South and south-west
Torcross, south Devon
At the southern end of the epic, three-mile Slapton Sands, At the Beach is a collection of 19 bright, open-plan, modern apartments sleeping up to six in what was formerly the Torcross Hotel. Between Slapton Ley’s wetlands and the sea, Torcross is a buzzing community with a pub, fish-and-chip restaurant, cafe and village shop. Just metres from the apartments (some with a sea view) is the most sheltered part of the beach, an ideal spot for paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming. Kids will love clambering over the rocks to a quieter beach at low tide, and there are walks towards Dartmouth and Start Point.
• Sleep four or six from £259 for seven nights, luxurycoastal.co.uk
Croyde, north Devon
With only 35 pitches overlooking Croyde’s famous surf, Ocean Pitch Camping tends to get snapped up soon after bookings open on 1 November. There are electrical hookups for campers and several pitches have uninterrupted sea views. Onsite snack shack Biffen’s Kitchen is a bit of a Croyde institution, and there’s a small shop in the reception. The affiliated Surfing Croyde Bay offers surf lessons and kit hire as well as coasteering. Beyond the beach, the campsite has direct access to the South West Coast Path, which leads to the dunes at Braunton Burrows and Saunton.
• £15pp, glamping pods £99 (sleep two, two-night minimum), oceanpitch.co.uk
Selsey, West Sussex
At the tip of the Manhood peninsula, six miles south of Chichester, the seaside town of Selsey juts into the Channel with sea views in all directions. On pebbly East Beach, Seabank is a converted 19th-century railway carriage cottage with four bedrooms, a snug living room and a kitchen with fenced garden – all about as close to the sea as you can get. If you tire of sea-gazing from the veranda, there’s plenty of local interest, including Pagham Harbour local nature reserve, the Selsey lifeboat station, pretty Bosham and Fishbourne Roman Palace. Nearby, the Crab & Lobster and Cider House Kitchen pride themselves on local dishes.
• Sleeps eight, from £550 for seven nights or £110 a night (two-night minimum), oneoffplaces.co.uk
Chesil beach, Dorset
This coastline is so carefully protected that finding a holiday home with views of the Jurassic Coast world heritage site can be tricky, which is why properties like Short House Chesil are in demand. Separated from Chesil beach by a wild meadow and surrounded by National Trust farmland, pampas grass and pines, this recently refurbished Purbeck stone cottage feels remote. With two bedrooms opening on to a west-facing terrace and a garden that looks out towards the sea, it’s tempting to stay put. Explorers can head to the craft-packed village of Abbotsbury, a 45-minute walk away, and Bridport’s markets, shops and arts centre are a 15-minute drive away.
• Sleeps five, from £120 a night or £885 a week, sawdays.co.uk
Newtown, Isle of Wight
The National Trust opened Newtown Cabin as a holiday let in August, and it’s already booking up fast. On a quiet lane within the Newtown national nature reserve, it has coastal walks and estuary paths from the doorstep. The black and turquoise wood-clad cabin was built in the 1930s as an oyster-processing shack and is now a snug two-bedroom retreat with a woodburner and small patio. The reserve’s former salt pans are home to marbled white and common blue butterflies and red squirrels, and there are several bird hides a short walk away.
• Sleeps four, from £231 for three nights, nationaltrust.org.uk
Mawgan Porth, north Cornwall
With five of north Cornwall’s most popular sandy beaches, including Mawgan Porth and Bedruthan Steps, within five miles, Merlin Farm Cottages are well-located for seaside fun. At the end of a private lane and surrounded by farmland, the three converted stone barns are eco-friendly (renewable energy and composted waste) and floor-to-ceiling windows bring the outside in. There’s plenty of baby and toddler kit, and kids can feed the chickens, ponies and donkeys or roam the farm in search of deer, buzzards and bats. The cottages are in the Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps dark sky area, so are popular during August’s Perseids meteor shower – a yearly shooting star extravaganza.
