For history

Fish Court, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

Residents staying in the former home of King Henry VIII are free to explore the grounds when they are closed to the general public. The apartment was originally used by "Officers of the Pastry"; now it is comfortably furnished and sleeps six.

Book it: 01628 825925;, from £1,657 a week

Laundry Cottage, Ightham Mote, Kent

This 15th-century cottage in the grounds of Ightham Mote, one of the most picturesque medieval manor houses in the UK, has its own picturebook garden and views across the lawns of the manor house. Sleeping four, it also has a woodburning stove.

Book it: 0844 800 2070;, from £1,049 a week

Tower of Halbar, Braidwood, Scotland

Built in the late 16th century to protect against English raiders, the tower is four storeys high and has retained original features such as a dovecote, two gargoyles and an oriel window. It sleeps seven, is decorated in medieval style and welcomes families, but is unsuitable for the elderly.

Book it: 0845 090 0194;, from £925 a week

Medley Court, Hever Castle, Kent

In the grounds of Hever Castle, Medley Court was built by William Astor in 1903, and has been restored to the luxurious standard of that time. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and an elegant kitchen and lounge, and residents have the grounds of Hever to themselves after the gates close to the public.

Book it: 01386 701177;, from £2,623 a week

Dartmoor Longhouse, Chagford, Devon

Grade I-listed and surrounded by 130 acres of farmland, the house was once besieged by the Roundheads. It has an open fire and uneven stairs that lead up to four bedrooms.

Book it: 01647 433593;, from £693 a week

The Laird's Apartment, Brodie Castle, Moray

Furnished with antiques, the luxurious rooms here include a grand dining room and elegant bedrooms. The apartment sleeps up to 14 and is surrounded by woodland.

Book it: 0844 493 2108;, from £2,200 a week

Hardcragg Hall, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

Dating back to 1563, this Grade II-listed country manor house full of huge fireplaces has seven bedrooms, many with four-poster beds. Previous visitors include Beatrix Potter and Oliver Cromwell.

Book it: 01228 599960;, from £2,150 a week

The Rocket Carthouse, Pembrokeshire, Wales

This Grade II-listed building near Angle was once the coastguard's watchtower. The bedrooms have sea views, while outside there's an enclosed garden. The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is across the road, and there are beaches within walking distance. Sleeps eight.

Book it: 01437 772760;, from £632 a week

Poole House, Nether Stowey, Somerset

Elegantly furnished, with a striking Georgian facade, this Grade II-listed house has a drawing room with a woodburning fire, a kitchen with an Aga and a library. Coleridge is believed to have written The Ancient Mariner here. Sleeps 12.

Book it: 01326 555555;, from £948 a week (12 sharing)

For family groups

The 1450 Barn, Winkleigh, Devon

On an organic working farm where kids can meet Shetland ponies, lambs and goats, this listed barn has a play area and combines exposed beams with classy cream decor and a state-of-the-art kitchen. Dartmoor and Exmoor are a short drive away. Sleeps six.

Book it: 01237 459888;, from £457 a week

Felmingham Hall, Norfolk

Play at being lords and ladies of the manor in an Elizabethan country pile that sleeps 14 and comes with an outdoor heated pool and a baby grand piano in the drawing room. The manor is set in six acres with a picturesque walled garden, a top-notch kitchen, and the services of a housekeeper.

Book it: 01386 701177;, from £5,747 a week

Cadhay, Ottery St Mary, Devon

Included in Simon Jenkins's England's Thousand Best Houses, Cadhay was built around 1550 and combines medieval character with 21st-century comforts. The house is rented in its entirety, with three acres of grounds, a lake, fishponds and croquet lawn. It has 12 bedrooms, some with four-poster beds, and seven bathrooms.

Book it: 01647 433593;, from £3,245 a week

Lakefield, Ullswater, Cumbria

A spectacular boathouse on the shores of Ullswater, Lakefield has four bedrooms, an over-the-water sundeck, and a charming garden, with lots of space for children to play.

