Britain: Rooms you can trust in (+photos)

By Rob McFarland

Finding decent holiday accommodation in Britain can be a tricky business. If you're lucky you might find something reasonable on the internet, but unless you have a specific recommendation from a trusted source, it can be a very hit-and-miss affair.

Things get even more difficult when you're travelling as part of a large family or group. Suddenly those small, cute B&Bs you were hoping to stay in aren't an option and you're left with anonymous looking, we-could-be-anywhere motels.

Fortunately, there's an alternative. The National Trust and the Landmark Trust are two charitable organisations that rescue and restore historic buildings around Britain, then generate funds for their maintenance by renting them.

Between the two trusts there is a collection of more than 500 unique properties that can be booked on the internet for periods ranging from a weekend to several weeks.

Here are two examples to whet your whistle:

Saxon Cottage, Steyning, West Sussex, National Trust
This impossibly quaint 16th-century, timber-framed thatched cottage is just off the main shopping street in Steyning, a historic small town about 20 minutes' drive from the coast in southern England.

With its distinctive cat-slide sloping thatched roof, low exposed beams and tiny lattice windows, it's hard to imagine anything more quintessentially English.

Downstairs there is a lounge with a large fireplace, a well-stocked kitchen, a tiny dining room, a bathroom with stand-alone claw-foot bath and a cosy sunroom that leads into a small but delightful garden.

Upstairs there are two bedrooms accessed by a perilously steep set of narrow stairs.

The first thing that will literally strike you when you walk through the front door is most likely a beam. Inside, it's so gorgeously small that I felt like I was staying in a doll's house.

While the cottage has a small TV, we didn't turn it on for the duration of our stay. We spent our days exploring the surrounding countryside and our evenings reading in the lounge after eating at one of the nearby pubs. It was a blissfully relaxing three days.

13 Princelet St, Spitalfields, London, The Landmark Trust
This imposing three-storey Georgian terrace enjoys an enviable location in a quiet street just off East London's vibrant Brick Lane. Built in 1718, it is typical of the residences inhabited by French Huguenot silk weavers who were forced to flee religious persecution in France during the 18th century.

The house would be perfect for a family or group as each of the three bedrooms has its own bathroom, and they are all on separate floors.

On the ground floor there is a well-stocked modern kitchen and two dining rooms while upstairs there is a comfortable lounge with a large, inviting fireplace and a bookcase full of reading material relevant to the area.

Over the last decade the East End has transformed itself into one of the most diverse and exciting areas of London. There are now more than 350 art galleries east of Liverpool St Station and suburbs such as Hoxton and Shoreditch are home to an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants and boutiques.

The beauty of Princelet St is that you're in the thick of it, whether you spend your days immersed in culture, couture or cocktails.

* Rob McFarland travelled as a guest of Air New Zealand, the National Trust and the Landmark Trust.

IF YOU GO
Air New Zealand flies to London twice daily via Los Angeles or Hong Kong. Phone 0800 737 000 or see www.airnewzealand.co.nz

National Trust: Bookings for the National Trust's 350 properties can be made over the internet at www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk or a brochure costing £5 ($12) can be ordered by phoning +44 870 458 4411. A week in Saxon Cottage, which sleeps three, would cost anything from £285 ($723) in the middle of winter to £815 ($2000) in the height of summer.

The Landmark Trust: To book one of the Landmark Trust's 184 properties, you must use its handbook, which costs £22 ($55) and can be ordered online at www.landmarktrust.org.uk or over the phone on +44 1628 825925. A week in Princelet St, which sleeps six, would cost between £994 ($2500) and £1373 ($3500). Prices include linen, heating and electricity.

- Herald on Sunday

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