• Sleep two, four or six, short breaks from £556, weekly from £795 (two-berth from £196/£287), merlin-farm-cottages-cornwall.co.uk
Whitsand Bay, south Cornwall
Close to the Tamar estuary, Whitsand Bay is a three-mile beach often overlooked for the more accessible surf breaks further south. Reached mostly via steep paths and steps, it rarely gets crowded but rewards intrepid visitors with rock pools and miles of sand (and divers with a well-known artificial reef around the sunken HMS Scylla). On Tregonhawke Cliff, Brackenbank is a cabin with two bedrooms, a garden and deck with sweeping Atlantic views. Adventure Bay Surf School and a couple of cafes are within walking distance, and the cabin owners can recommend local, sustainable food deliveries.
• Sleeps five, from £680 a week, short breaks available, beachretreats.co.uk
Lewes, East Sussex
Five miles north of Lewes, surrounded by gentle, wooded downland, The Secret Campsite’s secluded meadow offers camping with a peaceful, back-to-nature ethos. Large, well-spaced pitches lend themselves to privacy, and guests are encouraged to quieten down from 10pm. Cars are left at reception, with wheelbarrows on hand for moving gear along grassy paths and over an old brick railway bridge to the site, which adds to the fun. There’s a farm shop 200 metres way, and hot showers are solar-powered. The River Ouse, the south coast, the South Downs, Lewes’s indie lanes, Sheffield Park and Ashdown Forest are all nearby.
• From £20 adult, £10 child, glamping Gridshell £120 for two people, tree tents £125 for three, thesecretcampsite.co.uk
Isle of Portland, Dorset
With the Jurassic Coast to the west and the Isle of Purbeck’s lovely beaches and nature reserves to the east, this stretch of Dorset is one the county’s most sought-after holiday spots. At the tip of Portland Bill, with 180-degree coastal views across the coast to its lighthouse, Sweet Hill Farm is a much-loved, low-key campsite. It’s proudly “nearly wild”, with the owners offering guests space (multiple fields) and simplicity (there are several compost toilets but little else) in a beautiful spot. As well as hiking and horse riding, Portland Castle, Church Ope Cove, and the Lobster Pot Café are minutes away.
• Pitches from £20, pitchup.com
North and Midlands
North York Moors
Carol and Karl, the owners of Shire House, have created a little bit of magic with this hobbit house on their farm near the North Yorkshire coast. There’s a round door, an arched beam ceiling, Lord of the Rings DVDs to watch and even portraits of Carol’s family as hobbits. Out front, the sea-view garden is scented with herbs that guests can pick to season their dinner. Beyond it there are ponies and goats for kids to pet, heather-strewn hikes, the film-famous Goathland railway station and historic Whitby. Weekend availability is scarce, but there are still midweek dates for July and August 2021. There is other accommodation on site too, from shepherd’s huts (sleep two) to the medieval-looking groundskeeper’s cottage (sleeps six).
• Sleeps six, from £420 for two nights, northshire.co.uk
Coniston, Lake District
In the Lake District the holy grail is, of course, a lake view. Tent Lodge Cottage, on a country estate to the north-east of Coniston Water, goes one better with its own private shoreline. It doesn’t cost the earth either – which is why it’s booking up fast for next spring and summer. A former 18th-century stable, it has a traditional stone exterior complemented by a modern interior and open-plan living space. There are two pretty bedrooms and a small walled garden for alfresco dining, with extensive grounds beyond. The pubs and shops of Coniston village are 1½ miles away, and it’s just a crumpled hill ridge away from Windermere – great for boating or canoeing – and a short hop from two of the Lakes’ top heritage sites: Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top house and the Wordsworths’ Dove Cottage in Grasmere.
• Sleeps four, from £663 for seven nights, lakelandhideaways.co.uk
With the wildlife of the Farne Islands, the castles of Bamburgh and Alnwick, and the gloriously sandy Northumberland coast all on the doorstep, it’s little wonder that The Tumblers, a three-bedroom bungalow in Seahouses, is popular. The private garden overlooks the North Sea, while inside whitewashed walls, big windows and art deco period features create a cool beach house aesthetic; there’s also a woodburner for cooler nights. It’s classic British seaside territory, with a selection of fish-and-chip shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants within walking distance. There’s still good availability in April, May and July.
