Historic sleepovers

For 40 years the Landmark Trust has taken crumbling follies and turned them into amazing place to stay. Marcus Field reports
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The Independent Travel

'Hooray for the Pineapple, prickly and proud. Farewell, old fruit." Not, as you might expect, a line from P G Wodehouse, but a paean written by a departing guest in the logbook of one of the Landmark Trust's most popular properties - an 18th-century summerhouse in Dunmore, Scotland, which is bristling with flourishes of carved stone to mirror the shape of the exotic fruit. "It's a folly to end all follies," says the trust's historian, Caroline Stanford, and, since 1973, it has been available to paying guests.

'Hooray for the Pineapple, prickly and proud. Farewell, old fruit." Not, as you might expect, a line from P G Wodehouse, but a paean written by a departing guest in the logbook of one of the Landmark Trust's most popular properties - an 18th-century summerhouse in Dunmore, Scotland, which is bristling with flourishes of carved stone to mirror the shape of the exotic fruit. "It's a folly to end all follies," says the trust's historian, Caroline Stanford, and, since 1973, it has been available to paying guests.

It is a remarkable and delightful thing. But before you reach for the phone to book (£1,085 a week in high season, £350 for a winter weekend), you might want to consider one of the trust's other 182 buildings and think about the good deed you are doing when you pay.

Sir John Smith set up the trust in 1965, when the plight of large country houses was becoming known, but when Britain's many decaying follies and smaller historic and architectural gems still attracted little interest. Sir John's idea was to restore and protect these properties, which were at risk of disappearing, and to fund their upkeep by letting them to guests. The first place he acquired was Church Cottage, a small but well-built early Victorian caretaker's home in a remote part of Wales.

Forty years later, the trust has become a charity, but its remit remains the same. "We see ourselves primarily as a conservation group," says Ms Stanford. "There is a black hole that opens up for a building that has slipped below the level of sensible restoration costs. But its social and cultural value makes it worth us taking the leap of faith to bridge that black hole."

The trust's portfolio of holiday homes has extended from that first cottage to include an extraordinary range of buildings, many of them elaborate follies such as the Pineapple or large castles and manor houses such as Wortham in Devon, which sleeps 15 people. Several of the most glamorous ones are abroad, including Villa Saraceno, a grand farmhouse in Finale, near Venice, designed by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century; an apartment in the building on the Spanish Steps in Rome where Keats died in 1821; and the house that Rudyard Kipling built for himself in Vermont. The trust also owns the entire island of Lundy, off the coast of Devon, where there are 23 properties, sleeping up to 12 people.

But some of the trust's most evocative buildings are modest places, such as the little terrace house in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire, built in 1771 by Richard Arkwright, which was one of the first purpose-built houses for industrial workers. When I stayed there recently I spent all day exploring the mills and industrial archaeology of the town and at night found myself climbing the steepest, tightest staircase I had ever seen to my bed. I went to sleep dreaming of the first people in the world to work in an organised shift system. Arkwright's legacy has not always been positive, but learning about it by living on the site is a rich and fulfilling experience. Prices for the trust's less fancy properties are more reasonable, too. North Street, which sleeps four people, lets at £486 for a week in summer and £282 for a winter weekend.

Not all the trust's buildings were intended for residential use. Another property I have stayed in, Danescombe in Cornwall, once housed the engine for an arsenic mine. Not the most promising prospect, I agree. But it has been imaginatively converted to take advantage of the stunning views down a lush, wooded valley and in summer it must be terrific. Unfortunately, I went with my friends in mid-winter and we ended up hunched around a small electric heater, our teeth chattering. To be a true "Landmarker", we discovered, you sometimes have to value experience over comfort.

"We always try to put the building first," says Ms Stanford. "But to be a success we can't compromise too much on the things visitors expect." So a well-equipped kitchen and modern bathroom will always be found in a Landmark, although sometimes you have to walk outside to find them. At Swarkestone Pavilion in Derbyshire, you cross the open roof of the Jacobean building to reach the bathroom in a turret. And at Robin Hood's Hut in Devon, where the trust was reluctant to disturb the perfect symmetry of the three-room building, a bathroom hut was constructed a few yards behind the house. "It's warm and snug," says Ms Stanford. "And it gave us the opportunity to construct our own rustic folly."

What you won't find in any Landmark is a television or a phone. The intention is to keep them peaceful and at one with their often remote settings. But if you're a modern media addict like me and you're visiting in winter, the nights can seem very long. Hence New Year's Eve 2001, when I could be seen rather vulgarly heaving a TV and VCR into Danescombe mine.

This might not have been so incongruous had I stayed at the trust's youngest Landmark. Although it was completed in 1970, the Anderton House in Devon still met the trust's criteria for rescue. "It stands on a hillside and had twice flooded," explains Ms Stanford. "But it is a radical design - listed Grade II* - and it's a time capsule; you go in and you could be on the set of A Clockwork Orange. Like all Landmarks, the Anderton House contains its own history album so guests can read about its origins and restoration.

