Enjoy the last days of summer with a country pad for the August Bank Holiday. Whether you fancy painting, punting or just pottering, Harriet O'Brien finds the perfect hideaways

You're unlikely to get much of a bargain at this stage, but there is some availability - though with distinct regional variations. Dales Holiday Cottages, for example, with about 600 properties in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northumbria and Scotland, prices accommodation in the mid-season, rather than high-season, bracket during the Bank Holiday week. The company (0870 909 9500; www.dales-holiday-cottages.com) says that demand tapers towards the end of the school summer holidays and that the last week in August tends to attract couples rather than family groups. So in northern regions you are likely to find fewer vacant small properties and many more larger ones.

The reverse is true for Classic Cottages (01326 555 555; www.classiccottages.co.uk), which offers more than 500 holiday homes in the south-west. The company says that family demand is still very high over the Bank Holiday. Meanwhile the Wales Tourism Alliance says that coastal areas always fill up first - so there will inevitably be a better selection of properties inland in the Welsh countryside. The examples cited below were all available at the time of going to press.

IF I'D LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEA?

Even in the most popular parts of Cornwall you may be able to find a seaside cottage - provided you search hard. Cornish Traditional Cottages (01208 821666; www.corncott.com) has around 45 properties still available over the Bank Holiday week, although only a few offer really easy access to the sea. One of these is Seawatch at Charlestown in the St Austell Bay area. This 1830s stone cottage has good views over the pretty harbour and is within walking distance of two beaches as well as being conveniently situated for the longer sandy shores of Carlyon Bay and Porthpean, both a mile or two away. With two bedrooms, a kitchen/diner and sitting room the cottage sleeps four (with room for a baby) and costs £490 for the week starting 27 August.

Over in East Anglia, vacant seaside properties are also in short supply. At the time of writing, Norfolk Country Cottages (01603 871872; www.norfolkcottages.co.uk) could offer romantic little Owl Barn at Runham, about four miles from the broad, sandy beach at Caister. This cosy, beamed barn conversion accommodates just one couple and costs £295 for the Bank Holiday week.

HOW ABOUT A BIT OF THATCH?

If you're in search of that chocolate box-pretty look, Hideaways (01747 828170; www.hideaways.co.uk) has Tytherington Green, near Warminster in Wiltshire. Dating back to the 16th century, it sleeps up to 12 in six bedrooms and features exposed beams, oak flooring and inglenook fireplaces. The house is within an easy drive of Salisbury, Bath and the South Dorset Heritage coast. For the period 27 August to 3 September, the rate is £1,396.

Cottage Holidays (08700 782 100; www.cottages4you.co.uk), meanwhile, offers a large choice of thatch across the UK. In Worcestershire, Orchard Cottage in the village of Broadway possesses almost every charming feature you could desire: not only thatched roof but timber-frame wall; Cotswold stone side wall; private garden; exposed beams and inglenook fireplace with log burner in the living room. This little gem sleeps four and also costs £563 over the Bank Holiday week.

SOMEWHERE BRIGHT AND AIRY?

For all their old-world charm, thatched cottages tend to be a little dark inside. For a sunnier style of self-catering accommodation, Hoseasons (01502 502588; www.hoseasons.co.uk) offers a converted oast house in East Sussex. Rocks Farm, a mile from Westfield, has been carefully developed from a former grain drying kiln, stable and hayloft into three cottages, each with a light interior. The properties are set in appealing countryside in a quiet courtyard on the owner's working farm. They are a short drive from the old Cinque Port of Rye and the city of Hastings. At the time of going to press, The Stable, sleeping two, was still available between 27 August and 2 September at a cost of £355.

On the Devon/Somerset border near the village of Exebridge, Watermill Cottage is still available and costs £510 through Classic Cottages (01326 555555; www.classic.co.uk). This splendid conversion accommodates four (although children under 16 are not accepted, so the property is suitable only for friends sharing or for older families). The wilds of Exmoor and the beaches of Minehead and Watchet are within easy reach.

WHAT ABOUT A LAKESIDE PROPERTY?

