I have always favoured last-minute holiday bookings, but this year I fear I may have left it too late. To the tune of four or five months, perhaps.
I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned. In January, I wrote of ‘booked up Britain’, as hotel owners and rental companies across the land warned of soaring summertime demand. Even in the early days of 2021, availability for June, July and August was looking tight – but did I heed my own advice? Did I heck.
I blithely thought that overseas trips would be back on the cards by now – and I didn’t want to book a ‘British backup’ only to cancel when more exotic locales became possible. A flake I ain't. But as spring turned to summer, my naivety turned to denial: in booking a UK holiday, I was admitting defeat. I was accepting that another summer would pass without my crossing the UK border – a bitter pill to swallow, for me at least.
But now, the decision is out of my hands. My partner is unable to self-isolate, so we can’t afford the risk of a ‘green’ overseas holiday turning ‘amber’ – and of course now, there are mere crumbs of UK availability. We have a week’s annual leave in the diary, and nothing booked – just a rising panic that has turned holiday research into a dread-worthy task.
I have £1,000 to spend on accommodation, for two people sharing: a sizeable sum, but I know that won’t go very far this summer. I am also wary of last-minute restrictions, so am striking Scotland from my list after it banned fully-vaccinated and tested cruise travellers last week. I want a trip that’s definitely going to go ahead – or at least, is near-enough guaranteed.
And so, as I brace for bad news, here’s how far, and where, that £1,000 might take me – if I finally quit stalling and book.
"99% of places to stay are unavailable for your dates on our site", Booking.com informs me when I tap in my search – so it’s a good job we’re not hung up on Cornwall.
What of the 1 per cent? There actually are a couple of runners: Bowood Park Hotel, in Camelford (North Cornwall), has doubles for my dates from £969/week with breakfast – with golfing greens on the doorstep and the coast just a few minutes’ drive away. In Liskeard, the Great Trethew Manor Hotel also has good reviews, and doubles for £690/week (no breakfast).
Over on Airbnb, I spot a shepherd’s hut available for £258/night (ha!), and a ‘tiny house’ (aka shed) for £217/night. I’m just losing hope when the Cornish Country Farmhouse Retreat pops up, set in an 18th-century farm surrounded by rambling gardens. £975 for my dates doesn’t seem too eye-watering for a self-contained idyll in the leafy village of Stithians – complete with an award-winning pub nearby.
On One Off Places, there is one lone Lake District property with availability for my dates: another shepherd’s hut, but this one is a far more palatable £87/night. It looks quite idyllic, but I’m not sure I could stick a week in such close confines – even if it does promise countryside views and a private BBQ.
It’s ludicrously slim picking on Hotels.com, too – with the exception of New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, located slap-bank in the national parks with the Langdale Pikes and Elterwater just a stone’s throw away. At £1,080/week, it just pips our budget – but I’m won over by the walks on the doorstep, informal walkers’ bar, and the lure of a hearty breakfast.
While browsing, I’m reminded of the price gulf between refundable and non-refundable properties. Thurnham Hall, for example, offers non-refundable self-catering studio apartments for £760/week – but free cancellation will set you back an extra £270. It looks lovely, with a fitness centre, spa, and indoor pool, but the location isn’t right for us.
Judging by the search results on rental property site Vrbo, there has been a mass summer exodus of Pembrokeshire homeowners, all hoping to make a killing from out-of-town bookings. I can’t say I blame them, but they’ve got guts: a one-bedroom cottage for £365/night? A Tenby flat (also one-bedroom) for £298/night? Outrageous.
I’m tempted by Dolly the Circus Wagon, a vintage Circus trailer close to Cardigan Bay (£1,049 for my dates): she looks charming, with privacy granted by the surrounding woodlands – but for me, £175/night is too steep for a cabin on wheels. Via Coastal Cottages, I spy Llanmill Cottage: a one-bedroom with garden, parking and lush-looking rural surrounds. It’s only available for seven-night bookings, but at £695 it seems very good value.
On most comparison sites, many of the remaining options look downright creepy, with dingy decor and fusty bedspreads – and there’s absolutely nothing on the coast. Inland, Booking.com has a couple of potential gems: Brynhaul B&B (Maenclochog, £540/week) and 3 The Barn (Haverfordwest, £1,008/week), both with excellent reviews, gardens, and outdoorsy activities nearby.
I’m losing the will. On some rental sites, it feels like I’m sifting through crime scene photos, with their grainy shots of drab bedrooms and sagging sofas. Suffolk does a fine line in shepherd’s huts, wood cabins and dinky haylofts – but bricks-and-mortar rental options are in short supply.
On Booking.com, The Oaksmere Hotel, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, is a beacon of hope – it looks genuinely inviting, with stylish bedrooms and multiple dining options, including a cocktail bar and garden terrace. An executive king room costs £784/week, with breakfast included.
Local property rental site Air Manage Suffolk also has some promising options, with properties near the coast for around £1,000. I’m particularly taken with Little House, in Aldringham – a cute one-bedroom with walks to the beach, countryside and nearby pubs – costing £856 for my dates.
Is there hope for summer after all? Perhaps so. If you’ve set your sights on the UK’s honeypots, £1,000 will mostly buy you a former crime scene with a shared outdoor bathroom – but if you’re prepared to look off the beaten track, there are still some gems to be found.
Will I take my own advice this time? Absolutely. In fact, I’ve got my credit card at the ready.