It is 50 years since Sir John Smith had a great idea. In 1965 he realised that if he could convert Britain’s rash of crazy and eccentric historic buildings for holiday makers in search of something out of the ordinary, he could not just rescue some special historic places which were crumbling away but give lots of us a chance to stay in our own little bit of history. The idea worked and the Landmark Trust was born. Landmark buildings are just up my street and a weekend spent in one is something you never quite forget. I have great memories of Wortham Manor in Devon, one of Landmark’s biggest (sleeps 15) but I think the best are the really tiny ones where ingenuity has been at work squeezing bathrooms and modern comforts into impossible spaces. So I’m planning a weekend for 2 and you can help me decide where to go.
That bathroom challenge is best expressed at Swarkestone Pavilion in Derbyshire, a Tudor gem with just one room where you have to slip in the dawn across the roof to reach the bathroom in the turret but so worth it for the views. Or St Winifred’s Well in Shropshire; one of Landmark’s oldest houses, a timbered medieval chapel which has hovered above its a sacred pool since the 1480s. The place is so tiny that you have to pop outside to reach the bathroom but it’s blissfully remote, like so many Landmarks, so no one is likely to spot you and St Winifred would be sympathetic; she was one of those holy virgins who was martyred by a rejected suitor.
I’ve always thought that a night in a Landmark was the best possible start to a marriage so for honeymooners, I’d go for romance. Clavell Tower on the cliffs in Devon, where Thomas Hardy courted his first love would be a
good choice with its unmatched views up and down the Jurassic coast. The Chateau in Lincolnshire would be hard to beat, a little French treasure where you can pose as Marie-Antoinette in miniature. Or Lynch Lodge near Peterborough, just the front porch of a house visited by the poet Dryden.
The ones I love the best are the really mad ones. How about The Pigsty? This pedimented columned classical building must always have bred particularly cultured pigs and now it is perfectly evolved into a cottage for two. If rabbits are more your thing, you can stay in The Warren House, a perfect little lodge built for two 17th century rabbit keepers which still looks down to Kimbolton Castle where the rabbits would have been gobbled up.
Towers are fun and many are Landmarks. Convenient for the village, Peter’s Tower in Devon overlooks the estuary of the Exe and just fits bath, kitchen and bunkbeds for two (the clock takes up almost all the space). At The Prospect Tower in Kent there is space for a double bed, the rooms are all circular and the views are of wooded countryside and the Victorian cricket pitch.
Getting away from it all is part of the delight of a Landmark weekend, so Walpole the dog will particularly enjoy the many opportunities to hide away in the woods. The Bath House in Somerset is one of the loveliest, tucked
into a glade in the Forest of Arden, and decked out inside with swags of gilded shells. On the Shuttleworth Estate in Bedfordshire is Queen Anne’s
Summerhouse, at the junction of radiating avenues of mature trees with warm red bricks aglow against the green, there is plenty of space to explore.
I could go to Scotland – Glenmalloch Lodge in Dumfriesshire, a Victorian schoolhouse in open countryside – or Wales, remote Ty Uchaf, an ancient farm dwelling – or London, Sir John Betjeman’s Georgian house at 43 Cloth Fair in Smithfield sleeps two – but I think I shall plump for The Ruin at Hackfall. Something about contrast between the exquisite gothic banqueting house that faces inwards and the purposely ruined Romanesque folly that faces the view across North Yorkshire suits my personality. Or maybe it’s that slight Landmark craziness that means you have to flit out and across the terrace to get from bedroom to sitting room to bathroom that I just can’t resist.