Undervisited, not to say neglected, by tourists, Northern Ireland looks set to enjoy a boost in visitor numbers now that the IRA has announced an end to its campaign of violence. It contains stunning stretches of countryside, perhaps especially so in County Fermanagh. Here the 1,700-acre Crom Estate is a romantic landscape of woods, water, islands and ruins. In the midst of it, on the shores of Lough Erne, the National Trust (0870 4584422; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk) has restored seven estate cottages set around a large courtyard. Four of these were still available over the Bank Holiday week at the time of writing. For example, Aspen Cottage, complete with traditional lead-paned windows and open fireplace, sleeps three and costs £540 for the holiday week.

In Cumbria you can enjoy stately surroundings as well as half a mile of private lake frontage on Lake Windermere when you stay at Landing How, not so much a cottage as an elegant apartment. It is part of a Georgian mansion in the village of Lakeside, near Bowness. If you can tear yourself away from this tranquil place with its 12 acres of gardens, the attractions include a couple of pubs and restaurants and steamers that depart nearby for other destinations on the lake. The property sleeps four, but is unsuitable for young families - children under seven are forbidden. It is available through Lakelovers (01539 488855; www.lakelovers.co.uk) at a price of £465 per week, or £289 for three nights, including temporary membership of the local leisure club.

CAN WE ALL FIT IN?

In northern England, Dales Holiday Cottages is a good option for extended families. About a mile from Bentham in the Yorkshire Dales, Batty Farmhouse is set on a working dairy farm in wonderful, open country. It provides accommodation for eight people, with plenty of space for children - including a special play area in the large garden. There are a number of walking trails that run almost straight past the front door but if it's pouring with rain, the indoor diversions of the market towns of Settle and Skipton are within easy reach. Over the Bank Holiday week the property costs £514 - just £64 per person.

In south-west England, Toad Hall Cottages (08700 777345; www.toadhallcottages.com) specialises in unusual and rural properties. A highlight is The Granary, a stylish barn conversion in the hamlet of Goveton near Kingsbridge in Devon. The property sleeps a maximum of eight in three bedrooms. Like the Yorkshire farmhouse, it offers several walking trails from the door. In addition, some of the best beaches and coastal walks in the South-west are a short drive away. Over the Bank Holiday The Granary costs £939 for a week, or £658 for three nights.

OR A ROSE COTTAGE?

According to a recent Halifax House names survey, "Rose Cottage" is the second most popular house name in Britain - after, somewhat unimaginatively, "The Cottage". Both names are said to conjure a nostalgic sense of the rural past that lingers in the collective subconscious. A quintessential Rose Cottage is offered by English Country Cottages (08700 781 100; www.english-country-cottages.co.uk) in the village of Wark near Hexham in Northumbria. This end-of-row village property oozes atmosphere with its inglenook fireplace and beams. Yet it has also been renovated, its modern décor largely inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. It sleeps four, and is priced at £684 over the Bank Holiday week.

In North Yorkshire Hoseasons (01502 502588; www.hoseasons.co.uk) has a modern Rose Cottage five minutes' walk from the village of Scalby and just five miles from Scarborough. The well-devised property is one of a tidy development of five purpose-built holiday cottages, all named after plants and all offering exposed beams, stylish furnishings and great views. This Rose Cottage also accommodates four people and is similarly priced at £682 for the holiday week.

WHAT ABOUT GETTING RIGHT AWAY FROM IT ALL?

It would be difficult to find a property more isolated than Blaendigeddi Fawr, a remote farmhouse in the Black Mountains on the Welsh-English borders. Set on an 80-acre hill farm that is reached down an access road, this comfortable property has a spectacular location, and the surrounding land is awash with Welsh Hill sheep, ponies and pedigree Welsh Black Cattle (so strictly no dogs allowed). The second-hand bookshop haven of Hay-on-Wye is four miles away, the cathedral delights of Hereford a drive of 24 miles. The property sleeps seven in four bedrooms and is priced at £570 for the Bank Holiday week through Brecon Beacons Holiday Cottages (01874 676 446; www.breconcottages.com).

