Jemima Coxshaw explores unusual conversions to stay.
The Banqueting House, Northumberland
Designed to stand in the highest point of the Gibside estate, the Banqueting House was created in 1746 as a Gothic folly where 18th-century socialites might be brought on their tour of the grounds to indulge in picnic refreshments, music or simply the views of Derwent Valley and the octagonal pool below. The house, which sleeps four, is one of several buildings added to embellish the landscape between 1730 and 1760 by owner George Bowes, who made his fortune in coal. The last of these was James Paine’s magnificent chapel, which was begun just before Bowes’s death in 1760, and is well worth a peek while you’re there.
On the highest chalk headland in Britain, the Belle Tout Lighthouse at Beachy Head is a remarkable place to stay. Built in 1832 but decommissioned in 1902 with the arrival of a new lighthouse at the base of the cliffs, the building has since changed roles and hands a number of times – serving as everything from a tea shop to a location for the BBC in Fay Weldon’s Life and Loves of a She-Devil. Today, beautifully restored and moved a safe 17 metres back from the edge of the eroding cliff, the lighthouse offers rooms such as the Captain’s Cabin and Keeper’s Loft with creature comforts and unforgettable views.
Freston Tower, Suffolk
It’s possible Freston Tower was built to coincide with Queen Elizabeth I’s visit to Ipswich in 1579. Another theory is that the striking redbrick building overlooking the River Orwell estuary was created as a lookout tower for the returning ships of rich Ipswich merchant Thomas Gooding, who bought Freston Manor in 1553, or that it was simply created as an extravagant folly – one of Britain’s first. Whatever its origins, the tower is now a wonderfully individual place to stay. And with 26 windows and the living room on the top floor, guests will enjoy the unparalleled views of the river and its fine modern bridge.
Ty Donkey, Powys
In the heart of the Welsh Black Mountains, a former railway cabin has been converted into a rustic hideaway city-dwellers might dream of. From Ty Donkey’s freestanding antique bath, guests can enjoy the majesty of the Pen Cerrig-calch mountain opposite. And the ethos of this stylish glamping experience is as inspirational as the views: each piece of exquisite furnishing is vintage or recycled and the entire farm is run “off the grid”, creating its own electrical power. For castles and bookshops, the pretty market towns of Crickhowell and Hay-on-Wye are a short drive away or, for wilder adventures, look to the hills.
Malmaison Oxford, Oxfordshire
The surrounds of Malmaison Oxford have served time as a royal castle, a county hall and, after the castle was damaged in the English Civil War, as a gaol, enclosed by impenetrable five-metre-high stone walls. The prison closed in 1996 and Malmaison, which specialises in converting remarkable buildings, created a luxury hotel on the site with 95 rooms and suites featuring exposed brickwork, barred windows and iron doors. On the same site as the hotel, Oxford Castle – Unlocked offers visitors the chance to climb the Norman castle mound and drink in the views of the dreaming spires from the top of St George’s Tower.