Although awareness of the value of historic buildings - not to mention their desirability in the market - has risen over the past 40 years the trust still finds dire cases in urgent need of help. So new campaigns and projects are always under way. This year, The Ruin, an 18th-century folly in Hackfall, Yorkshire, opened to visitors after a 15-year campaign to save it. "During our research, we found that its design was almost certainly based on a sketch by Robert Adam of some ruins in Rome," says Ms Stanford. The views across a dramatic gorge and Gothic landscape are magnificent and the building has been made into a cosy retreat for two people (£293 for a winter weekend to £611 for a week in high season).

Perhaps the most exciting, and certainly the most costly, of the trust's current projects is the restoration of The Grange, the home of Augustus Pugin, in Ramsgate, Kent. Pugin, the co-designer of the Palace of Westminster, designed the house for himself and lived and worked there from 1844 until his death in 1852. The trust bought the building from a property developer and over the past few years, research has revealed the original interiors and decorative scheme, which can now be restored to their former glory. The library and drawing studio are "very atmospheric," Ms Stanford says. "We know where his desk stood and there is the shadow of shelves and books so that can all be put back. The most exciting discovery we made was when we took some panelling down and found an enormous expanse of the wallpaper he designed for it. We're now having it remade and it's wonderful to be able to hang it again."

It is this kind of rigorous conservation work which the trust is most proud of - and it is this which distinguishes it from the several imitators which now let historic properties for profit. But for the paying guest, the obvious attraction is the chance this affords to stay in the sort of place which, before 1965, you might only have been able to see on a guided tour. "It's like when you visit a historic house and you think, 'It's lovely, but I wish I could just be here on my own,'" says Ms Stanford. "That's what we offer. And in Landmarks, there are no roped-off areas."

To book a Landmark holiday or order a handbook (price £11) call 01628 825925. Forty Landmarks are open to the public this weekend to celebrate the trust's 40th birthday. For details go to www.landmarktrust.org.uk. Admission free

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE: THE BEST OF THE REST

The National Trust

Established in 1825, The National Trust owns more than 248,000 hectares (almost 1,000 square miles) of UK countryside. It also has 600 miles of coastline and more than 200 historic properties. The trust offers 320 holiday rentals in its properties or their grounds.

Most of the houses and cottages are unique. Guests at The Garden Cottage, on the grounds of the Polesden Lacey estate in Surrey, can enjoy the gardens after all the day-trippers have gone home. All the trust's cottages are classified on a scale of one to five acorns, depending on the location and facilities offered. The trust regularly opens new properties; this month, part of the 17th-century Tintinhull House near Yeovil, Somerset, and Bog Cottage on the grounds of Upton House, Warwickshire, will open.

Prices range from £210 to £1,990 per week. Three-night breaks are also available. National Trust Holiday Cottages (0870 458 442; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk).

The Irish Landmark Trust

A fairy-tale deerkeeper's cottage in County Antrim; a mini-medieval castle in County Cork and a lighthouse on County Wicklow's dramatic coast are among the places where you could bed down for a night through The Irish Landmark Trust.

Like its counterpart in the UK, the trust is a charitable body established in 1992 to reverse the fortunes of some of Ireland's most endangered buildings of architectural merit. The Irish Landmark Trust has restored 12 properties in the Republic and Northern Ireland and now offers some of the island's most colourful accommodation. The most recent renovation is The Barbican in Glenarm, Antrim, a Tudor-style turreted gate lodge from 1825.

Prices start from £152 for three days. The Irish Landmark Trust (00 353 1 670 4733; www.irishlandmark.com).

Paradores

This chain of hotels was established by the Spanish government under the stewardship of the Marquis de la Vegas Inclan, who had been given the job of trying to improve Spain's image to foreign travellers. It was soon realised many of the country's historic buildings could be preserved and given a new lease on life asparadors for tourists. King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the first parador, the Parador de Gredos near Avila, in 1928. More than 90 buildings have been converted since then.

Visitors can now spend a night in spectacular locations such as a 14th-century Arab fortress near Seville or a 17th-century convent near Madrid.

Room rates start from €75 (£53) per room per night without breakfast. Paradores (00 34 91 516 6666; www.paradores.com). For reservations call Keytel International on 020-7616 0300.

Pousadas de Portugal

Inspired by Spain's Paradores, Pousadas de Portugal has offered hotel accommodation in 35, mostly historic, properties on the mainland and the Azores since 1942. The Pousadas portfolio grew from a regional network built by the government in the 1940s to provide places to stay in keeping with the local surroundings and traditions. Pousadas now offers four accommodation "themes": historic pousadas in suitably elegant old houses; smaller "charm pousadas" in private residences and "nature pousadas" in areas of natural beauty. The fourth category, "historic design pousadas" such as the Pousada do Crato, housed in a medieval monastery, are a fusion of old and new. Pousadas will open its first overseas property this year in Salvador, Brazil.

Double rooms start from €90 (£64) per room per night with breakfast. Pousadas de Portugal (00 351 218 44 2001; www.pousadas.pt). For reservations call Keytel International on 020-7616 0300.

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