Over in Carmarthenshire, Bedw Cottage is a newly converted barn near the Cambrian Mountains. It is set in a stunning, Alpine-like valley well off the tourist trail. The area is home to red kites, buzzards and other wildlife. The two-bedroom property sleeps four and offers wonderful views over rolling countryside. It costs £390 for the Bank Holiday week through the Welsh self-catering specialist Quality Cottages (0800 169 2256; www.qualitycottages.co.uk).

SOMEWHERE MORE LUXURIOUS?

Many agencies and individual owners now offer the sort of facilities that might be expected of a boutique hotel: chic furnishings; dinner delivery options; and discreet hospitality including a welcome hamper of local produce, wine and more. Rural Retreats (01386 701177; www.ruralretreats.co.uk), for example, prides itself on its standard of accommodation and its quality of service.

At the time of writing the company still had a few properties available over the Bank Holiday. One such is The Chapel at Dinnington near Hinton St George in Somerset, an extremely stylish conversion with lots of exposed beams and brickwork.

The property is set in a pretty and peaceful hamlet about half an hour's drive from the coast. It has two bedrooms sleeping four and costs £825 over the Bank Holiday week.

Meanwhile the most glorious sense of luxury has been developed at Bruern Holiday Cottages (01993 830415; www.bruern-holiday-cottages.co.uk), the beautifully converted stables and barns of Bruern Abbey near Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds.

There are a dozen fine properties here, all filled with antiques (many bedrooms have four-posters) and all stylishly decorated with Nina Campbell and Colefax and Fowler furnishings. They also contain facilities - from microwave, dishwasher, tumble dryer and hairdryer to wide-screen TV and an extensive video library. Shared facilities include a heated outdoor pool, croquet, tennis, ample gardens to explore, a playhouse for children and much more.

At the time of writing Aintree Cottage, probably the grandest former stable you could ever hope to find, was available from 26 August to 2 September. Such luxury doesn't come cheap, however: sleeping six, the property costs an eye-popping £2,331 for the Bank Holiday week.

ALL-SINGING, ALL-DANCING SERVICES?

By renting a cottage in the grounds of a country house hotel - the likes of the Priory Bay near Seaview on the Isle of Wight (01983 613146; www.priorybay.co.uk) or The Kings Arms Hotel at Hawkshead in the Lake District (015394 36372; www.kingsarmshawkshead.co.uk), you can often get the best of both worlds: self-catering privacy but also restaurant services and other facilities as and when you want them.

At the time of writing one- and two-bedroom cottages were still available at Eastwell Manor (01233 213000; www.eastwellmanor.co.uk), a sublime Jacobean-style country house. The stately hotel, complete with Italianate gardens, is set among rolling countryside near Canterbury in Kent, and offers two restaurants, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spa, all-weather tennis courts, petanque pitches, croquet lawns and more. In addition to 23 guest rooms within the manor house, there are 19 self-catering mews cottages, converted from a Victorian stable block.

Among those still available to rent is Bluebell Cottage, a two-bed, two- bathroom property with a sitting room with French windows leading on to a little patio. The cottage sleeps four and is priced at £550 for a three-night stay including free use of the outdoor pool and other leisure facilities. Children are welcome and there is a dedicated play area for them.

HEAD NORTH OF THE BORDER

In Scotland, the Bank Holiday takes place on the first, rather than the last, Monday of the month. So having already had their time off, those north of the border have less demand for holiday property. As we went to press Mackays Agency (0870 429 5359; www.mackays-self-catering.co.uk) could offer literally hundreds of possibilities.

Among the more dramatic properties available is Pier Cottage on privately owned Sanda Island off the Mull of Kintyre. This secluded getaway sleeps four and costs just £370 for the week. Those in search of more space could opt for an imposing Victorian hunting lodge set in ample grounds at the foot of the Cairngorms about six miles from Newtonmore. The property accommodates 16 and costs £1,600 for seven nights.

Meanwhile the National Trust for Scotland (0131 243 9331; www.nts.org.uk) still had a few holiday property vacancies at the time of writing.

Among them were Kennels Cottage, a charming stone property in the grounds of Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire, which sleeps four and costs £465 for the week. The Pend is the refurbished gatehouse of Whithorn monastery in Dumfries and Galloway; it also sleeps four and is priced at £570 for seven nights at the end of August.

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