Who wants to stay in a simple room? Not us. Mini-break out of the norm and book a night in one of the UK’s quirkiest boltholes
Words: Unity Blott
Ecopod boutique retreat
It’s not the Eden Project, but it’s not far off. These domes are built into the wild, romantic landscape of Scotland’s west coast. Outside are panoramic views of nearby Loch Linnhe and the snow-capped Mull mountains. Inside, there’s a separate double bedroom, designer furniture, wood-burning stoves, top-of-the-range technology and locally sourced produce and toiletries. There’s even an outdoor hot tub where you can catch the last of the sun setting behind the loch. Each of the three pods covers 70sq m and is designed to have a minimum impact on the environment; it’s camping of a sort, minus the pain. You’ll never go back to sleeping bags again.
From £550 for three nights; domesweetdome.co.uk
If you begin to twitch whenever you’re separated from your smartphone, then these wooden cabins – a 10-minute drive from the picturesque historic market town of Masham – could be your salvation. There’s no electricity, so that means – brace yourself – no central heating, but you won’t need it. Built from locally sourced wood, the cabins can sleep up to 12 people and all boast hot water, wood-burners and cooking facilities, so you can rustle up a wholesome stew and learn to communicate with humans again, using the simple aids of a bottle of red and a blazing fire. But if you think you’ll get phone reception, think again.
From £185 for a weekend; thebivouac.co.uk
A former prison cell may not sound like the most appealing place to get a good night’s sleep (we’ve seen Orange Is The New Black) but it’s amazing what an extensive refurbishment can do. Part of the imposing medieval Oxford Castle, the building was HM Prison Oxford until 1996. Now one of Malmaison’s network of 13 luxury hotels, it has been restored as a fully-fledged boutique bolthole. But there are still strong links to the building’s past, from its long, high walkways to its barred windows, with cast-iron doors on the cells – sorry, bedrooms – and suites named after former prison governors. Fortunately, there’s no ‘lights out’ at 10pm.
From £95 per night; malmaison.com
You’ll need sea legs for this one. Standing defiant in the choppy waters of the Solent, Spitbank Fort is one of four naval defences built in 1878 against a suspected French invasion, although it was never used in battle. Admittedly not a looker from the outside, it’s now best known as a private island reached only by boat or helicopter, complete with nine luxury bedroom suites, sauna, hot tub, wine cellar and, of course, incredible views of the Solent. The fort still has many of its original features, such as the Officer’s Mess (now a dining area) and spiral staircases.
From £495 per night or £5,000 per night to hire the whole venue; spitbankfort.com
There are few places as peaceful as an old library, and few things more relaxing than wriggling into bed with a gripping novel. Thankfully, Gladstone’s Library combines the two. Once the home of Prime Minister William Gladstone’s collection (he carted 32,000 books there from his castle, a quarter of a mile away, using just a wheelbarrow), it now offers four-star accommodation for academics and travellers alike. The Grade 1-listed Victorian building, which houses 250,000 tomes, has 26 boutique-style bedrooms and also provides home-cooked meals for guests. A bookworm’s paradise.
From £89 per night (includes dinner and breakfast); gladstoneslibrary.org
Lost Meadow Tree Tent
This curious hanging sphere was designed by a hot-air balloon engineer and is reached by a rickety wooden staircase. It might look like an uncomfortable night waiting to happen, but the thick thermal lining and wood burner will keep you warm, and there’s a full-sized hanging bed. The roll-down windows offer stunning views of the Cornish woodlands, while Bodmin, with its homely pubs and restaurants, is eight miles away. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are located in a separate hut on ground level. It’s perfectly safe, but maybe not recommended if heights are an issue.
From £95 per night; canopyandstars.co.uk
The Majestic Bus
If the word campervan conjures up memories of rain-soaked British summers in a rusty old Volkswagen, you’re in for a surprise. This unassuming holiday home in the Welsh borders is a thoroughly modern conversion, meaning you get the feeling of camping but with all the amenities of a country cottage. Inside it’s light and spacious (sleeping up to four) with proper kitchen facilities and a wood-burning stove. Outside there’s a decked garden area, as well as a fire pit for warming your cockles on chilly nights. With a steering wheel and dashboard as the only reminders that you’re actually holidaying on a bus.
From £105 per night; majesticbus.co.uk