuary and temples to resemble a high-class miniature-golf course. From $158/night; sleeps four.
East Banqueting House
One of the few remnants of the 17th-century Old Campden House, which was torched centuries ago by Royalists, the property still conveys a whiff of the Restoration lush life. In the long, airy parlor lined with arched windows, aristocrats dined on sweetmeats; its view of gamboling lambs and the local church spire hasn't changed in 300 years. Neither has the village of Chipping Campden, which may be the definitive Cotswolds hamlet. The two bedrooms and kitchen are comfortable, and if you want to cram the place with friends, there's an additional bedroom and a very chilly bathroom in the neighboring gatehouse. From $150/night; sleeps six.
Twenty miles northeast of Stratford-upon-Avon, the cottage is a handsome, slope-roofed, whitewashed abode--the kind a kid would draw--between locks 31 and 32 of the Worcester & Birmingham canal. That means you can watch holiday barges float by your bedroom window. Or, if you have the urge, you can rent your own boat. From $81/night; sleeps four.
This ghostly Elizabethan structure once imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, for a fortnight (granted, there isn't an Elizabethan structure in Britain that didn't). A roofless wreck when the Trust bought it in 1968 for £300, the Gatehouse, about 15 miles north of Birmingham, now has a ground-floor gallery embellished by voluptuous sculpted angels, and two bedrooms have been tucked into the turrets. You can even picnic on the roof, which overlooks a lake. From $177/night; sleeps six.
St. Winifred's Well
Here's the romantic sort of property that separates the Trust from your everyday rent-a-villa outfit. Who else would track down the pilgrimage site of a decapitated 7th-century Welsh saint and rent out the one-room Tudor chapel that was built at her shrine? In medieval times, rowdy pilgrims took over the deep well in front, which was widely believed to have healing powers, and turned it into a sort of holy water park-cum-swingles hot tub. It was sealed long ago, leaving behind a cozy, beamed retreat surrounded by dense Shropshire woods. From $76/night; sleeps two.
Another romantic retreat for two, this majestic pavilion, marked by two perfect towers, was constructed in the 1600s to provide the owners of the long-gone Swarkestone mansion, 20 miles northwest of Leicester, with a grandstand view of something--conjecture ranges from jousting to bear-baiting. An enclosed garden contributes to the dreamscape. However, guests can only visit the loo by crossing an outdoor widow's walk, so in the middle of the night, that grandstand view may be of them. From $63/night; sleeps two.
The Trust handbook calls it, with British understatement, "an eccentric work," which is like calling Carrot Top excitable. You can't miss the epic-size tower, erected in 1761 in the shape of a pineapple, when the fruit was considered impossibly exotic. It's like living inside Carmen Miranda's headdress--in central Scotland--but the two subdued bedrooms overlook a tranquil walled garden designed with far more restraint. From $87/night; sleeps four.
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