Tag Archives: UK travel

Wheel-free weekends

I love the idea of leaving the car behind for a weekend – not only is it less stressful, it also feels eco and carefree to be car-free. Sawday’s has also spotted the trend for travelling by train to escape the Big Smoke and has just launched a collection of properties dedicated to ditching the wheels – here are a few of my favourites.

The Potting Shed
The Potting Shed

A potting shed in Kent
There’s something about a potting shed and this one is exceptional. In the prettiest part of Kent, it stands in the former kitchen garden of Benenden Grange where plantsman Collingwood Ingram once lived. Largely open plan, on three floors, you’ve a sitting room, a natty little kitchen and a double bed up on the mezzanine. Tour the topiary garden, stroll to the idyllic village pub, visit sweet villages and gardens; Sissinghurst and Great Dixter (two of my absolute favourites) are close. Take the train to Headcorn and bus or taxi to Benenden.

The Potting Shed , Benenden, Kent, from £264 for a 4 night stay (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01580 240 308



Step out onto the beach in Sussex 
Miles of white sand and shoreline are yours. Rooms are sprinkled with wrought-iron candlesticks, portholes and shells. Awe inspiring to be so close to the sea, as dramatic views encircle the driftwood bed.


The beach is an extension of the living room and the neutral palette does not compete with those views. Indulge in a spot of pampering: book a massage or reiki session. Take a train to Rye and a bus or taxi to Camber.

Seascape, Camber, Sussex, from £125 per night (sleeps 3), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01797 224754


The Treehouse
The Treehouse

Sleep at tree level in Hertfordshire
While looking out at lofty pines, imagine Henry VIII thundering by… This whole area was part of the hunting estate of nearby Hatfield House. An attractive, white-tiled, living area awaits through the stable door and there’s a small pitch-ceilinged sitting area with Velux window, L-shaped sofa, faux fur throw and magazines to relax with. Look into birds’ nests, and watch deer forage below! Take the train to Ware and hop on the bus to Essendon.

The Treehouse, Essendon, Hertfordshire, from £495 per week (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01707271794


The Dundas Arms
The Dundas Arms

Canalside in the North Wessex Downs 
This classic inn sits in a stunning spot at the junction of the Kennet river and Kennet & Avon Canal. Check out the papers by the log fire in the Library, a civilised space with leather wing chairs, or have a drink in the modern-traditional bar before tucking into a pork sharing-board, local game pie or whole baked sea bass. Comfortable bedrooms open to gorgeous riverside terraces.Take the train direct to Kintbury and you’re just a stroll away.
The Dundas Arms, Kintbury, Berkshire, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01488 658263


The Barn at Roundhurst
The Barn at Roundhurst

Beautiful barn stay on the South Downs
This 17th-century barn is contemporary with leather sofas, beautiful sculpture and cow hide rugs. Upstairs, there’s an honesty bar, then a library for books and maps, playing cards and poker chips!

20131011-_dsc9694.jpg_gallery_previewChic rooms spiral around a pretty courtyard with boarded floors, blond wood furniture, smart fabrics and the odd exposed beam. Great walks from the door and Petworth and Goodwood are close. Take the train to Haselmere and bus to Lurgashall.

_dsc1910.jpg_gallery_previewThe Barn at Roundhurst, Lurgashall, Sussex, from £130 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01428 642535


Fox House
Fox House

Cotswolds country idyll
In this big stylish house, guests can relax in one of two super sitting rooms and take their pick from three immaculate, sunny bedrooms. Wake up to local produce, homemade bread, jams and juices from the orchard. The garden leads to pasture and horses, the countryside is dreamy in every season and footpaths radiate from the door. Take a train to Kingham and bus / taxi to Holwell.



Fox House, Burford, Oxfordshire, from £100 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01993 823409


The coach house at Colchester Hill House
The coach house at Colchester Hill House

Listed wooden coach house
This listed brick Coach House is rather special: light and airy with pale beams, oatmeal carpets and merry gingham blinds. Downstairs is a private entrance hall; upstairs a generous open-plan bedroom/living area with a queen-sized bed and en suite bathroom. Find two cream sofas that open into double beds and a balcony with stunning views across the Colne Valley. Take the train to Chappel and Wakes Colne, changing at Marks Tey.

Colchester Hill House, Colchester, Essex, from £95 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01787221561


Waterlock House
Waterlock House

Kent village meets Provencal style 
A stylish Georgian town house with an airy loft apartment on two floors.

hallway-kitchen-sawdays-013_gallery_previewThe vast bedroom/sitting room has French antique quirky pieces (owner, Sophie, has an antique shop next door), a painted black and white diamond floor, a sink-into sofa and a very comfortable big bed with a colourful cover.

garden-shots-009_gallery_previewTake some time in the fantastic, authentic Provençal-style walled garden behind. Take a train to Canterbury and bus or taxi to Wingham.

