Nobody takes their heritage more seriously than the English, but now foreigners can also get a real taste of English country life. English Heritage, a Government statutory advising body, has opened up the gates of more than a dozen holiday properties located within the grounds of England’s ancient castles, stately homes, and religious buildings. By day, many of these properties are open to the public, but in the evenings, you can have them all to yourself and roam the halls like the Kings, Queens, Lords, and Ladies before you. Several organizations specialize in this type of heritage accommodation. With the dollar faring better against the pound than it has in years, 2009 is an ideal time to visit Great Britain and soak up some of the glorious past.
Landmark Trust is one of the most reputable companies in the repair-and-let trade with about 180 rescued buildings on its books, including the eccentric Freston Tower in Suffolk. The 1578 structure has one room on each of its six floors with views of the Orwell River. Ancient House at nearby Clare dates from 1473 and is also managed by Landmark. Rural Retreats offers a variety of homestays, from the Manger in deepest Devon─a remarkably refurbished cowshed, to the Temple in the Cotswold’s─an 1815 take on classical Greece, and Chaucer Barn─once home to the renowned author of The Canterbury Tales. Vivat Trust manages several derelict, but important old buildings. One of the more charming ones is Mill Hill Cottage (built in 1750) in Lincolnshire with its vintage thatched roof and whitewashed walls. The cottage is one of only 200 “mud and stud” cottages that have survived into the 21st century. The National Trust offers more than 350 self-catering properties, including Laundry Cottage near Sevenoaks in Kent–an archetypal medieval abode with studded walls and pantiled roof. Built over 600 years ago, the cottage was once part of the servants’ quarters at Ightham Mote, a 13th-century manor house encircled by a moat and the lucky recipient of the trust’s biggest-ever conservation project yet. If you want to bring along your pooch, it even has a heritage-listed dog kennel! Stately Holiday Homes also has an excellent collection of heritage properties, not just in the UK, but all across Europe.
Through the Royal Oak Foundation, the American affiliate of the National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, American visitors can further maximize savings by staying at one of the Trust’s affordable Holiday Cottages. Members of The Royal Oak Foundation get 25% off rates and breakfast at England’s three Historic House Hotels, plus a complimentary room upgrade. Membership also grants complimentary access to all National Trust properties in the U.K., including wildlife refuges and estates like Sissinghurst (perfect for living out a modern-day Virginia Wolf fantasy). One may choose from over 360 cottages from the Cornish coast to the Yorkshire dales, including ten new homes. Many of the cottages had previous lives as former sporting grandstands, water towers, and lighthouse cottages. The Birdcage, located in Cornwall, is nestled amongst the higgledy-piggedly arrangement of old cottages in Port Isaac’s tiny streets. This 200-year-old building, pentagonal and three stories high, is believed to have been a cobbler’s shop. With its tiny rooms and a staircase only a little over a foot wide, it’s the ideal love nest. The Trust’s 2009 Holiday Cottages, a 201-page, fully-illustrated book describing in detail each residence and its special qualities and surrounding locale, is available in the U.S. exclusively from the Royal Oak Foundation. It costs $12 with shipping and is FREE upon request with new membership (mention code “cottages09” to redeem when signing up), which in itself grants complimentary access to all National Trust properties (that’s over 300 historic houses and gardens, 700 miles of coastline, and over 620,000 acres of open countryside). Plus, staying in these cottages directly supports the continuing conservation of the Trust’s properties─now that’s what we call a truly feel-good Bridget Jones-style holiday!
Rates: Cottages can begin anywhere from $352 (£238) for one week in low season. Nightly rates begin at £160 (about $230) before the discount. Valid for stays through October 31, 2009 with certain black-out dates. The Foundation supports National Trust conservation projects and offers a series of lectures and other public programs in U.S. cities on topics including British history, architecture, gardens, the fine and decorative arts─as well as other programs in the U.K. Call 800-913-6565, ext. 205, at the Royal Oak Foundation to become a member and secure a free catalogue or visit their website for more details: www.royal-oak.org. As a U.S. not-for-profit organization, membership dues and donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law. More useful information can also be found at www.visitbritain.com.