Why not break your holiday habits by trying something different and exploring unusual and exciting getaways that you have never before encountered? We’ve rounded up 21 of the best...
1. Try a rail adventure
Hop on a sleeper to Fort William, experience Brunel’s Great Western line along the South Devon coast or cross the Pennines on the Settle to Carlisle route. The UK is full of great rail adventures. Plan a rail holiday yourself or let an expert tour operator arrange everything. Five days exploring the valleys of mid Wales by rail, for example, costs from £395 including accommodation, half board, transport and guides. For a selection of some of the best UK rail holidays, try www.greatrail.com
2. Relax aboard a hotel canal boat
Avoid embarrassing crashes into the bank and puzzled faces at complex locks by letting a captain and crew do everything. Staying in a canal boat hotel allows you to relax and admire the scenery sailing past. How about a five-night cruise on the River Thames or Kennet and Avon aboard the five-star widebeam Kailani, from £755?
3. Whittling, woodcraft and wild camping
The National Trust offers hundreds of working holidays every year, ranging from building hedges and clearing canal banks to pruning and weeding vegetables in a stately home’s walled garden. It’s not luxurious but it’s great fun, and you’ll be helping a charity, learning traditional skills and mixing with a team of like-minded workers.
Why not try your hand at some traditional woodland crafts, such as whittling and charcoal-making, on a four-night break at Leith Hill in Surrey for just £115? www.nationaltrust.org.uk/working-holidays
4. Tackle The Dorset Doddle
The 32-mile hike from Weymouth to Swanage along the South West Coast Path is anything but a doddle. In fact, you’ll need to feel rather energetic and allow at least two or three days to complete it. But the reward for a total of 3,000m of ascent and descent is some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery, including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Man O’ War Cove. It’s part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site with spectacular rock formations around every corner – but lots of ups and downs, too.
5. Drive a vintage car around Wiltshire
First you have to choose from a Wiltshire-based collection of beautifully restored classic Jaguars, MGs, Alfa Romeos and even a convertible Morris Minor. Then you can set off to tour the local sights such as Stonehenge, Avebury and the white horses in old-school motoring style. Three-day hire costs from £395. You have to supply your own flying helmet, goggles and driving gloves.
6. Take a foodie break in Kingham
Once voted the ‘UK’s favourite village’, the pretty little village of Kingham has recently become the food capital of the Cotswolds. There are two old village pubs: TV chef Emily Watkins from BBC’s Great British Menu now owns the highly rated three-AA-rosette the Kingham Plough, while the Wild Rabbit has been taken over by millionaire organic food crusader Lady Carole Bamford and serves suitably local and natural ingredients to great acclaim. And just down the lane is Lady B’s Daylesford Farm Shop, one of the UK’s most famous organic food shops. It also offers cookery classes and has a sumptuous café. You can stay
in beautifully converted outbuildings at the farm shop, from £490 for four nights.
7. Go castle counting
With a total of more than 300 forts and stately homes, there are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. A dedicated ‘Castle Trail’ lets you discover 18 of the most dramatic sites in a self-drive, four-day itinerary. The drives are punctuated with sightseeing walks through gardens and countryside. The highlights include the tough stone 17th-century Cairngorm fortress at Braemar, the elegant loch-side baronial palace at Fyvie and spotting puffins and dolphins from the spectacular cliff-top stronghold of Dunnottar.
8. Hole up in a historic Oxford College
Many of Oxford University’s colleges offer B&B in their rooms when students are away. The best of these can be in medieval buildings overlooking ancient quads or alongside Oxford’s watermeadows and riverside walks. Don’t worry about dirty socks and posters of Black Sabbath, the rooms are completely cleared of student detritus before guests arrive. Note that beds are typically singles but cheap enough for a couple to take adjoining ensuite rooms each. Prices of under £70 are common. And don’t miss the highlight of breakfast in the Hogwarts-style grandeur of the college’s dining hall.
9. Cruise on a working ship
THV Patricia is Trinity House’s flagship, a busy, working vessel constantly maintaining buoys, marking wrecks and supplying lighthouses and lightships. Paying passengers are welcome aboard to share a week of Patricia’s duties. There are six surprisingly luxurious double en-suite cabins, a smart lounge and dining room, and unique coastal panoramas from the viewing deck.
You can even help with some of the activities… just don’t expect a swimming pool or nightly cabaret shows. Seven-night trips cost from £1,540 per person.
10. Cycle through Constable Country
The leafy River Stour villages along the Essex/Suffolk border were once immortalised by Constable’s brushstrokes. You can potter around this gentle rural landscape trying to spot the locations he painted. These flat, quiet lanes are perfect for rediscovering cycling. If you’re uncertain, a holiday of circular rides gives you the choice of pedalling as much, or as little, as you like. Route notes and two nights’ bed and breakfast at a four-star hotel with spa and leisure facilities cost from £231. www.cyclebreaks.com
11. Scottish island hopping
Step aboard a converted traditional wooden fishing boat for a luxury small-ship tour of the Western Isles. It’s a chance to spot wildlife – including whales and dolphins – learn some history and roam true wilderness areas with a small group of like-minded passengers.
