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Green Idylls under Grey Skies



Lena Semaan wonders which winter holidays in the UK could tempt you away from those long-haul beaches and exotic destinations.

You hung on resolutely during the credit crunch, refusing to let it affect your holiday plans. But now the Government’s decided to take a machete to public spending, it somehow doesn’t feel right to be travelling. Well, not overseas anyway. Moreover, your better half has decided that this will be the year your household reduces its carbon footprint.

“Does that still include Europe?” you ask hopefully. It appears that it does. Haunted by childhood memories of miserable motorway interludes en route to inhospitable B & Bs that seemed more like military camps, you despair. Yet, a sizeable chunk of the population has discovered that in the past 10 years the UK’s tourist industry has raised its game so much that holidaying here isn’t just an alternative, it’s often a first choice.

Granted, winter in the UK has little to do with hot beaches, but a beach isn’t everything. Instead of fighting it, why not go with the seasons? This is a great time to book yourself into a grand hotel in one of the UK’s iconic cities like York, Bath or Liverpool, grab a guidebook and discover just what makes foreign tourists come here in droves. We’re lucky enough to live in a place where castles exist in real life, not just history books. Many of Britain’s former aristocratic houses offer hotel-style accommodation. You could even book out a whole one and gather your extended family together for an unusual Christmas house party. The Stay UK castles are a good place to start.

Proving that we are indeed a nation of inventors, clever hoteliers haven’t just been building places to stay; they’ve been creating places that offer memorable experiences where green credentials add to the experience, be that luxurious, wild or basic.

For instance, in certain corners of Britain old farm buildings combine with modern clean technology to create an experience that is both eco-friendly and relaxing. One such is Buckshead Eco-Cottage on the Welsh–English border, which sits within a working organic farm. It’s completely off-grid: a wind turbine supplies electricity, and water from the local spring is heated by solar panels, backed up by a wood-burning stove. You don’t need to drive there either, as they’ll collect you from the local railway station. The organic vegetables in the kitchen garden are yours to pick (thoughtfully) and you’ll have wonderful views over the Clun Valley. It sleeps four and costs from £300 a week.

Those clever Finns know a fair bit about sustainable living and, with their long dark nights, they’re also pretty nifty at maximising heat and light. On the coast at Ravenscar near Whitby, eight lodges that were constructed and flat-packed in Finland bring modern eco-thinking to Yorkshire. The lodges have views over Robin Hood Bay, feature sun-trapping roof terraces and use a clever heat exchange system to save energy and clean the air. Each lodge sleeps between two and four people, and has a kitchen area, free Wi-Fi and a DVD player. Lodges cost from around £615 a week.

Under the banner of Feather Down, several small-scale farms provide a tented camping experience that leans decidedly towards comfort rather than austerity. Each spacious tent has a canopy bedroom as well as other sleeping areas, with proper mattresses and luxurious bed linen. Heating and cooking are done by means of a wood-burning stove in the middle of the living room, encouraging family gatherings and perhaps even the kind of conversations you remember having when life’s pace was slower.

All Feather Down farmers are committed to helping the countryside towards a sustainable future, with each farm close to a nature reserve or other rural conservation area. You won’t need to bring anything from home because it’s all been well and truly thought out. The farm shop sources goods locally, if not from the farm itself. Kids can visit the henhouse to collect eggs for breakfast; there’s a wood-fired oven for baking bread; and bicycles are available to rent. And at night you can sit outside your tent with a glass of wine and watch the stars.

Three women with a positive and clear collective vision set up the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall, aiming for sustainable style and a warm welcome. As they explain on their website, “Our hotel would remind us why we cherish our husbands and friends and love their company. It will be somewhere to laugh and enjoy simple pleasures.” Rising to the challenge of creating affordable luxury, the owners offer an eco-haven for adults wanting to treat both themselves and the planet well. The hotel makes optimum use of natural heat and light, employs a combination of energy sources, and reduces, reuses and recycles wherever possible. Its 37 stunning rooms allow each guest to benefit from sea views and a balcony. Prices start at £155 a night for lone travellers and £190 a night for couples.

The pleasures may be simple; however, the breathtaking views and location make this an escape to rival anything you would hop on a plane for. The interior is filled with bright colours, beautiful art and the kind of big-scale, large-cushioned furniture that invites serial lounging. The Ayurvedic spa offers further opportunity to restore inner calm and outward appearances. Imagine taking a seaweed bath in a warm tub overlooking the sea – bliss!

We hope these ideas might encourage you to consider an ecofriendly break here in the UK. After all, it can only help your relaxation to know that you are saving the planet too! Do let us know what you think if you visit any of the places we’ve suggested, and tell us if you’ve found other similar destinations that our readers might like.


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