Book it: 01539 432321;, from £1,398 a week

Cliff House, Mullion, Cornwall

With stunning views of Mullion Island, this wonderfully light and airy house has four bedrooms and is in the middle of a nature reserve. It has a pond and stream in the garden, so it may not suit families with very young children. Sleeps nine.

Book it: 01326 240333;, from £663 for four nights

Hewas Water Farm, Mevagissey, Cornwall

At this funkily furnished four-bedroom cottage the kids can amuse themselves in the well-equipped playroom and the enclosed meadow, parents can relax in the hot tub. The owners can arrange holistic spa treatments and meals to order.

Book it: 01326 555555;, from £792 a week

Ynys Pandy, Golan, Gwynedd

Guests at this secluded cottage on the edge of Snowdonia National Park arrive to a crackling log burner and freshly baked scones. All four rooms are cosily furnished, and outside there's a garden with swings. Beaches are close by and Portmeirion is a 15-minute drive away.

Book it: 01766 530256;, from £409 a week

The Lighthouse, Mathon, Worcestershire

With floor-to-ceiling windows (hence "light house"), this tranquil new property sleeps six, and has a vast living area with a woodburner. With no TV, families have to make their own entertainment, perhaps on the Steinway piano and guitar.

Book it: 01886 880867;, from £650 a week

Chaucer Barn, Gresham, Norfolk

Part of a farm once owned by Geoffrey Chaucer, this gorgeous converted barn is set in five acres of landscaped grounds. Outside there are stunning views; inside it has massive oak beams, floor-to-ceiling windows, oriental rugs and Indian teak furniture. It sleeps 18 people, and five of the rooms have roll-top baths.

Book it: 01263 577733;, from £2,900 for a three-night weekend/£4,220 a week

For lovers

The Watchtower, Barnstaple, Devon

This Grade II-listed turret-like water tower has no cooker, but a fridge and microwave make simple meals possible, and the restaurants and bars of Barnstaple are a mile away. Outside, the lawned garden has a barbecue area.

Book it: 01237 459888;, from £242 a week

The Oast House, Shoreham, Kent

Luxuriously restored with a woodburning fire and spiral steps up to a spacious bedroom, the Oast House has a private walled garden and sundeck, and guests can use the owner's swimming pool and tennis court at certain times.

Book it: 01386 701177;, from £584 a week

The Bath House, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Although offering just one main room for sleeping, lounging and eating, the Bath House is still a romantic option. It dates from the mid-18th century, when it housed a bathing facility and, aside from its elegant period feel, the big draw is that it's buried in woodland.

Book it: 01628 825925;, from £754 a week

The Temple, Badger, Shropshire

An 18th-century folly furnished with antiques, the Temple is a neo-classical palace for two, with a colonnaded balcony perfect for romantic suppers à deux. The first-floor sitting room has a spiral staircase leading down to a kitchen, double bedroom and bathroom.

Book it: 0845 090 0194;, from £710 a week

The Artist's House, Cellardyke, Fife

On one of the quietest streets in this fishing village and cleverly converted to take in the sea views, this cottage has a top floor given over to a huge lounge. It also includes original features such as a traditional "box bed", although couples sleep in a cosy little room instead.

Book it: Ecosse Unique 01835 822277;, from £335 a week

The Pump House, Crewkerne, Somerset

Set in the grounds of the owner's Grade II-listed home (whose gardens and tennis court guests are welcome to use), the Pump House has an open-plan living room with a woodburner and a spiral staircase leading to a snug bedroom.

Book it: 01326 555555;, from £321 a week

Nancy's House, Near St Ives, Cornwall

On an organic farm, this eco-friendly retreat, within walking distance of Portheras beach, is powered by a wind turbine and has its own fruit and herb garden. It's simple but homely, with a woodburner in the sitting room.

Book it: 01326 555555;, from £321 a week

Robin Hood's Hut, Halswell, Somerset

This 18th-century pavilion has two faces: a thatched cottage on one side and, on the other, an elegant stone "umbrello" dining pavilion. To keep the building intact, the bathroom is in a hut a few seconds' walk away, but it's a small price to pay for such a unique billet.

