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Beautiful places, safe spaces: the best UK holidays this summer

The Guardian logo The Guardian 13/06/2020 Rachel Dixon and Antonia Wilson

A summer holiday abroad still looks like a distant possibility for Britons. The government advice against all but essential overseas travel remains in place, and rules that came into force on 8 June require anyone arriving in the UK – including British nationals – to quarantine for 14 days. A group of 500 travel and hospitality bosses says it has been given private assurance by government sources that “travel corridors” will be in place by the end of June, meaning that UK holidaymakers returning from low-risk countries won’t have to self-isolate, but at the time of going to press that had not been made public.

That’s the bad news for holidaymakers. The good news is that this really is likely to be the summer of the “great British staycation”. It’s a phrase that’s bandied about every year, but it’s never been more fitting. Campsites, cottages and hotels are preparing to reopen on 4 July in England and 20 July in Northern Ireland, subject to government confirmation. Dates have yet to be confirmed in Wales and Scotland, but accommodation providers are gearing up for a possible July reopening there toolockdown measures are being reviewed on 18 June (Scotland) and 19 June (Wales). 

Ed Bassett of Camptoo, a campervan rental company, says: “Once lockdown has been lifted in the UK, I expect staycations and camping to be many people’s first-choice travel option. After long stretches spent indoors, I think Brits will take advantage of exploring closer to home.”

Some larger companies have reported an increase in inquiries and bookings for accommodation in England in July and August since reopening was first mentioned by Boris Johnson in a speech on 10 May. According to Cool Camping, the number of bookings made in the last two weeks of May for its 600 UK campsites was almost double that for the same period last year. Its most popular regions are Cornwall, Devon, the Lake District and Dorset – so it could be worth looking elsewhere for quieter spots. Demand is continuing to increase as the reopening date gets closer – traffic to the Kip Hideaways’ website, which features small self-catering properties, has tripled over the past two weeks. But people are warier of booking holidays to Scotland and Wales at this stage.

Elysian Estates, which has country houses to rent across England and Scotland, has noticed an increased demand for longer stays (a week or more) over short breaks, as customers give up on going abroad. And, with swimming baths still closed, the number one prerequisite for guests is a private pool – nine out of 10 say they wouldn’t book a property without one. Independent Cottages also reports an increase in inquiries for properties with pools, hot tubs and on-site fishing.

But the staycation situation is still uncertain. Individual owners, such as Oliver Muntz of Umberslade campsite near Warwick, says their bookings do not reflect the trend reported by the larger collections. Muntz says bookings are slow and holidaymakers are anxious about safety.

Jonathan Knight, Cool Camping’s founder, is calling for confirmation of the reopening dates, “which campsite owners desperately need, to be able to plan ahead and save their season, or in some cases save their business”. Knight would also like official guidance on how to reopen safely. His concerns are echoed by Martin Smith of Campsites.co.uk, who says: “Campsite owners don’t know if shower facilities are safe to open and what provisions they must put in place to protect their customers. They need clear and definitive government advice to open safely this summer.” As things stand, businesses are planning their own measures, from cleaning regimes, physical distancing policies and takeaway food, to no-quibble refunds.

Camping

a river running through a grassy field: Birds and Bees Campsite will have 15 pitches across three meadows in the Alde valley, Suffolk. Photograph: Alamy © Provided by The Guardian Birds and Bees Campsite will have 15 pitches across three meadows in the Alde valley, Suffolk. Photograph: Alamy

The Cool Camping website lists more than 700 campsites that are implementing social distancing measures, as well as 100 campsites with at least 10 metres between pitches. One that ticks both boxes is the Birds and Bees Campsite (reopening 9 July, from £36 a night for two) in the Alde valley, Suffolk. There are just 15 pitches across three meadows, each with half an acre of space and a firepit. Giant hedges, mature tree and wildflower plots attract insects and birds – hence the name – and wind turbines and solar panels help generate electricity and heat the showers.

Farmstay UK lists about 700 farms that offer accommodation, including camping. Brook Meadow  (from £13 a night for two ) is a 400-acre working farm in the Leicestershire/Northamptonshire countryside, with 20 acres set aside for camping and glamping, and a five-acre fishing lake. The pick of the pitches are right by the lake. Clippesby Hall (from £32 a night for two) is a family-run holiday park in the Norfolk Broads, a short drive from the 15-mile-long beach at Great Yarmouth. There are eight areas for camping and caravans, including the Dell, a tents-only area in the woods. Bikes can be hired on site to explore the quiet lanes around the Broads. 

Glamping

Sperrinview Glamping (from £100 a night for five) is a new glampsite at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone. Each of the four pods has a large triangular viewing window (the area is a dark sky site), two double beds and a sofa bed, a kitchenette, a shower room, and a firepit and barbecue. The Beaghmore Stone Circles are 500 metres away and it is a mile to the mountain bike trails at Davagh Forest. 


