Britain: And the winner is ... a shed

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Announcing the results of the Independent/English Tourist Board Family Holiday of the Year Award.

Not enough people know this, but the favourite destination of the British is ... England. To celebrate the fact, and to promote the joys of holidays at home, the English Tourist Board enlisted the help of readers of The Independent to find the Family Holiday of the Year, one of the England for Excellence awards made this week. Entries flooded in, with a broad range of nominations: resorts, cities, self-catering locations, hotels and activity centres. We drew up a short list, and spent a few weeks travelling the length and breadth of England.

After much discussion, we came up with a short list of five locations and nominations: a pounds 300m leisure development, a farmyard shed, a hotel on the north Cornish coast, a Derbyshire youth hostel, and an entire city. Ilam Hall Youth Hostel, Derbyshire, offers a wonderful location and excellent value for money; Bedruthan Steps Hotel, near Newquay, Cornwall, has a great family-friendly atmosphere - like entering a giant toy-box; the Oasis Forest Holiday Village, Cumbria, provides everything any family could ever need on a holiday (with the possible exception of guaranteed sunshine); and the City of York offers a wonderful range of indoor and outdoor activities.

The winner, though, is a shed. It's a fine shed, mind, built a century or two ago from local granite. One reason why the Flower House (as it is grandly named) in Constantine, Cornwall, narrowly stole the Family Holiday of the Year Award is that it reflects all that is good about the regeneration of English tourism. And it has a God-given location, tucked inside an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the top of the steepest road in Cornwall. At the top of the one-in-three gradient, you discover a holiday heaven. A modest old farmyard, bruised by the vagaries of rural life and battered by agricultural policy, has been - thoughtfully and barely perceptibly - turned into a holiday centre.

The long, and relatively luxurious, barn would have been a good candidate for the award. But the nomination was for the smallest and sweetest option. The term "architecturally challenging" applies to the idea of converting a compact horticultural space into a holiday home, but it has been achieved with aplomb.

However, what really makes the Flower House special is the way that it is designed to offer children maximum fun. Should the sun fail to shine, then board games galore are stashed into corners. But in this, the most southerly part of the British mainland, you can be pretty hopeful of some fine weather (and if you're planning to book, bear in mind there is 40 per cent less rain in England's south west in June than in August).

When the sun does shine, the place really comes into its own. The farm's land provides ample space to roam. Follow an ancient track that wends across the meadows, and you wind down to the water; the farm occupies a peninsula made by a fork of a couple of tributaries of the Helford river. You can swim in the river, take out a rowing-boat to explore one of Cornwall's best concealed nooks, or scan the horizon for escapees from the nearby Gweek seal sanctuary.

The aim of the Flower House, and its larger siblings, is to be relaxed, informal and unpretentious. The concept symbolises the way England can reinvent itself. At a time when it has never been cheaper or easier to travel abroad, and when sterling is implausibly strong, the temptation for a foreign holiday is immense. This green and pleasant land can, though, offer inspired alternatives. Just don't tell the neighbours you are going away to stay in a shed.

Yet one family did - and sent their nomination for the Flower House to The Independent. "Take two stressed-out parents, two stroppy teenage sons, hand out `Independent Holidays', find The Flower House, Constantine - a jewel, furnished with sensitive flair, Good Food Guide pub within walking distance, seal sanctuary and idyllic sandy surfing beaches nearby. Add: acres of woodland, footpaths and rabbit-cropped grass fields. Result? Tranquil harmony. Bliss!" That was what Joyce Muirhead of Devizes wrote, and that was what inspired us to find out more.

The Muirheads' prize was to do a day's work for us. So they came to London to act as guinea-pigs for our family outings page: visiting various attractions and telling us what they thought. They chose an intriguing combination for their day out: the Royal Academy of Art (where the Sensations exhibition is currently running) and Wembley football stadium - which you can read about in next week's Time Off section.