Book it: 01628 825925;, from £803 a week

The Barn, Braich-y-Ceunant, Gwynedd

This stone cottage, with its larch beams and woodburning stove, is the perfect Welsh hideaway for two. A spiral staircase leads to the lofty, galleried bedroom, while through the French windows you'll find a tiny walled patio. The famous Torrent Walk is a quarter of a mile away.

Book it: 01341 423345;, from £245 a week

Dick Turpin Cottage, Cockford Hall, Shropshire

Imaginative and eccentric, this cottage is decked out in rich fabrics and unusual pieces of furniture and artwork (look out for the clock from a Russian submarine in the bathroom). The kitchen comes with a welcome hamper and a stack of cookbooks, and there's a built-in hi-fi system that plays throughout the cottage. Behind the cottage are 200 acres of wilderness and wildlife, so don't forget to pack your walking shoes.

Book it: 01588 640327;, from £550 a week

For seaside

Captain's House, Marazion, Cornwall

On the waterfront at Marazion with uninterrupted views to St Michael's Mount, the Captain's House is kitted out with a home cinema system and iPod docking stations. With four bedrooms (one single) and three bathrooms, it also has a sun terrace perfect for alfresco suppers.

Book it: 01386 701177;, from £1,281

Ferrycot, Salcombe, Devon

A few yards from the sandy beaches of East Portlemouth and Millbay, Ferrycot is one of four terraced cottages that look across the estuary to Salcombe. Three of the four bedrooms have ensuite wet rooms and TVs. The fourth has bunk beds for up to three children.

Book it: 01548 843773;, from £1,500 a week

Cruggleton Lodge, Dumfries & Galloway

The dramatic cliff-top position of this restored Georgian lodge gives it dazzling views across the Irish Sea. Inside is stunning, too. There's a cosy living room with woodburning stove and huge sofabed, a gorgeous kitchen with an Aga and two chic bedrooms. Check out the nearby ruins of 13th-century Cruggleton Castle. Sleeps up to six.

Book it: 01988 600694;, from £520 a week

Flying Boat Club, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

The Flying Boat Club is a collection of chalet-style cottages built along Tresco's stunning shorefront. All the houses have oak flooring, sleek furnishings and sea views, with plenty of luxury add-ons - Wi-Fi, satellite TV and state-of-the-art kitchen. The cottages share a spa and indoor pool, and a footpath runs directly to the beach.

Book it: 01720 422849;, three-bedroom cottage from £1,950 a week

Tremoutha House, Near Boscastle, Cornwall

Sitting on a sheltered cliffside overlooking Crackington Haven, this four-bedroom house is beautifully decorated in nautical white and blue. Feast on local fish while taking in sea views from the mezzanine dining area.

Book it: 01326 555555;, from £672 a week

Station Officer's House, East Prawle, Devon

This, the most southerly house in Devon, is perched at the end of a row of coastguard cottages at Prawle Point with sea views from most rooms. Stylishly designed by the artist owner, it has five light and airy bedrooms, a living room with an open fire and stacks of games, books and DVDs. There are some great secret swimming spots nearby, plus a fabulous pub in the village.

Book it: 020 7421 5567;, from £1,400 a week

Laguna Beach House, Camber, East Sussex

A Frisbee's throw from a sandy beach flanked by grassy dunes, this retreat has three funky bedrooms, but it's the enormous south-facing roof terrace with its sunloungers, hammocks and barbecue that takes the biscuit. Sleeps eight.

Book it: 01242 522525;, from £1,500 a week

St Anthony's Cottage, Minehead, Somerset

Lap up picture-postcard views across the Bristol Channel to Wales from your loft-style living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and woodburner. Bedrooms below open on to a deck with steps to a private garden.

Book it: 01643 862364;, from £800 a week. It sleeps four

Hen Dy, Pwllheli

40 This charming south-facing house (which was once the gardener's bothy and laundry) on the 5,000-acre Nanhoron Estate right on the coast of the Llyn peninsula, sleeps up to seven people in four beautiful bedrooms, and has a large sitting room filled with books and games.