Waterlock House, Wingham, Canterbury, Kent, £120 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01227 721792


Blue Door Barns
Blue Door Barns

If you must have wheels, borrow better ones
Four charming flint barns hug a candle-lit courtyard, each has been stylishly restored for a relaxed, pampering stay; two have kitchens and living rooms; all are decorated in warm whites, with splashes of colour and vintage pieces.

bluedoor014.jpg_gallery_preview Al-fresco heaven with a rustic table under a rose-covered pergola, and a twinkling outdoor fireplace in the evenings. If you simply must have wheels, hire the stunning 1966 Triumph Spitfire MK1 to cruise the country lanes. Take a train direct to Lewes and walk / taxi to the barns.

Blue Door Barns, Lewes, Sussex, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01273 858893



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The one with the tents

Yes folks, we did it. Last week, we went camping en famille – after the rain and thunder had passed on Tuesday, that is.

At midday on Wednesday, with the car packed and an hour to till we were due to set off, we still didn’t know where we were heading to, other than a vague notion that Dorset might be nice.

A quick Google later and we were heading to Tom’s Field on the Isle of Purbeck. Except that we never actually got there. We’d been in the car for around two hours when we reached the New Forest and decided we might just stop there since it was 1. already tea time, 2. we hadn’t heard back from Tom’s Field, and 3. we already had that sinking feeling that the next day we would be heading to Peppa Pig World on the edge of the forest.

The children LOVED the wild ponies, bunnies, and cows in the National Park, which kept them both occupied while we put up the tent at Ocknell campsite – much windier in “real” conditions than the practice go in the garden had been.

Then we immediately chickened out of a camp fire supper in favour of Prezzo in Lyndhurst – well, it was already getting a bit chilly by 6.30 AND we were a bit knackered from the driving/tent-building.

Henry slept soundly in his travel cot and Floss loved her own bedroom cabin… and us? It was FREEZING. I don’t understand how the kids weren’t affected as I lay awake wearing ALL of the clothes I’d packed for the long weekend at once, with a scarf wrapped around my head and a picnic blanket over my sleeping bag. And in those cold, early hours of the morning, just before the dawn chorus kicked in, my paranoid mind was convinced that the toddler might get hyperthermia.

As the sun came up and the birds got louder, I finally got some sleep thanks to the temperature creeping up. But Gav was up before 7 and sat on a tree trunk outside reading and drinking tea that he’d made on the gas stove until the rest of us emerged nearer 9am.

Bleary-eyed and looking a bit bedraggled, we headed to Peppa Pig World – all in all, apart from the coldness and lack of a decent shower, our first night camping had been a success.

And it got better…

MORE TO FOLLOW (I’ll also add pics)

Camp it up!

This weekend we bought a tent! Yup, me, ex travel-editor of Glamour, miss luxe hotel, boutique boltholer and five-star spa-goer, I am going camping.
Not even glamping, but real, genuine camping in my own tent, that I’ll have to pitch before I can sleep in it. So it’s not quite Bear Grills’ The Island, but it’s about as close to survival as my holidays have ever got – with added midges and mosquitoes thrown in.

The original plan was a camper van stay on the Isle of Wight but we left it a bit late and by the time we factored in the cost of the van and the ferry it wasn’t going to be cheap or comfortable or reliable (I speak as a former VW owner!).

So that’s how I found myself on the car park of Decathlon Surrey Quays at the weekend, weighing up the size and spec of varying shapes and size of tents.

The only trouble is, now we’ve spent as much on sleeping bags, mattresses, foot pumps, mallets, night lights, torches and other camping paraphernalia and the weather forecast for the week is thunder and hale! Thank you GB.

Our next decision is where to go…

A stay in SoCo

Somewhere in the northern wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset a hot new area is emerging, SoCo, or South of Cotswolds is, whisper it, beginning to outshine its chic northern neighbour…

The green arc around Bath’s eastern side, where the West Country ends and the Wolds begin has long been neglected by travellers who zip through heading south for Devon, north to the Cotswolds, or straight through to Bath, Bristol and beyond.

But not anymore. This lush green, properly rural corner of the country has had a noticeable influx of not-so-muddy boots hot-footing it out of the city and into this bucolic, arty no-mans-land.

The tiny towns of Bruton, Frome (which boasts swanky private members club and hotel Babington House on its doorstep) and Bradford on Avon, all have a historic grandness about them, while also remaining just the right side of quaint to be thriving, interesting towns to live in and not just visit.

A wave of galleries, hotels, foodie producers, restaurants and cultural outposts has been putting this hot spot on the map.

Hauser and Wirth Somerset


Most recent, and notable, is contemporary art space Hauser and Wirth (www.hauserwirthsomerset.com), on the edge of Bruton in Somerset, which is home to Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey. Drive out of the town and you’ll easily miss this farmhouse and its barns that have been converted into a world-class gallery. Outside, Subodh Gupta’s giant gleaming milking pail bucket, a Louise Bourgeois spider and the gently swaying Piet Oudolf-designed gardens (he of New York’s Highline fame) give away the fact that something altogether new is happening here.