• Sleeps six, from £675 for 7 nights, crabtreeandcrabtree.com
Walls of reclaimed oak walls, copper basins and porch rockers give Rowan, one of five cabins and huts on the 4,000-acre Hesleyside Estate, a North American wilderness vibe. Guests don’t have to rough it like a cowboy though; there are little luxuries throughout, including an outdoor roll-top bath and a telescope and stargazing kit to make the most of the night skies – the estate is inside Northumberland’s dark sky reserve. Surrounded by ancient woodland, it’s full of fairytale charm, with a mezzanine in the rafters and a cool bunk room for kids. Kielder Observatory is down the road and Kielder Water and forest park is close by for mountain bike trails, horse riding, canoeing and sailing. There’s still good availability in May and scattered dates in summer.
• Sleeps four (aged 5+), three nights from £435, hesleysidehuts.co.uk
Before Alton Towers there was just little old Alton village in the Churnet valley, with a crumbling castle and handsome Victorian railway station. The railway closed in 1965, but today Alton Station is an unusual holiday home owned by the Landmark Trust – and given its proximity to the theme park, it’s popular with families (many dates for spring/summer 2021 have already been snapped up). Living space is split between the original waiting room and the stationmaster’s house, and railway fans will love the novelty of using the train platform to enter the house. Venture north and within half an hour you’re in Ashbourne, gateway to walks in the southern Peak District; a little further are the picturesque Dovedale stepping stones.
• Sleeps eight, four nights from £518, landmarktrust.org.uk
Near Bakewell, Peak District
There are only 30 pitches at Dale Farm Campsite, which is landscaped cleverly into the hillside, and it always fills up fast thanks to its location slap-bang in the middle of the Peak District national park. Chatsworth House, Bakewell, the plague village of Eyam and Monsal Head viaduct are all within a few miles and there are three good pubs within walking distance. The working farm supplies the on-site farm shop, and there are firepits, grills and three bell tents for glampers. One of the area’s most popular activities is the traffic-free Monsal Trail, on 8½ miles of the old Midland Railway line through illuminated tunnels and limestone dales.
• Pitch sleeping four from £108.50 for three nights, bell tents sleeping four from £95 a night, coolcamping.com
Whitby, North York Moors
A stunning barn conversion near Whitby, The Byre has expansive views of the North York Moors through the picture windows in its open-plan living room and a spacious kitchen for whipping up family meals. Following an afternoon in the property’s hot tub, guests can drive to Whitby for freshly caught seafood and a stroll down the harbour to watch the sunset.
• Sleeps six from £722 a week, short breaks available, sykescottages.co.uk
The simple Bircham Windmill camping meadow is next to the actual working windmill, built in 1846. Campers can climb the mill and buy bread and cakes from the adjoining bakery. The campsite has just 15 pitches (up to five for caravans), plus two shepherd’s huts. There are resident animals – children can stroke the rabbits and guinea pigs, and feed the goats and sheep and watch them being milked; the cheese is for sale in the gift shop. There is also a small playground, games room and teashop. Brancaster, Hunstanton and Holkham beaches are a short drive away, and it is an easy cycle ride to the Sandringham Estate. This year, the site got booked up so far in advance that the owners opened a pop-up campsite a couple of miles away, so it would be wise to book now for 2021.
• Camping from £20 a night, shepherd’s huts (sleep two) from £60 a night, open 31 March to 30 September 2021, coolcamping.com
Near Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk
Six brick-and-flint barns near Walsingham are now luxury holiday properties. All of the Barsham Barns have plenty of history and character: the Loose Box is a former smithy and stables; Little Barsham was used for rearing lambs; Long Meadow was the milking parlour. All are light, open-plan spaces with beams, logburners and courtyard gardens; some have four-poster beds. There is also a small shared spa with a hot tub and steam room, although it has yet to reopen. Medieval Walsingham is known for its shrines to the Virgin Mary, but as well as being a place of pilgrimage it also has a couple of pubs, a restaurant and a farm shop. The sandy beach at Wells-next-the-Sea is five miles away. Searches for accommodation in Norfolk on the Sawday’s website were up 175% this year, and the smaller barns are almost fully booked until the end of the year.
