This summer I find myself remembering some of my favourite holidays, in particular the excursions we made into the deeper past while staying in houses and other buildings let to holidaymakers by the Landmark Trust.
This all started way back in the early Thatcher years when my future wife and I drove north to stay in the Lancaster Music Room, We drove up in my Citroen GS - almost none of these left on the roads due to rust but it was a car of real charm and style. The Music Room's location in the centre of the old city of Lancaster meant we stocked up on provisions from the covered market, little changed from before WWII. We particularly loved the slightly cheesy butter in waxy paper straight from the farm. At night we carried our mattress down to the baroque-ceilinged music room itself, open to the public during the day but not an official part of Landmark's holiday accommodation. We still discuss whether or not this building was haunted and plan to go back one day to see.
Lancaster Music Room. Photo: Landmark Trust
Over the past three and a half decades we have stayed in many more Landmarks, at least a dozen. Our absolute top favourite is Lettaford in Dartmoor. This hamlet tucked into a fold in the moor near Chagford formed the backbone of summers for years and years when our children grew up. We would set off down the A303 in burdened cars full of dogs, food and (shh) extra mattresses as soon as their holidays began, the happy anticipation almost unbearable. The best Lettaford house, Higher Lettaford, an eighteenth century farmhouse, has been sold by Landmark. This had a kitchen with a mini replica of the famous circular pine table at nearby Castle Drogo, the almost modern (and last) Lutyens country house. Meals prepared, snacks on and served around this were greedily awaited and speedily devoured. Back in the day we used to rend a combination of this house plus Saunders, an ancient Dartmoor longhouse, and the Chapel because of our extended family members - this holiday was a special time for the aunts, uncles and cousins together. We set up operations across the little group of buildings, moving outside onto the green on rugs and cushions by the stream for extended days and evenings. The children played in the water until they were older when guitars and sing-alongs took over. We walked across the moor to one incredibly glamorous lunch per year at Gidleigh Park. It rained and we drenched ourselves, drying out by smoky fired inside the farmhouse. At night, tired out after the moor followed by dinner with multiple bottles of wine at the long wooden table, we listened to the children's uncle reading Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan Doyle, dogs and people all somehow slotted in on sofas, armchairs and cushioned floor space in the farmhouse sitting room.
Grey family holiday at Lettaford, Dartmoor. I'm fourth from the left holding the hat.
Chipping Camden's East Banqueting House was another utterly magical setting for a family holiday. This golden stone building set in grassland on the edge of one of the loveliest Cotswold towns was bathed in golden sunlight for what seemed like all the time we stayed. We read our children the second Harry Potter, the oldest one officially too sophisticated but unable to resist edging closer while sitting outside in the landscape, taking in the fantasy of the view along with the story. We used the little separate bedroom over the entrance building, a monk-like cell whitewashed inside and an adventure for our son. Unlocking the grand gate and entering our domain watched by the locked-out tourists meant we had a ridiculously privileged relationship with the town for a charmed week.
East Banqueting House, Chipping Camden. Photo: Landmark Trust
Rosslyn Castle near Edinburgh is a spectacular, beautiful place to call home while you're lucky enough to stay there. The scale of the drop on one side of the building is quite a shock. You're next door to the famous chapel with its Dan Brown associations and extraordinary decorations - watch out for the Green Man. This Landmark is fully furnished with the castle owner's own possessions which add a good deal of personalised colour. We were intrigued by their photos, discovering that our children had some kind of connection through school with the family. Intriguingly it had the tiniest corridor kitchen, too small to accommodate more than a cook so we were forced to carry the meals out on trays to the glorious sitting room with sixteenth century plaster ceilings. No one complained.
Rosslyn Castle sitting room. Photo: Landmark Trust
I could go on sharing our Landmark recommendations and probably will. Watch this space!