Book it: 01758 730610;, from £750 a week

For isolation

The Dash, Skiddaw, Cumbria

Squirrelled away on the northern side of Skiddaw in the Lake District National Park, the Dash is a Grade II-listed farmhouse, utterly isolated and yet only 15 minutes' drive from Keswick and Cockermouth. Ideal for walkers, with trails from the doorstep, the house is well kitted out and sleeps six adults and two children.

Book it: 01697 371217;, from £791 a week

Glenuaig Lodge, Glencarron, Highlands

This Victorian hunting lodge, half-an-hour's drive off-road into the mountains, relies on its own renewable electricity supply to power the satellite TV, DVD, central heating and kitchen. Kids can run wild in the six-mile valley, and fishing, clay-pigeon shooting and guided mountain hikes can all be arranged.

Book it: 020 7108 1131;, from £890 a week. It sleeps eight

Lands End Farm, Rusland, Cumbria

An elegantly furnished farmhouse, complete with full-sized table-tennis table and Moroccan-style bedrooms, Lands End Farm sleeps eight and is perfectly placed for exploring on foot or bike. Apart from the owners next door, the house is splendidly isolated, with an open fire for the winte r months and a large terrace for the summer.

Book it: 015394 32321;, from £750 a week

White Edge Lodge, Longshaw, Derbyshire

Originally a gamekeeper's cottage on the Duke of Rutland's Longshaw Estate, the cottage has many original features, and the former game cellar has been turned into a sleek kitchen. You can walk to the pub, and the surrounding expanses of heather moorland are perfect for long rambles and letting the kids run wild. Sleeps five.

Book it: 0844 800 2070;, from £1,276 a week

The Boat House, Stoke Gabriel, Devon

Set on the banks of the River Dart, less than half a mile from Stoke Gabriel, the Boat House can be reached only on foot or by boat. Built in the 60s as a bathing house, the property has two simply decorated bedrooms and an open-plan living room with a woodburner. You can cast a fishing line into the water from the balcony.

Book it: 01647 433593;, from £1,052 a week

Pooks Cottage, Exmoor, Devon

This 19th-century former gamekeeper's cottage is all on its own in the heart of Exmoor's Lorna Doone country - the nearest shop is at Porlock, five miles away. It has a snug beamed sitting room with inglenook fireplace and bread oven, four bedrooms and a walled garden. There is no mobile phone reception, but there is a telephone with an honesty box.

Book it: 01548 853089;, from £388 a week

Grieve's Cottage, Knoydart, Highlands

Reachable only by boat from Mallaig, or on foot over the hills from Kinloch Hourn, this cottage on a private estate has four bedrooms and a living room with woodburning stove. The village of Inverie is a 15-minute walk away.

Book it: 01835 822277;, from £795 a week for parties of eight; parties of four pay £455

Esgair Berfedd, Llandeilo, Wales

Proof that a rural location does not have to mean skimping on comfort, this 200-year-old farmhouse has been renovated in a cool modern style while retaining beamed ceilings and oak floorboards. Ideal for a stylish house party, it has stunning views along the valley. Sleeps seven.

Book it: 01874 676446;, from £523 a week

Waterfall Cottage, Kenmore, Perthshire

Set in private woodland high above Loch Tay, this property is all wood, thick rugs, expansive windows and underfloor heating. It sleeps two, but can be rented with Sky Cottage next door, to sleep four in total. Canoeing, fishing and stalking are on offer nearby.

Book it: 01887 830336;, from £170 a night (including welcome hamper)

Pant Rhiw, Pwllheli, Gwynedd

Accessible only by a footpath, and high on a hillside with gorgeous views across Hell's Mouth Bay, the cottage feels utterly isolated, with sheep rambling into the wild uneven garden. Though comfortably furnished, it gives you a rural experience rather than five-star luxury. It sleeps four.

Book it: 0844 800 2070;, from £440 a week


Nicola Iseard

The GuardianTramp

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