• The barns sleep 4 to 14, from £115 a night, sawdays.co.uk
Near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
Sunflower Park is a remote, rural campsite with just 10 tent pitches and 10 caravan and motorhome pitches over five acres. There is a fishing lake, woodland walk and playground, and the site borders Tuetoes Wood, which is home to rare species including nightjars, and has cycling and walking trails. Campers can hire firepits (£10, including wood). The family-run site is also a haven for rescued animals, including Newfoundland dogs, ex-battery hens, donkeys, alpacas and many more. For day trips, the Far Ings nature reserve is less than 20 miles north and Lincoln is 20 miles south. Electric pitches sell out fast; there is a 15% nonrefundable deposit on bookings, but dates can be transferred.
• Pitches from £17 a night for up to six, pitchup.com
Stour estuary, Suffolk
Grade II-listed Markwells House is a farmhouse dating from 1600 that is now a holiday home for 10 (six while restrictions remain). The elegant house, seven miles south of Ipswich, has five bedrooms and four bathrooms upstairs, and masses of space downstairs: a kitchen, two sitting rooms, dining room, study and large conservatory. There are two woodburners and two open fires, antique furniture and original features. Outside, the extensive grounds include a herb garden, topiary, a wildflower meadow and a summerhouse with veranda. There are two duck ponds, chickens (guests can collect the eggs) and a paddock of alpacas. At the bottom of the garden is the mile-wide Stour estuary, forming the Suffolk-Essex border, with walks to Holbrook Bay and beyond. Nearby attractions include Alton Water Park, Flatford Mill and the Dedham Vale. There is some availability this year, but it pays to plan ahead: July 2021 is already almost fully booked.
• From £1,430 for seven nights, short breaks from £871, underthethatch.co.uk
Near Wick, Caithness
Three-bedroom Shore Cottages No 2 was once a string of derelict 19th-century fishermen’s homes hugging the shingle shoreline in remote north-east Scotland. Now a cosy holiday home, all tongue-and-groove with a traditional woodburner, it’s reached via a narrow footbridge. It opens straight onto the beach, so guests can brave a dip in the cove or grab a pair of binoculars and go birdwatching: this is part of the East Caithness Cliffs marine protected area, and there are around 1,500 pairs of black guillemots here. Wick, with its whisky distillery and clifftop castles, is a half-hour drive. The cottages are always popular, but in addition to lockdown deferrals, the Landmark Trust has seen a recent surge in bookings – May and June are particularly busy.
• Sleeps six, from £268 for four nights, landmarktrust.org.uk
Nethy Bridge, Cairngorms
A cluster of cottages and lodges with a retro-chic vibe (sleeping two to eight), Dell of Abernethy in the Cairngorms national park was home to BBC Springwatch for a few seasons. Secluded East Dell has river views and the wonderfully named “sit-ootery” beneath an ancient oak. There are bedrooms in the eaves, woodburners, books, board games and the odd piano – and food options range from oven-ready, home-cooked meals to gourmet hampers. There’s a woodland firepit, and for the kids the bucolic Faery Wood, with a den, hammocks, Hobildigob trail and zipwire. Outdoor adventure hub Aviemore is a short drive away for mountain biking and Munro-bagging. It’s always popular, and forward-planners are booking early, with May and August filling up fast.
• East Dell sleeps five, from £135 a night, thedellofabernethy.co.uk
Near Crieff, Perthshire
An hour and 20 minutes’ drive north of Edinburgh, Culdees Castle Estate Glamping opened this year with Spiers Cabin, the first of five woodland cabins planned for this historic 660-acre estate. Even when they are all in place, each cabin will have a whole acre of woodland to itself, but this first cabin is particularly attractive (and comes with a hot tub) and is already starting to book up. It’s expected to be full for summer by the end of October. Auchterarder, home of the famous Gleneagles Estate, is nearby, along with walking, cycling, horse riding, fishing and golf. White-water rafting, skiing and the Highlands are within an hour’s drive.
• Sleeps two from £160 a night, two-night minimum, coolcamping.com
Llyn peninsula, Gwynedd
Magically positioned on the Llyn peninsula, Bert’s Kitchen Garden fills up fast: the campsite is open from May to September and its wildflower meadow has only 15 pitches, plus two vintage tents and a hammock-tent strung between the trees. Extras are excellent: communal barbecues and firepits, eco-toiletries for all to use, wellies to borrow, free hot chocolate on tap. There’s a shingle cove just beyond the trees, perfect for kayaking and beachcombing; a sandy beach is a five-minute walk; and the mountains of Snowdonia loom large behind.
