The impact of second homes and the pressure they place on affordable housing has become an emotive issue across Britain. There’s the need and right to invest in property for the staycation holiday market versus the ethics of ensuring there’s enough for local residents, especially first-time buyers, to avoid being forced out of an area in which they’ve grown up.
According to Cornwall Council, second homes in the county in March 2023 equated to 12,679 properties, while the number of households on the Cornwall Homechoice social and affordable housing register the following month was 22,975. Across the county border, Simon Jupp MP for East Devon quoted, in January 2023, that second homes had risen in his constituency by 11 per cent in twelve months.
Airbnb has been apportioned much blame. Yet, in October 2022, the organisation announced its donation to English Heritage of £1.25 million to “support the charity’s conservation and repair of historic houses, castles, abbeys and other ancient sites in its care.”
It’s hard to determine whether this is a grand philanthropic gesture, or a tactic to divert attention from the overriding debate; the company was launching and promoting a new ‘historical homes’ category around the same time. According to data collected by Action on Empty Homes, there has been a 1,000 per cent increase in homes lost to short-letting in five years.
The moral compass is spinning. But, there are alternatives. Heritage organisations like The National Trust, The Landmark Trust and Airbnb-bestowed English Heritage offer self-catering holiday cottages. The buildings may have been left by legacies or, owing to national historical importance, taken into care to prevent dereliction.
“We always consider the use of every building in our care and any local sensitivities around available housing when creating holiday accommodation. Around 10 per cent is used for this purpose, unique properties that allow our guests to get right to the heart of our working estates,” says Rachel Johnston, head of holidays for The National Trust. The money generated by rentals is used to support ongoing running costs and to fund conservation work.
For Alan Leibowitz, chairman of The Landmark Trust, holiday rentals provide a chance to preserve parts of local history. “We hold fast to our mission of rescuing precious buildings, symbols of our history and culture which are most at risk,” he said. So passionate are the Trust’s guests about this mission, that a group of ‘Landmarkers’ is on a mission to stay at all the 200 properties in the Trust’s care.
Here’s our pick of delightful, gracious, quirky, and grandiose historic self-catering properties to stay in, which assist the work of these charities. What’s more, many cost a fraction of the rates charged by privately-owned second homes.
The Birdcage, Port Isaac, Cornwall
This three-storey cottage, a Grade II-listed former cobbler’s shop, was left to The National Trust in a legacy. It’s used as a holiday cottage as it’s too small for permanent residential use with no parking or a washing machine. Nonetheless, it offers a joyful, quirky experience for a short break in Port Isaac, with views of the harbour from the terrace. Set over three floors with a narrow staircase and a tiny kitchen. Sleeps two.
Prices from £331/three nights
Swiss Cottage, Endsleigh, Devon
Swiss Cottage, perched above the River Tamar, is an example of the 19th-century Romantics’ notion of the Alps. The thatched chalet was designed in 1815 complete with an Alpine garden and Swiss furniture. Artist JMW Turner sketched here. The Landmark Trust repaired the cottage, which it deems to be perfect for “writing, and painting, and romantic entanglements.” Parking is 100 yards away. Sleeps four.
Prices from £356/four nights
Sovereign’s Gate, Osborne, Isle of Wight
Commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as the formal entrance to Osborne, which was their personal residence and a favourite for holidays, today Sovereign’s Gate has been made into two holiday cottages (No 1 and No 2), each with its own private garden within the grounds of Osborne House. Guests can access Osborne’s private beach at all times, including after opening hours to the public. Sleeps four per cottage.
Prices from £495/three nights
The Georgian House, Hampton Court Palace, London
When King George II decided that he didn’t want to use Hampton Court in 1737, the Georgian House, on the north side of the palace, became two properties for the Clerk of Works and the Gardener. Despite its loss of royal approval, this Thames-side red-brick marvel, which had been King Henry VIII’s favoured residence, remains a thriving community; staying at the Georgian House enables you to join that commune, experiencing this fascinating place after the day trippers have gone. The Landmark Trust lets the property on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces. Sleeps eight.
Prices from £1,192/four nights
Head Gardener’s House, Saffron Walden, Essex
This is the newest addition to English Heritage’s holiday portfolio, based in the grounds of Jacobean mansion Audley End House. Once the home of the head gardener here, the cottage has undergone extensive conservation and refurbishment made possible by the £1.25 million donation from Airbnb. Enjoy views over the walled kitchen garden and stable courtyard. A stay also offers after-hours access to the historic gardens. Sleeps six.
Prices from £640/three nights, including entry to all EH sites during your stay
Horton Court, Chipping Sodbury, the Cotswolds
A thousand years of history awaits guests at Horton Court, a Grade I-listed manor house of national significance. In 2017 a £2million project began to restore the building’s important features (it was under threat of going on the buildings at risk register). Initially considered for tenants, it was deemed after careful consideration that the best option was holiday accommodation, generating valuable income for the National Trust and safeguarding its future. It has been used as a film location for both Wolf Hall and Poldark. Sleeps 10.
Prices from £1,350/three nights
Coed y Bleiddiau, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales
A remote, granite cottage beside the Ffestiniog Railway (which carried slate from the mines to Porthmadog harbour) that was built for the superintendent. The railway’s team approached The Landmark Trust to take the building on when it fell into disrepair; much of the building materials for its restoration were delivered by train. Guests can arrive by steam to the cottage’s private platform between March and November, or park and walk for 20 minutes up a woodland path. Sleeps four.
Prices from £484/four nights
Hop Kiln Farmhouse, Brockhampton, Herefordshire
Hop Kiln Farmhouse, a beautiful 18th-century brick-built property which is Grade II*-listed, was initially the only holiday cottage within this cluster of 18th-century farm buildings and hop kilns on the 1,700-acre Brockhampton estate. By sympathetically adapting the surrounding vacant buildings, which were falling into a state of disrepair, into further holiday accommodation, the Trust has rejuvenated and enhanced their condition. These are The National Trust’s latest additions to its holiday collection; Hop Kiln Cart Barn (sleeps four), Kiln Barn (sleeps two) and Hop Kiln Mews (sleeps two), opening at the end of September 2023. The Farmhouse sleeps 10.
Prices from £390/three nights
Beamsley Hospital, Skipton, North Yorkshire
For almost four centuries this hospital, founded in 1593, housed and sustained a small community of poor women until the 1970s, living comfortable, independent lives thanks to their benefactress, the Countess of Cumberland. The community trustees offered the collection of hospital buildings to The Landmark Trust who have let the front range to long-term tenants and restored a remarkable circular hospital as a self-catering Landmark. Inside, the rooms are segment-shaped and encircle a round, central chapel. Sleeps five.
Prices from £480/four nights
Saddell, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
In the 1970s, a youthful Paul McCartney and Wings performed Mull of Kintyre on the shoreline of Saddell Bay. The whole of this long white strand with its rocky point, castle, five houses and steep old beechwood behind is in the care of The Landmark Trust. There’s a choice of six Landmarks, including robust Saddell Castle (sleeps eight), elegant Saddell House (sleeps 13) and a collection of four characterful shoreline cottages, each sleeping four to six guests. For a retreat, our pick is the simple weather-boarded Cul na Shee (sleeps four), reached only by a path along the shore and overlooked by no other building.
Prices from £284/four nights