Piet Oudolf meadow
Piet Oudolf meadow at Hauser and Wirth Somerset


It’s a cultural version of Daylesford in Gloucestershire, a daring and brave mix that includes a shop, four galleries, landscaped sculpture gardens for outdoor walks; and a truly fantastic restaurant and bar – the Roth Bar and Grill. The simple but brilliant, unpretentious food is a sort of Ottolenghi meets gastropub hybrid. The pulled pork and coleslaw ciabatta was lip-smackingly moreish; chicken with rosemary roast new potatoes kept the children happy; and the salad of butternut squash, kale and roasted tomato with spelt and goats cheese, that was meant to be the side dish, stole the show.

HW spider
A Louise Bourgeois spider looms over Hauser and Wirth in Bruton


The bar, meanwhile, is an oasis for cocktails, with a dizzying installation built out of local reclaimed materials by Dieter Roth’s son and grandson, Björn and Odder Roth. On Friday nights, locals take over – Reef drummer Dominic Greensmith and Goffey, now drummer for Babyshambles, are in charge of the music. Daisy Lowe has been known to DJ to a crowd that might include locals such as theatre director Cameron Mackintosh, fashion designers Pheobe Philo and Alice Temperley, film director Sam Taylor-Wood or property expert Kevin McCloud.


You can sleep here, too – Dursdale farmhouse, emblazoned with Martin Creed’s neon words “Everything is going to be alright” – can be rented by the week and sleeps 12.

At the Chapel in Bruton
At the Chapel in Bruton

Don’t miss Bruton itself either. This quiet town makes a big noise: stop for food, wine and a night at At The Chapel on the high street (www.atthechapel.co.uk). Owned by ex-Notting Hill restauranteur Catherine Butler, this bakery, wine bar, restaurant and micro hotel kick-started Bruton’s regeneration more than ten years ago. Stop for a morning cappuccino and you might spot Mariella Frostrup working on her laptop in a corner. Book in at Matt’s Kitchen, a supperclub in Matt’s house on the high street that operates three nights a week, or try Truffles French brasserie. There’s a natural, rustic florist, a rare-breed butcher, and organic grocers and a smattering of galleries and antiques shops – no wonder it’s been alikened to “Notting Hill back in the early days”.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

To the west of Bruton and south of Bristol, The Ethicurean perfectly sums up the mood of the area – it’s a very hip eatery housed in the ramshackle glasshouse of a walled garden, where almost all of the produce is grown. Here country meets cutting edge – they make their own vermouth to go in their Negronis (which come served with a rhubarb swizzle stick), and pickle vegetables to sustain the kitchen the lean winter months. Bohemian, cool, and yet very low-key, it captures the confidence of the region – there can be very few parts of the country where you could open such a venture and succeed financially, to such acclaim. Inside there’s a mixture of yummy mummies, Bristolian hipsters, older artistic types and a few welly-booted walkers. We polished off a sticky toffee apple pudding washed down by a pint of the local Gorge Best beer before heading on to Frome.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

Nearby Frome is a thriving indy town, packed with quirky boutiques, arty spaces and a bit of new age dream catcher thrown in for good measure (well we are a stone’s throw from Stonehenge and Glastonbury after all). The Archangel makes a great pit-stop, and if you want to swoon about in luxury, nowhere does it better than Babington House – the original country outpost of private members club Soho House and the brand’s first hotel.

A little further north in Bradford on Avon there’s a great mixture of shops, galleries and places to run about. The kids will love the country park; we played pooh sticks on the footbridge over the river, and the wandered up to Fat Fowl – a great all-day bistro with jazz on a Sunday and an upstairs play area to occupy the kids.

Old Manor

Just outside the town is the Moonraker (doubles from £135 B&B, www.moonrakerhotel.com), a laidback manor house that feels more like a friend’s rambling house party than a hotel, with higgledy rooms and a restaurant that’s headed up by Matthew Briddon who champions a home-grown farmhouse approach to fine-dining. The pea guacamole with Bath cheese and pancetta served with parsnip crisps and home-made pork scratchings made from the hotel’s own pigs set the tone for a delicious evening followed by the best night’s sleep. Rooms are relaxed and homely and furnished with antique furniture, home-made flapjacks, and local scented candles from Bradford-on-Avon. “When we came here a couple of years ago it was a real gamble,” says owner Tudor Hopkins. “But in that time we’ve seen it change so much, things are just exploding and there’s a real buzz about the area – and we’re getting busier and busier.”

Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker's walled garden
Chef Matthew Briddon in Moonraker’s walled garden

For now, thanks to it’s unique location off the beaten tracks of the Cotswolds to the north and the West Country to the south and west, SoCo has managed to retain an authentic, cool vibe, unaffected by tourist coaches and corporate chains. And that’s just the way the locals – and the cognoscenti who do visit – like it.


This article appeared in METRO on 13 April 2015


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