• Pitches sleep five from £60 for two nights, Dutch tents sleep four from £160 for two nights, coolcamping.com
St Davids, Pembrokeshire
Prime pitches by the craggy, cliffy, cove-cute Pembrokeshire coast are already hard to nab. Popular Trellyn Woodland Camping near Abercastle is almost full for the 2021 school holidays (and advises booking shoulder season stays to get priority for future summers). For now though, there’s still space at nearby Pencarnan Farm, at the tip of the St Davids peninsula, which has great facilities (wetsuit hire, coffee hut, pizza van) and direct access to Porthselau beach (safe for swimming); surfy Whitesands is only a mile away along the coast path, and St Davids two miles inland.
• Pitches sleep four from £24 a night, pitchup.com
Near Porthmadog, Snowdonia
A handsome stone-and-slate farmhouse, four-bedroom Rhiwgoch sits on a grassy hill between the mountains and the sea. It’s a superior Snowdonia bolthole, recently renovated with a fresh feel, fat oak beams, woodburning stove and inglenook range. And it has an extra trick up its sleeve: the steam trains of the Ffestiniog railway run through the bottom of the garden. Watch them from the timber-frame conservatory, the hot tub or the sun-trap terrace, or pop to Porthmadog to hop aboard and chug deeper into the national park. Eccentric Portmeirion and clifftop Harlech Castle are nearby too.
• Sleeps seven, from £904 a week, dioni.co.uk
Welsh Marches, Herefordshire
Handmade down to its hinges, the eco-oriented Cruckbarn hides in the hilly borders between Herefordshire and Shropshire. It’s a special open-plan space, built with 100 oaks from the forest just outside plus local stone, reclaimed slate and extreme attention to detail. There’s no TV (and wifi can be disabled on request); gaze instead at the quiet, rippling countryside or over the campfire up into really dark skies. Plus Ludlow – Betjeman’s “loveliest town in England” and arguably one of the best for food – is only 10 miles away.
• Sleeps five, from £995 a week or £645 for a short break, cruckbarn.co.uk
Cheddar Gorge is a big draw for the adventurous, the outdoorsy and the cheese-loving. Which makes pitches at Petruth Paddocks, in walking distance of the gorge, highly prized. This is a site for all-comers, with pods (pictured) and bell tents for glampers, lots of free-range space for tents and vans, and a relaxed attitude – tree climbing, campfires and respectful high jinks are encouraged. The surrounding Mendips offer hills, caves and outcrops to play among, the Chew Valley lakes provide watery fun, and Brean beach is only 15 miles to the west.
• Pitches sleep six from £14pp (children from £6); bell tents from £75, shepherd’s hut pods from £110 (both sleep four or eight, two-night minimum), campsites.co.uk
Black Mountains, Herefordshire
At Drovers Rest, a 16th-century organic farm just outside Hay-on-Wye, the onus is on experience, not just snazzy accommodation. Which means its handful of stone cottages and plush safari-style tents tend to get snapped up quickly. Here, involvement is endorsed: kids can feed the animals or play farmer for a day – gathering eggs, milking goats, churning cheese. Other activities range from yoga, pony rides and spoon whittling workshops to communal feasts cooked on open fires. Beyond the site, the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons beckon.
• Safari tents and cottages sleep four, from £395 for four nights, droversrest.co.uk
Near Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Glamping spots (especially the quirkier ones) are always among the first to get booked up in underrated Shropshire. So steal a march by being first in at Riverside Cabins. This new woodland glampsite opened last month: close to Shrewsbury, it’s handy for exploring the county’s surfeit of steam trains, castles and empty countryside, and nipping over into Wales – or for simply escaping the crowds. Five cosy self-catering pods, made from sustainable timber, sit on the banks of the River Perry, with five bigger, balconied cabins set to open this winter.
• Sleep four, from £80 a night, riverside-cabins.co.uk
By Sarah Baxter, Rachel Dixon, Lucy Gillmore, Lorna Parkes and Holly Tuppen