From ornate Victorian water towers to quirky old railway stations, Britain is bursting with unusual places to stay. Try one from this list below, and you'll refuse to stay in a Travelodge ever again. These are some of the most interesting places to stay in England, Scotland and Wales.
Way before the “glamping” revolution, a campsite near Whitby started putting people up in vintage caravans, ranging from an Elvis-themed period piece to an authentic chrome Roma full of etched glass. The kitsch factor proved so popular they’ve now opened a hotel in town and stuffed it full of high-camp Victoriana – think Naughty Nineties meets eBay – with themed rooms dedicated to everyone from Bram Stoker to Angela Carter.
The Victorians were a clever bunch. Instead of wasting their energy on a heating system to stop water towers from freezing, they just re-routed flues from below, channelling hot smoke up through the centre of the tanks. But as the ornate iron railings and twisting staircases of Appleton Water Tower in Norfolk attest, they still had a taste for fanciful design. When you gaze out over the Sandringham Estate from your warm octagonal bedroom, you might just thank them for it.
Stick your neck out of Livingstone Safari Lodge at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and you might see a giraffe sniffing around in the early morning light. Here, in the hundred or so acres of Kent countryside that rolls away from your private veranda, there are herds of grazing wildebeest, zebra and antelope. Keep your eyes on the glistening watering-holes and you might even spot a hippo poking its nostrils above the surface. The accommodation is fairly basic, but who cares when you’re waking up to one of the best views this side of Africa?
There used to be a time when train travel was fun, even glamorous – and a far cry from today’s dreaded commuter run. At the Old Railway Station at Petworth, near Chichester, the golden age of rail lingers on, from the gorgeous vaulted guest hall, once a busy ticket office, to the chocolate-brown Edwardian Pullman carriages, which house colonial-style guest rooms. All that’s missing, in fact, is the railway line, which closed in 1966. So drop your bags, stop for a cream tea, and thank God you’ve got nowhere to go.
The flat, marshy landscape of north Norfolk does wonders for Cley Windmill. Those white latticed sails just wouldn’t stand out as well among rolling green hills. But the flat terrain has caused problems too; in the 1950s, a great flood put the mill under eight feet of water. Now, the eighteenth-century tower has been graciously restored, and guests are invited to curl up with a book under the beamed ceiling of its circular sitting room.
Interesting places to stay in the UK don't get much better than Hotel Portmeirion, in the Welsh village of the same name. Designed by Clough Williams-Ellis, the eccentric Italianate community blends a Mediterranean piazza with Neoclassical colonnades and a Jacobean town hall. Guests at the hotel itself, meanwhile have included Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw.
When you’re trekking in the cold and rugged Scottish Highlands, finding somewhere warm to spend the night can be a matter of life and death. Step forward the splendid Mountain Bothies Association, who have converted dozens of ruined old buildings into bothies – simple, free shelters left open to all. Though it continues the tradition, Badrallach’s bothy, in remotest Wester Ross, is a little more homely than most, with smouldering, peat-fired stoves warming the cold stone walls, but you’ll still need to cook for yourself – and bring your own sleeping bag.
From down on the ground, it’s not immediately obvious where Star Castle got its name from. But arrive on St Mary’s by whirring helicopter and you’ll see its jagged outer walls etching an eight-pointed Cornish star into the hilltop. The garrison was built in 1593 on the Isles of Scilly to protect the islands from the Spanish Armada and subtle reminders of its tumultuous history can still be spotted to this day.
Hotels don’t usually mix well with rock’n’roll – just think of all those TVs that have crashed out of bedroom windows. But at Hotel Pelirocco, near Brighton’s pebble-fringed seafront, the rock star ethos has been embraced, drizzled with sauciness, and then packaged into nineteen uniquely sexy bedrooms. There’s the flagship sleazy Play Room, with an eight-foot-wide circular bed (complete with mirrored canopy) and an in-room pole-dancing area. Then there’s the Pin-up Parlour, where tasselled lampshades and drapes pay homage to Fifties bombshell Diana Dors. Or maybe the Nookii Room’s more your style, drenched in black satin, with its own peep-show sign.
If nature was given its way, Clavell Tower, near Wareham in Dorset, would probably be somewhere at the bottom of the English Channel by now. But in 2006, the Landmark Trust embarked on a project to restore the 180-year-old folly and rebuild it 82 feet back from the crumbling cliffs of the Purbeck coast. It worked, and nearly £900,000 later, it’s available to rent – a dinky little house with unparalleled views, it's one of our favourite unusual places to stay in Britain.