BY CLOVER STROUD
BEST FOR: RURAL SECLUSION
NOT FOR: ALL-OUT LUXURY. IT’S DOWN TO EARTH LIVING HERE.
There are times when simply going away is not enough. I crave displacement, my mind and body longing to step not just into a new physical environment, but almost an entirely different moment in time, so that my mind and my soul can completely empty and reset themselves. At those times, it’s not an exaggeration to say that if I could touch a completely new dimension, I would.
And there are times when those peaks of specific need call for something slightly different from the sweet luxury of checking into a really delicious hotel. At those times, I don’t even want to have to talk to a receptionist or bell boy. I want to be alone, craving solitude and a new aesthetic. Of course, that’s a lot to ask of any location when I’ve checked out of real life at the end of the week and have one, perhaps two, if I’m really lucky, nights to reboot myself, including travel. Then, the thought of doing anything so taxing as arriving at an airport, let alone getting through security, is not something I want to countenance, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the moments I’ve touched that feeling of arriving in a new world most effectively have been staying in private properties, where I am the only guest.
It’s incongruous, too, that I’ve found that sense of peace and deplacement in properties that were set up to guard an impulse of architectural restoration, rather than to provide retreats, although in my experience, that’s what they always achieve. They have been, variously, a late 18th-century bath house near Stratford-upon-Avon decorated with swags of stucco shells housing little more than a fireplace and huge bed, and inside an 18th-century summerhouse shaped like a pineapple towering above a walled garden in Scotland, and in a bedroom in a Tudor folly near Ipswich. Perhaps it’s the sense of unveiling and surprise that’s so delightful about these properties, all owned and cared for by The Landmark Trust, founded in 1965 by Sir John and Lady Smith to rescue and restore buildings of architectural merit, then make them available as holiday rental properties. Often unusual or eccentric, the Trust owns over 190 properties into Europe and America, from a lighthouse keeper’s quarters on Lundy Island, to a disused railway station, to a grand wing of rooms in a medieval castle, to a Baroque suite of music rooms, to a Georgian house within Hampton Court and a 16th-century rooftop apartment in Padua.
Like the best kept secrets, some of the properties might take a little finding. You may have to drive across a stretch of field to reach it, or hunt in a wooden letter box for the key but this is part of the adventure of the Landmark Trust, as each property reveals very idiosyncratic delights. And besides, easy, unadulterated luxury is not the point of any of them. Simply furnished, with comfortable beds and tastefully muted colours, you may find a Roberts radio and some local guide books but you won’t find a television or Internet access. Blue and white Old Chelsea china lines the cupboards in all the kitchens, a reassuringly familiar nod to a fleeting moment of the past.
This is the different world of Landmark Trust.
I was exhausted and wrung out when I arrived at The Château in Lincolnshire. Arriving at night, a short drive across a slice of parkland beyond the village of Marton revealed, in the headlights, a perfect scale model of a 17th-century French chateau, built in 1747 as the unlikely weekend cottage of a prosperous lawyer, Thomas Hutton, from nearby Gainsborough, but acquired and restored in 1982 by The Landmark Trust.
Built on a grassy rise of land, The Château is small and absolutely perfectly formed. Flinging open the elegantly tall shutters and windows on the first floor sitting room, and time didn’t necessarily stand still, but definitely changed, like a stopped clock that suddenly starts ticking again. Sheep grazed in the parkland outside and my journey through darkness into Lincolnshire slipped away.
With it’s elegantly scaled down façade, The Château echoes the lines of a grander, classical building, but with its own idiosyncrasies, such as a temple front without a pediment. The effect is surprising and reassuring, grand and charming, all at the same time.
As a weekend – even overnight – retreat, it was almost perfect because of the sense of absolute change it brought with it. As a weekend visitor, Hutton housed his servant on the ground floor, where today there is a small but efficient slice of kitchen, reassuringly powerful shower and tiny dining area opening out onto rolling parkland. Breathing out and feeling still for the first time in ages, beneath the tall ceilings in the sitting room upstairs I lit a fire in the grate and collapsed into a sofa. For the first time in ages, with absolutely no distractions, I could genuinely just be. I ate breakfast in the dappled sunlight of a spreading oak tree on the lawn outside the house, walked along the wide River Trent that meanders past The Château and snuggled up in front of the fire in the sitting room. Strange but soothing, completely unfamiliar but also reassuring, it was the perfect unplugged weekend retreat.
CONTACT: Tel: 01628 825925, web: www.landmarktrust.org.uk
PRICE: From £40 per person per night (available for three, four or seven nights all-year-round)
NEAREST TRAIN STATION: Gainsborough
DRIVING DISTANCE FROM LONDON: 3hrs