Ten of the best places to stay in the delightful British Isles – I wrote this for the delightful but now defunct Itchy City guides.
1. Farm stay in the Peak District
Stay in a farm cottage, a barn or a log cabin and see lambs gambol, horses graze and cows do cowpats – right back to nature. You can eat fresh food, feed the animals, and wear flattering overalls on a farm stay, where you get to live like a farmer without worrying about rubbish milk prices or foot and mouth. The Peak District is a good place to do it as they have lots of farms to pick and choose from that start from £170/week, and proper black and white cows like the ones in the books I read when I was a little’un.
2. Surfing in Bude.
Cream-tea and pasty-flavoured Cornwall is a student holiday staple. But don’t go to Newquay, just don’t. All you’ll do is get horrifically drunk, sleep with a lifeguard called Brett, then experience the evil that is attempting to surf with a hangover. Instead, head to Bude for touristy ingredients like cute little cobbled streets, arty souvenirs, rock pools at Summerleaze and good surfing, especially Crooklets Beach, without hoards of vomiting teenagers. There’s Tintagel nearby for pretending you’re King Arthur, or Penzance for pretending you’re a pirate, according to preference. Coastal cottages are picture-book cute and very cheap out of season.
3. Coasteering in Pembrokeshire
Now, ladies and gentlemen, my guide to combining a chilled-out country stay with white knuckles and that sick kind of adrenaline you get when you almost fall down the stairs – coasteering. An extreme nature ramble in which you climb, swim and cliff-jump your way around rocky coastlines, the best place to do it is the TYF centre in Pembrokeshire, from £50. You can stay in their (dirt cheap at £16 pppn) Eco Lodge, or the more expensive but comfy cottage, which sleeps 8 at £450/week. The idyllic town of St David’s is nearby, and the area is famous for its beach-studded coastline.
4. Lighthouse-keeping in Scotland
I’ve got a sea farin’ soul and I always wanted to live in a lighthouse, a lá Johnathan Creek. Believe it or not, it isn’t that expensive to do. The National Trust for Scotland and the Northern Lighthouse Board let out nine lighthouses from as little as £50pp for a weekend, and they tend to be in remote, craggy locations, often on steep cliffs above deserted beaches where you can play at being Robinson Crusoe. Lighthouses sleep up to 6, so take some mates and some booze and have a cosy weekend in. Just don’t expect any bangin’ nightlife.
5. Cottages in the New Forest
The first time I went for a walk in the New Forest, a baby donkey licked my hand. Awww. The area is absolutely stunning, and if you rent a cottage in the centre of it you can walk, hike and mountain bike your way around it all (or tour the fantastic little forest pubs. Don’t do this bit on a bike). Bristling with pickled tourist villages like Burley (complete with resident witch) and luscious stately homes such as Beaulieu, it’s a gorgeous place to pootle about and explore. Cottages are often thatched and aren’t loan-bustingly priced.
6. Walking in the Lake District
I like William Wordsworth. I like fells. I like walking about a bit in pretty rolling hills near lakes, far away from cities and cars and kebab shops. I also like not walking too far, then going back to a warm cosy cottage with a fire and some inebriating beverages. This is why I like the Lake District. You can also rent boats for splashy fun on the water, which is a very tranquil experience. Go out of season for breathing space and more modest prices.
7. T’ Yorkshire Dales
Come over all James Herriot with a stay in the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire. Eat cheese with fruitcake, drink proper tea, and attempt to speak with the accent (not in front of a local if you want to keep your teeth). Go for brisk, windy walks or visit the ghostly ruins at Scarborough Castle. York itself is a lovely city to wander round as it’s stuffed with teashops, little boutiques and warm cosy pubs. Sheffield, not so much. Nor Leeds. Only go to York. Cottages are reasonably priced on the whole.
8. Jurassic Coast in Dorset
Sadly no relation to epic blockbuster Jurassic Park, the Dorset coast is still pretty stunning, and boasts one of England’s nicest skinny-dipping hotspots – Studland Bay, near Poole, a popular beach with a café for the interesting experience of eating a full English breakfast in the buff. It’s an official nudie beach and the nice people at Dorset County Council reckon its “okay to be naked”. Dorset cottages aren’t the cheapest, as it’s a popular location with city workers desperate to replace CO2 with West Country air, but they aren’t sell-your-granny expensive, either.
9. Wild swimming near Bath
As well as being the prettiest city in the UK, Bath is varied and vibrant for such a small posh place. There are some fantastic real ale pubs and indie nightclubs, and grittier Bristol is only a 10min train ride away. The main attraction is the beauty of surrounding bucolic Cotswolds countryside: my favourite thing to do is go swimming in one of the local rivers and weirs in Frome, Claverton or Castle Cary, where you can float happily in the river with the weeds and the moorhens. Lovely. Cottages near Bath can be quite pricy, so hunt around for bargains.
10. Exploring Ireland
Ahh the Emerald Isle, Famous for green stuff like shamrocks and leprechauns, black stuff like Guinness, and ginger stuff like the Irish. There’s a lot to do: The Giant’s Causeway is a pretty unbelievable sight, Dublin’s all hip and down with the kids, Killarney National Park is stuffed with woods, deer and lakes, and traditional Irish pubs are often as fun as they look in movies. The Irish somehow manage to be friendly to hordes of tourists invading the island, and places to stay are generally equally friendly on student purses, with stone cottages from £150/week for four people.