Kids love the novel, the unusual or the downright weird, as the success of leftfield family holiday options such as Feather Down Farms, Country Retreats and treehouses testify. The following may not all be places to spend an entire two-week holiday, but for a night or two of quirky fun, they’re sure-fire winners.
The Boat House, Devon
Sleeping up to 8, this intriguing property in Dartmouth was built on the site of a previous boathouse on a bend in the Dart and has gorgeous views towards the sea in one direction and the town and naval collage in the other. Fittingly, it’s decorated like a luxury ocean liner, with panelled ‘cabins’ (one a bunk-room for kids) and a ‘saloon’ with vast bay windows to take advantage of the vista. There’s a games room should you tire of exploring the fascinating surrounds, plus a garden.
Cley Windmill, Norfolk
A very special and characterful place to stay, this 18th-century windmill looking out over Blakeney Marshes and the sea offers both B&B and self-catering (the latter in its Dovecote cottage for 4 in the old stables).
Crown Hill Fort, Devon
Owned by the Landmark Trust, this fort sleeping 8 is a fabulous place to bring boys – once the building as a whole (built to protect the naval harbour at Plymouth in the 1860s and bristling with replica guns and cannons) is closed to the public, it’s all theirs to run around and re-enact battle scenes in.
Forest Holidays Treehouse Cabins, Various Locations
The latest innovation at some of the Forest Holidays sites (those at Deerpark in Cornwall, Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, Keldy in North Yorkshire, and at the new Sherwood Forest site in Nottinghamshire) are extensions to some of its three-bed Golden Oak Cabins of an additional ensuite bedroom within a treehouse accessed by an ‘adventurers’ bridge’. These extended cabins sleep up to eight in total.
The House in the Clouds, Suffolk
This extraordinary old water tower in the 1920s holiday resort of Thorpeness in sleeps up to 12 over seven floors, so it’s a great place for a holiday with family or friends. The galleried games room at the top has amazing countryside and North Sea views.
Lighthouse Cottage, Norfolk
Well located for the seaside delights of Cromer as well as for the Broads, this small Graded II listed former lighthouse-keeper’s cottage (sleeping 4–5) stands beside a working red-and-white striped lighthouse that you can climb on Sundays in high season. Another highlight for kids is the cellar converted into a den specially for them, while outside there’s a large enclosed garden.
The Oast House, East Sussex
A converted traditional oast house sleeping up to 10, this property within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers lovely views over the Brede Valley from its garden and surrounding woodlands and orchard. The breakfast room is picturesquely situated within the old roundel (a circular kiln for drying hops). An open fire and a wood-burning stove make it cosy in winter, while for summer it’s within easy reach of beaches including Camber Sands. A hard tennis court is available for guest use, and there’s lots of wonderful walking in the area, including around the remains of Battle abbey.
South Lodge, East Sussex
The gatehouse at Battle Abbey, sleeping 4, is just one of many interesting – and surprisingly stylish – places to stay offered by English Heritage. Many are in the grounds of castles or other spectacular historic buildings, so families can get a history lesson close up.
Families can take part in all ‘The Prisoner’ madness by staying in a castle, an Art Deco hotel or several self-catering cottages built by the visionary architect of this Italianate tourist village.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Scotland
You can stay in one of three traditional blackhouses (for 2, 5 and 16 people) in this crofting village on the Isle of Lewis – the essence of an ‘authentic’ holiday that leaves nothing to desire when it comes to getting away from it all. Visitors can enjoy traditional rural activities, outdoor pursuits including watersports and fishing, and wildlife-watching.
Killantringan Light Keepers’ House, Scotland
This property for 10–12 occupies a magnificent location on a clifftop beside an automated lighthouse near the lively harbour town of Portpatrick, with amazing views of the sea and local birdlife. There is an enclosed garden, but close supervision of younger children is required while staying here, due to the unprotected drops. Walking, along the shore or in the Galloway hills, is the highlight of this area.
The Pineapple, Scotland
Though the Landmark Trust has plenty of eccentric places to choose from, none are more so than The Pineapple in Dunmore in central Scotland, sleeping 4. Covered by prickly stone leaves, the fruity summerhouse folly built for the 4th Earl of Dunmore presides over a huge walled garden.
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