Eccentric Stays in Quirky English Digs

The English countryside is full of quirky places to lay your head. Here’s our guide to the top three in the southwest.

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  • 01 of 03

    Back to the 1930s and Art Deco Glamour at Burgh Island Hotel

    Burgh Island Hotel Dome
    © Helen Ochyra

    Go back to the 1930s at Burgh Island Hotel, which is “85 years and 3½ hours from London”. No detail has been missed here in recreating the stylish Thirties, from the rotary dials on the telephones in the bedrooms to the painstakingly restored baize of the original billiards table in the games corridor.

    You’ll need to dress the part here. Agatha Christie and Noel Coward were regular guests here and like them, you'll be required to don black-tie evening wear for dinner. On my visit I had fun playing post-dinner ping pong in a floor-length gown. I swapped my heels for flats to clamber up the hill behind the hotel for sunset views over the English Channel though.

    The experience here starts when you board the sea tractor, built by the hotel especially to tackle the changing tidal conditions that see the island cut off about half the time. After checking in, explore the island itself, ending up in the historic Pilchard Inn for a pint overlooking the encroaching waters. If you’re not cut off now you will be by morning so get cosy in your suite before descending the stairs for cocktails and canapés underneath the stunning stained glass dome in the bar.

    At dinner around 80% of the ingredients are sourced from within a 30-mile radius. I ate Brixham crab, broad bean, peashoot and citrus salad, followed by John Dory with French gnocchi, brown shrimp, samphire, girolles and elderflower butter sauce but there are multiple options for each course including vegetarian. On Wednesdays and Saturdays dinner is accompanied by live piano music though on other nights the dining room can be lacking in atmosphere.

    Burgh Island Essentials

    • Where: Burgh Island is off the south coast of Devon off Bigbury on Sea across a tidal beach. On booking you’ll be given instructions on when to call the hotel and arrange parking and pickup. They will drive you over to the island by Landrover at low tide and sea tractor at high tide.
    • Contact: Bigbury on Sea, South Devon, TQ7 4BG, 01548 810514
    • Visit their website
  • 02 of 03

    The Stylish Treehouse at Chewton Glen

    Chewton Glen Treehouse
    Courtesy of Chewton Glen

    Find the whole concept of sleeping up a tree a bit too much? Don’t fancy shimmying up a ladder to reach your bed? Fear not, the treehouses in the woodland at Chewton Glen Hotel are far from the Swiss Family Robinson bolthole you’re fearing they might be.

    There isn’t so much as a step up to get inside for a start, you’ll simply walk straight in from the woodland track to find floor-to-ceiling glass opening up into a natural valley beyond. Yes, this is a treehouse but perched on a slope rather than high up a trunk. And it’s hardly slumming it either, with luxurious fabrics in muted tones, a vast kingsize bed facing the forest and your very own private veranda with large hot tub.

    On my visit I of course spent most of my time in that hot tub. My husband, meanwhile, seemed to be trying to watch three flatscreen TVs simultaneously, as well as ordering us a luxury hamper using the tablet provided.

    The treehouse hampers (which you can order up for breakfast, dinner or just an attack of the midnight munchies) are delivered through a “secret hatch”, which opens directly into a cupboard in the treehouse’s kitchenette. So you needn’t see another human being as long as you’re here if you don’t want to.

    I’d suggest you do though, if just to order afternoon tea in the hotel itself or play a round of golf on the par three course. The hotel spa isn’t a patch on that private hot tub though, so you’re sure to spend plenty of time in swimwear, or in robe and slippers afterwards, relaxing in front of the wood burner.

    Chewton Glen Essentials

  • 03 of 03
    The sleeping caravan
    © Helen Ochyra

    Find camping a bit too much? Not keen on sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor? Pawton Springs Farm has a much better idea, a gypsy caravan. And not just one gypsy caravan either, but two bow tops, plus a hut with kitchenette and shower room. So you won’t go without anything you need, even if it might mean hopping from one building to the next.

    On my visit it was chilly but my husband and I fired up the wood burner in our cute sleeping caravan (just large enough for a double bed) and soon didn’t notice. We also lit a campfire outside and cooked a simple dinner in the hut. You could even catch it yourself from the lake, just the other side of the parking area. There are a few carp in here as well as plenty of rudd which even novices can catch with a piece of bread or, even better, sweetcorn.

    Back at your caravan site light the campfire to cook your catch, sitting on the large wooden deck with its views over Bodmin Moor to enjoy the fruits of your labours. You won’t hear a sound out here besides the wildlife and perhaps the whistle of the wind making this a true escape, without having to give up those creature comforts. Camping perhaps, but not as you know it.

    Pawton Springs Gypsy Caravan Essentials

    • Where: Pawton Springs Farm is just south of Bodmin in central Cornwall, close to Bodmin Moor. Tucked away down a track near the main buildings of Pawton Springs farm, the gypsy caravan has its own parking in a grassy area a few metres away from its private grounds.
    • Contact: The Farmhouse, Pawton Springs, St Wenn, Bodmin, Cornwall, PL30 5PN, 01208 815436
    • Find them on the Under the Thatch website.