Historic, wonderful and weird: Heritage holiday rentals with a difference

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

Everything from a former pigsty to an eccentric summerhouse in the shape of a pineapple is preserved by UK conservation charity the Landmark Trust — and they're available to rent, too. 

To the average observer, Church Cottage — with its slate roof, open fireplace and beamed ceilings — looks the archetype of British country charm, perched by the roadside near the Welsh village of Llandygwydd.

But to the late English preservationist Sir John Smith, the cottage — which was built in the 1850s to house the caretaker and sexton from the nearby St Tygwydd’s Church — was an example of the kind of smaller historic buildings that were rapidly being lost in Britain during the 1960s. And indeed when Smith and his wife Christian founded building conservation charity the Landmark Trust in 1965, Church Cottage was the first structure they restored. 

These days, the trust oversees nearly 200 properties and remains dedicated to what Smith once described as “cases too desperate, troublesome or unfashionable for anyone else”. Like Church Cottage, which had stood empty and derelict for a number of years when the Landmark Trust took it over, each property is restored before being rented as self-catering holiday accommodation, helping to fund their maintenance while opening them up for the public to enjoy.

True to its original mission, the trust’s collection is eclectic, incorporating everything from an eccentric 19th-century former pigsty built to resemble an ancient Greek temple to the Pineapple (pictured at top), an 18th-century Scottish summerhouse built partially in the shape of — you guessed it — the tropical fruit. 

Then there’s the eye-catching Egyptian House in Penzance, originally built in the 1830s as a geological shop and now divided into three apartments, and Swarkestone Pavilion, a Derbyshire building dating from the 1630s that appeared as an atmospheric ruin in the well-known photographs taken for the Rolling Stones’ 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

Properties sleep from one to more than a dozen people, and are often available at surprisingly affordable rates (the trust says the average cost is less than £50 ($89) per person per night). 

Other options include a 16th-century circular almshouse with rooms set around a central chapel, the old engine house of a former copper and arsenic mine, a Gothic temple set in grounds designed by Capability Brown, a Victorian water tower on the edge of the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, a Staffordshire railway station where the ticket office has been converted into a double bedroom, and a Victorian fort on the Channel Island of Alderney. 

There’s even an island — Lundy, off the Devon coast — where everything from the former lighthouse to the old Sunday school is available to rent. 

Age-wise, the Landmark Trust’s properties range from Purton Green, a thatched timber-framed hall house in Suffolk dating to 1250, to the Anderton House, a sleek-lined piece of modernist architecture commissioned in 1969. 

Design lovers may also enjoy Goddards, a charming Surrey country house built by the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens which comes complete with a period bowling alley, and Warwickshire’s Astley Castle, a winner of the prestigious Stirling Prize that stitches together modern accommodation with the ruins of a castle said to have inspired George Eliot. 

While most of the trust’s properties are in the UK, it also manages a number of overseas buildings, including a fisherman’s cottage in an Italian village near Portofino, the apartment above John Keats’ final home overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome, the former home of Robert and Elizabeth Browning in Florence, and Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, once the French weekend retreat of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. 

There’s also a US affiliate, with five properties including the Vermont house where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book.

Smith — a descendant of the travel pioneer Thomas Cook who was also involved with the National Trust and other heritage conservation causes — died in 2007, but the trust’s portfolio is ever growing. 

It receives details of more than 100 historic buildings in need of preservation each year, and its current projects include a dilapidated medieval hall house in the Welsh Black Mountains and the Gothic-revival-style Cobham Dairy, which was built in the 1790s for recreational butter churning and cream making, then oddly fashionable among aristocratic women.

Such endeavours illustrate the trust’s continued relevance — as does the fate of St Tygwydd’s, the place of worship that Church Cottage, the original Landmark Trust property, was built to service. 

Faced with structural problems and a repair bill running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, it closed in 1996 and was demolished in 2000. 

Fact File


You may also like