Doyden Castle, overlooking Port Quinn, in Port Isaac, Cornwall, England - National Trust Images/Ian Shaw
In 1895, three wealthy English social reformers founded a nonprofit corporation with the lofty ambition to preserve the natural and manmade heritage of the United Kingdom for future generations. Today, the National Trust owns roughly 613,000 acres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including 59 historic villages and hundreds of culturally significant properties ranging from towering castles to thatched cottages.
To support its preservation efforts, the National Trust rents out many of these properties to travelers. Want to stay at a 17th-century manor house situated on 200 acres of Welsh countryside? How about a Downton Abbey-style country house that once hosted the exiled King Louis XVIII of France? The National Trust can accommodate you.
But the options aren’t limited to such stately piles. For intrepid travelers seeking an only-in-the-U.K. experience, there are dozens of charmingly eccentric National Trust cottages and lodgings scattered across the countryside and lining the seashores. Here are a few of our favorites.
Standing guard on a hill overlooking Port Quin, on the wild Cornish coast, this one-bedroom “castle” makes up in charm what it lacks in size. Arched windows and a roaring fire are among the quaint touches that give this miniature fortress its rugged appeal. If you’re a walker, you’ll enjoy easy access to the South West Coastal Path, which runs for 630 miles along the English coastline.
Doyden Castle Starting at US$613 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.
The Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottage
The Lighthouse Keepers' Cottage off of Foreland Point Lighthouse in Lynton, Devon, England - Christopher Ware/Wikimedia Commons
The National Trust rents out a number of lighthouse keepers’ cottages around the U.K., but none more spectacular than this whitewashed, six-bedroom house perched on the side of a steep cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel. Although the lighthouse is still in operation, guests will be thankful to learn that the old foghorn has been decommissioned.
The Water Tower, built as a water reservoir in the 1860s, in Truro, Cornwall, England - National Trust Images/Andrew Butler
This cylindrical stone tower on the banks of the River Fal was built in the 1860s as a water reservoir but has since been renovated into a whimsical guesthouse featuring one room on each of its four stories, all outfitted with Gothic windows and accessible only by a winding staircase. Explore the area by foot or by canoe, or simply lounge on the nearby beach.
The Water Tower Starting at US$401 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.
Felbrigg Hall, the estate on which The Squire's Loft is located, in Norwich, Norfolk, England. Those staying at The Squire's Loft get access to Felbrigg Hall and its grounds during their stay. - milo bostock/Flickr
Few travelers would likely have paid money to stay in the Squire’s Loft in the 17th century, back when it was a horse stable for the nearby Felbrigg Hall. But the National Trust’s sensitive renovation has turned the stable loft, built in the neo-Jacobean style, into a charming two-bedroom flat complete with all the modern conveniences and accented by exposed wood beams. Access to Felbrigg Hall and its grounds is included with the rental.
Squire’s Loft Starting at US$419 for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps four.
The Triumphal Arch
The Triumphal Arch at Berrington Hall in Leominster, Herefordshire, England - National Trust Images/Rupert Truman
Okay, so it isn’t actually a triumphal arch — this formidable brick edifice is really just the grand gateway to Berrington Hall, an 18th-century Georgian mansion. The gatehouse was employed at various points in its history as a coachman’s house and a shooting lodge, but now the three-bedroom property can be rented out by anyone interested in exploring the bucolic Herefordshire countryside. Guests have free access to the gardens, the final project of the great landscape architect Capability Brown, as well as Berrington Hall itself during its hours of operation.
The Triumphal Arch Starting at US$480 for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps five.
Millbeck Towers, a former carding mill, in Keswick, Cumbria, England - Edward Simpson/Flickr
What better way to explore the Lake District — inspiration for so much of William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry — than by staying at this former carding mill, which was built in the 18th century and has since been converted into a turreted, six-bedroom guesthouse. Stained glass windows, open fireplaces and checkered tiles create a warm, intimate atmosphere inside, while the lovingly tended gardens offer the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. The town of Keswick, the Derwent Water and the Borrowdale Valley are just a 10-minute drive away.
Millbeck Towers Starting at US$833 for two-nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps 12.
Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Situated on the Isle of Purbeck, a peninsula on England’s southern coast, this cozy renovated cottage features a thatched roof, woodburning fireplace and exposed timber frame. During the day you can ramble through the surrounding heaths or take the road into the small town of Wareham to drink a pint at the local pub.
The Bakehouse Starting at US$398 for two nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps two.
The Round House
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
The Round House, a former shooting lodge and gamekeepers’ cottage on the Ickworth Estate in St. Edmonds, Suffolk, England - Karen Roe/Flickr
Unlike some of the National Trust properties we’ve highlighted, this former shooting lodge and gamekeepers’ cottage is exactly what it sounds like — a completely round house in a sylvan grove on the Ickworth Estate in Suffolk. With a cozy living room organized around an open hearth, you may think you’ve been transported into a Jane Austen or Emily Brönte novel. If you decide to seek out company, the Porter’s Lodge Cafe is just a short walk away, as are hiking, biking and running trails.
The Round House Starting at US$672, for three nights (minimum); rates are significantly reduced for longer stays. Sleeps six.