Video: Inside look at the Tramshed Apartments (Wales Online)

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Cool Stays lists hundreds of glampsites and unusual places to stay in the UK, including Birdholme Glamping (four adults and two children from £260 a night) in Stanton on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire. There are four safari lodges on stilts in 17 acres of woodland and meadow, each with a woodburner and a veranda with a hot tub.

Londoners don’t have far to go for a glamping break: Home Farm Glamping in Elstree, Hertfordshire (from £120 for two adults for two nights, or £180 for two adults and two children) is a 10-minute taxi ride from the end of the Jubilee and Northern lines. There are nine bell tents and three yurts in a meadow on a 60-hectare farm, all with barbecues and firepits.

Self-catering

The Landmark Trust, which restores historic buildings and rents them to holidaymakers, has been housing NHS key workers during lockdown. It is now preparing to reopen properties to the public, such as the House of Correction in Lincolnshire (sleeps four, from £351 for four nights). This 19th-century gatehouse was once the grand entrance to a prison, and stands alone on the edge of the village of Folkingham. 

Forest Holidays has log cabins and treehouses in 10 forest locations across the UK, and its English sites reopen from 6 July. Cabins at the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire (sleeping two to 10, from £460 for four nights for six people) all have hot tubs on the deck, and some have woodburners and hammocks. A new site is opening in Delamere Forest, Cheshire, in November. 

Lots of Kip Hideaways’ properties are far from other buildings, such as a converted engine house three miles from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, with its own walled garden(sleeps six, from £250 a night). Nearby Knettishall Heath, a nature reserve, has a wild swimming pool.

One Off Places has plenty of remote rentals, such as a converted barn near Reeth, North Yorkshire (sleeps two, from £500 for seven nights ). The barn is surrounded by moorland and there is no wifi or phone reception. 

Canopy & Stars specialises in places to stay and reconnect with nature, such as a beach cabin on stilts facing Mersea Island, Essex (from £100 a night for two adults and two children). The isolated cabin is on marshland by an estuary, ideal for birdwatchers and kayakers.

Hotels

Many hotels are gearing up to reopen from early July, with preparations to protect the health and peace of mind of guests – including increased cleaning regimes, hand sanitiser units, and table- or room-service in place of breakfast buffets.

On the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 20 minutes from the region’s wild coast, The Elmtree in Hundleby (B&B from £100) is due to reopen for a limited number of bookings from 4 July. The rural boutique B&B – a restored Georgian house with huge beds and slipper baths – will also be serving its famous afternoon tea and grazing platters for guests in their rooms.

Close to Grasmere in the Lake District, bistro with rooms The Yan (room-only from £100) is taking reservations for 5 July onwards (alongside its Broadrayne Farm self-catering holiday cottages). The converted 17th-century barn will serve its epic breakfasts and hearty dinners in the bistro – perfect after a long, muddy walk with the dog – with guest reservations taking priority (over external bookings) and the option of in-room service.

A short walk from the coast at Aldeburgh and Thorpeness, surrounded by private gardens and the Suffolk countryside, Five Acre Barn in Aldringham (room only from £100) is opening from 4 July. Each of the rooms at the B&B, a Riba award-winning 19th-century barn conversion, has its own lounge area, where breakfast and dinner can be served, and takeaways from elsewhere are welcome.

The Pig’s collection of six hotels in historic buildings around south and south-west England is due to reopen on 6 July. A seventh hotel at Harlyn Bay in north Cornwall (room-only from £150) is scheduled to open for the first time later in July. Restaurants in the hotels will operate at limited capacity, with tables reorganised to maintain social distancing.

Campervans

As portable, private hideaways, campervans are set to be a popular choice for a UK break in 2020. A recent National Campervan Council survey found that 77% of people saw a UK motorhome break as an appealing option this year. Many are available to book from 4 July onwards, with online check-in, contactless pick-up, video tutorials in advance and extended gaps between bookings to allow for deep cleaning, along with flexible booking and fee-free date changes.

Many of Quirky Campers’ listings are converted sprinter vans, from Scandi-inspired in the Midlands to cabin-style with a wood burner on the north-east coast, and a broad variety of other bespoke, independently owned vehicles (from £75pn).

With 700 rentals across the UK, Camplify’s range includes restored 1970s VW campers; airstream-style trailers; modern motorhomes for large groups and more, many of which come with negotiable pick-up locations (prices from £35pn). Similarly, Camptoo’s 600 UK listings include a huge variety of styles and sizes, from classic caravans for two to fully integrated seven-berth vehicles (from £50pn).

New to the UK last year, one of Europe’s largest rental companies, Indie Campers, says 62% of its UK bookings in May were for domestic breaks (compared with just 8% last year). Its fleet includes the modern Atlas and the Active models, available for summer. Each sleeps four, and includes a shower and toilet, with extras such as wifi and GPS ( from £100pn, picking up from Stanwell in Surrey).

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