Spend six nights exploring the coast of Skye and the islands of the Inner Hebrides from £2,095.
12. Sail away from the campsite
Can’t decide whether to go boating or caravanning? Try a caravan that floats. A cunning invention from Germany, the Sealander is a towable, two-bed, amphibious mobile home with an electric outboard motor and a removable roof. It’s just 3.5m long and 1.6m wide. The downside is that it costs around £13,000. It has cooking, eating and sleeping facilities, so you can head to a campsite, spend your nights on shore and your days sailing across the water.
13. Practise painting seascapes
Where better to learn to paint seascapes than at the St Ives School of Painting? Not far from the Tate Gallery in this Cornish artists’ haven, you’ll spend four days trying to capture the beauty of the sea and the shore. ‘Where the sea meets the land’ is just one of a long list of art courses for everyone from beginners upwards. Note that the £295 fee includes all materials but not accommodation.
14. Stay on Prince Charles’ farm
Charles and Camilla often escape the pomp of their royal duties to their little-known home among beautiful rolling hills near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire. Surprisingly, half of their Llwynywermod Farm holiday retreat is available to rent to ordinary commoners when the heir to the throne isn’t there. These two adjoining cottages provide a fascinating glimpse of their lifestyles and a chance to share their tranquil rural retreat. There’s no throne room or dungeon but you’ll need to be vetted, negotiate tight security and ignore sentry boxes hidden in the trees. It’s worth the hassle to experience the immaculate cottages full of royal nick-nacks, Charles’s charming garden and the walks teeming with wildlife, including red kites.
Rent a two-bedroom cottage from £450 a week.
15. Get snapping in the Brecon Beacons
Professional landscape and wildlife photographer Steve Hedges’ inspiring three-day course is held amid the peaks, valleys and waterfalls of the Brecon Beacons National Park. So you’ll need to be energetic enough to walk around the hills all day. Steve’s small-group workshops help everyone from beginners to experts develop artistic and technical skills while exploring the Beacons countryside. The workshop costs from £235 but accommodation is extra.
16. Come into the garden
From Cornwall’s lush floral gardens to the grand formal greenery of north Scotland, the Royal Horticultural Society offers short breaks to sights across the UK throughout the year. A four-day visit to Herefordshire, for example, includes a tour of an acclaimed biannual flower show in the Malvern Hills and guided visits to fine local gardens such as Sir Roy Strong’s The Laskett and Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Stockton Bury. From £455 per person, including three nights dinner, bed and breakfast at Three Counties Hotel.
17. Discover the secrets of the stones
Travel back in time by walking directly through the fascinating geological past of the Lake District. Listen as a geologist reveals the history of the rocks beneath your feet among some of Britain’s finest scenery. Prices are from £509 for four nights, with full-board country house accommodation, expert geological guide and local transport provided.
18. Enjoy a lamb-watching break
This is the perfect time to visit a farm and see newborn lambs skipping through the grass. There are hundreds of British sheep farms that provide accommodation, either as B&B rooms or in self-catering cottages. For example, try Mercaston Hall Farm in Derbyshire, with rooms from £75 a night, or Dolberthog Farm in Powys, from £66 a night. Find your ideal farm with farmstay.co.uk.
19. Birdwatching in the Yorkshire Dales
An expert guide will help you tell your pipits from your linnets on a leisurely six-mile adventure through woods, heaths and meadows each day. You may spot curlews and dippers, too. The holiday is suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. And you’ll stay in a grand 19th-century country house in the Dales National Park, with prices from £739 for seven nights.
20. Immerse yourself in music
From Sidmouth to Stornaway, there are scores of festivals featuring traditional British music in 2016. The Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis is always memorable but, as this will be the 20th annual gathering and Gaelic favourites Runrig are headlining, expect a special celebratory atmosphere.
21. Explore an ancient island kingdom
Piel Island is half a mile off the southwest tip of Cumbria. Its 50 acres contain an English Heritage castle, the 18th-century Ship Inn and a few old pilots’ cottages. The human population is just 10 but Piel is a haven for hundreds of seabirds that nest on the beach. Fishing and seal-spotting boat trips can be arranged, too.
Piel was the starting point, 500 years ago, for Lambert Simnel’s ill-fated revolt against Henry VII. That story has since transformed into an unlikely tradition: the Ship Inn’s landlords are grandly crowned ‘King of Piel’ and have the power to bestow knighthoods to any visitor who sits in an ancient ceremonial ‘throne’ (and buys a round of drinks for all). The pub serves food packed with local produce and has ensuite rooms, a bunkhouse and campsite (just £5 a night).
Main image: Getty
Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.