WHEN the pandemic threw summer holidays into chaos, staycation demand hit an all-time high this year.
From the Cotswolds to Pembrokeshire, embrace the UK’s great outdoors with a late-summer rural break.
Assistant Editor Claire Frost recharged her batteries with a stay at The Spring, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, with partner Steve.
The Pad: If you’re looking for a place to really get away from it all, The Spring is definitely it.
Tucked away up a steep track on Steanbridge Farm in the village of Slad, it’s a small but perfectly formed lodge, complete with a sofa that folds out into a comfortable king-size bed, compact kitchen and bathroom, as well as WiFi and a smart TV if you still want to stay connected.
Fling open the bi-fold doors when you wake up to really let in the sunshine (and the neighing of the horses in the next field), then cook up your brekkie on the outdoor plancha on the patio.
Explore: Pull on your walking boots as The Spring is positioned on the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way (it’s literally at the bottom of the track!). This gorgeous, six-mile circular route celebrates Slad’s most famous son, poet Laurie Lee, who wrote his memoir Cider With Rosie about the area, and the paths are marked with 10 poetry posts to find, each inscribed with his work. As well as views for miles, you can spy wildlife from bulls to buzzards (Gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk).
For another nature fix, head to Painswick Rococo Garden, 15 minutes’ drive away. This quirky garden dates from the 1740s and is full of nooks and crannies, with follies, woodland and vegetable gardens. Entry costs £9.30 (Rococogarden.org.uk). Or head to Stroud town, 10 minutes’ drive away for cute independent shops and the fantastic – and huge – farmers’ market on Saturday mornings.
Refuel: The Woolpack Inn is handily located just off the Laurie Lee trail, so pop in for a pint of local lager, £4.50.
And come evening, it serves a delicious, ever-changing menu – we tucked into melt-in-your-mouth mutton shoulder, £19 (Thewoolpackslad.com). Over in Painswick, we had one of the best pork roasts, £14.95, we’ve ever eaten at St Michael’s Bistro (Stmichaelsbistro.co.uk).
There are loads of farm shops nearby, too, so stock up before you arrive. We loved the click-and-collect breakfast hamper, £28, from Jesse Smith’s in Cirencester – the sausages were amazing and you get a bottle of posh tomato ketchup included (Jessesmith.co.uk).
Don’t miss: A 20-minute drive away, just south of Stroud, you’ll find Woodchester Park, where you can take one of three circular walks and spy the still-unfinished mansion, lovely lakes and fab views (Nationaltrust.org.uk/woodchester-park).
Book it: The Spring costs from £414 for seven nights (Sykescottages.co.uk).
Soak up the good life in Wales, says Celebrity Writer Molly Reynolds.
The Pad: With its stone bridges, lush greenery and plentiful sheep, Pembrokeshire is quintessentially Welsh. Staying at the quirky Marhaba Cottage means great walks are literally on the doorstep, and your arrival is made sweeter by a welcome basket of local Welsh cakes, bread, butter, eggs and milk.
Perfect for a couple or a family, this pad has an en-suite master bedroom with views of the idyllic garden, plus a twin room next door. After a long walk, the enormous bathtub is a lifesaver. Downstairs is a cosy sofa in front of a wood burner (with plenty of logs provided) plus a big TV.
In the garden, a patio decorated with olive and bay trees, plus a rustic chimenea, makes the perfect sunset chill spot.
Explore: Head to 12th-century Carew Castle to wander the ruins and hear local ghost stories, £6.50 per person (Pembrokeshirecoast.wales/carew-castle).
The estuary is perfect for crabbing, with a shop where you can buy lines and bait. At Happy Planet store in Narberth, pick up zero-waste snacks and toiletries (Happyplanetgreenstore.co.uk). Save a day for a trip to St Davids – 45 minutes by car.
The walks along the purple sandstone cliffs of Caerfai Bay and Non’s Bay are spectacular. Just mind the gusty winds!
Refuel: A 10-minute drive from our cottage, The Plas restaurant has outdoor tables around fire pits. Feast on a pulled-pork-and-bacon burger, £18, then locally-made ice cream, £3.50 – honey and red-berry ripple were my favourites (Plashyfrydhotel.com).
Narberth’s vegetarian deli Plum Vanilla Cafe makes huge salads – check out the beetroot houmous – for £6.95 and treats like white-chocolate-and-cranberry flapjacks, £3.95. Across the road, craft booze shop Fire & Ice has a great selection of Welsh-distilled gins (Fireandicewales.co.uk).
Or for fairy-tale vibes, head to the ivy-covered Stackpole Inn for mouthwatering pan-roasted lamb rump with charred onions and wild garlic jus, £22 (Stackpoleinn.co.uk).
Don’t miss: Grain in St Davids does the best coffee, craft beer and stonebaked pizzas (Grain.wales).
Book it: Marhaba Cottage costs from £579 for seven nights (Qualitycottages.co.uk). Plan a trip at Visitpembrokeshire.com.
There’s no need to leave Down Hall, finds Editor in Chief Sinead McIntyre, husband Alistair and twins Riley and Harris, 10.
The pad: Set in 110 acres of grounds on the Hertfordshire/Essex border, beautiful Down Hall is steeped in history, dating back to the reign of Edward the Confessor in 1042. Since then it has been everything from a hospital during WW1 to an upmarket girls’ boarding school, and is now a gorgeous hotel and spa complex.
Check into one of the 98 bedrooms and relax on your vast king-size bed while looking over the sumptuous lawns below.
Feeling energetic? Head to reception and pick up tennis racquets and balls for a knock about on the courts, or for a more relaxing experience, sip an Aperol spritz, £12, while enjoying a game of croquet. Or head to the spa for a soothing Swedish massage, £67.
Explore: If you can tear yourself away from Down Hall, take a trip to Paradise Wildlife Park, 30 minutes’ drive away, to see the big cats, including endangered Amur tigers and snow leopards as well as white lions. Entry costs £22 for adults, £20 for children (Pwpark.com).
We also loved the armadillos and two-toed sloths, while the animatronic dinosaur attraction with 30 roaring dinos – including the T. Rex – is a real Jurassic Park experience.
Refuel: With two gorgeous restaurants at Down Hall, you don’t need to venture any further. The relaxed Terrace Restaurant is outside and specialises in small plates.
Try the grilled king prawns in smoked paprika butter, £12, or chargrilled sirloin with teriyaki glaze, £14, plus chunky hand-cut chips, £5, and heritage tomatoes with whipped goat’s cheese and pickled walnuts, £8.
Or for a fine-dining experience, book into the Garden Room, where the seasonal menu includes delights such as poached Norfolk lobster, £18, and Symonds Farm pork loin with granny smith apple, £26. Follow up with Beauvale blue cheese, £12, washed down with a carafe of malbec, £24.
Don’t miss: For a well-earned rest, book the kids into the on-site Sharky & George Adventure Club, £35 for a 21/2-hour session, where they’ll get to do everything from building dens to making chocolate truffles.
Book it: Rooms cost from £220 per night (Downhall.co.uk).
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