Section 2 /
Homes & Design

Towering ambition

Fancy staying in a folly, or a fort built to resist Napoleon? Now you can thanks to the Landmark Trust opening its quirkiest properties, as Alex Peake-Tomkinson discovers

Revolutionary: nearly a million bricks were used to build the Martello
(John Miller)

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If you’ve ever wanted to spend the night in a Martello Tower erected to stop Napoleon landing on the Suffolk coast, or in a pink seaside villa that once belonged to author John Fowles, now is your chance.

Booking for the Landmark Trust’s five most popular properties – which include a miniature classical pavilion in Shropshire, a 13th-century castle in Warwickshire and a four-storey folly in Dorset – for the second half of 2019 opens to the public tomorrow. These renovated gems are some of the most startlingly quirky properties you could hope to rent.

Coed y Bleiddiau, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd

Full steam ahead: a train passes the cottage (Peter Napier)

Alongside the five already established jewels in the Landmark Trust crown, Coed y Bleiddiau, a small railway cottage nestled in Snowdonia National Park with its own private platform, will also be bookable for the first time.  

This cottage is built of local slate and granite and sits at the base of the mountain slope surrounded by woodland. It has its own private platform, so you can arrive by steam train, if you time your journey according to the timetable. Coed y Bleiddiau means “Wood of the Wolves”, and it’s said the last wolf in Wales was killed on the heavily wooded slopes that surround the cottage. Its low eaves and thick walls make it a cosy space. The first inhabitant, railway superintendent T Henry Hovenden, no doubt felt the same as he lived there with his wife and six children.

Martello Tower in Aldeburgh, Suffolk

In clover: it has a quatrefoil shape (John Miller)

One of the most striking properties in the Landmark Trust’s portfolio is the Martello Tower in Aldeburgh, along the Suffolk coast, the largest in a chain of towers built to keep Napoleon out. It has a quatrefoil shape, which means  it resembles a clover leaf from above. Almost one million bricks were used in its construction to support the heavy guns mounted on the roof. Highly atmospheric, you can lie in bed here and hear the sea, or just walk along the shingle beach.

The Birdhouse in Badger, Shropshire

Gilded cage: the miniature pavilion was designed in the Greek revival style (John Miller)

Designed in 1783 by the architect James Wyatt, The Birdhouse lies above a natural ravine known as the Dingle and could make a romantic hideaway for two. The first owner of the miniature classical pavilion was wealthy industrialist Isaac Hawkins Browne. He was inspired by his travels to commission a building in the Greek revival style and he hired William Emes, a pupil of Capability Brown, to further enhance the natural beauty of the surrounding valley. There are different ideas about why it has been called The Birdhouse, but we think it’s because it hangs like a birdcage above the ravine.

Astley Castle in Nueaton, Warwickshire

An Englishman’s home: Astley Castle was renovated after a fire in 1978 (John Miller) 

This is one of the most iconic of the Landmark Trust properties. It dates back to the 13th century and the site has been owned by three queens of England. The castle was close to collapse after a fire in 1978 and required more than a conventional renovation project to make it habitable. The Landmark Trust instead decided to build unabashedly modern living accommodation within the structure of an ancient castle and, as a result, it won the Riba Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2013.

Belmont in Lyme Regis, Dorset

Pretty in pink: the seaside villa has an observatory tower with a revolving roof garden (John Miller)

If you fancy staying in the pink seaside villa once owned by the author John Fowles, this is for you. It sleeps eight but you might want to spend some time alone in John Fowles’ writing room, where you could try to emulate the author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman by writing your own masterpiece. When he bought the property, Fowles complained of its “rotting wood, leaking drains, broken joists”, but it has now been restored to its Georgian splendour.

There is a Victorian observatory tower with a revolving roof in the garden. Most of the long garden has been left to grow wild, and it leads to the esplanade, with a pebble beach and the Cobb beyond, where you could imitate Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman and stand on it in a hooded cape.

Clavell Tower in Kimmeridge, Dorset

Sheer folly: it overlooks the dramatic bay (John Miller)

Belmont is not the only Landmark Trust property popular with literary geniuses. Thomas Hardy courted his first love, Eliza Nicholl, at the four-storey folly Clavell Tower. The crime writer PD James also featured it as the scene of a murder in her novel The Black Tower. As recently as 2002 the tower was in danger of collapse. The gradual erosion of the cliff which the tower stood on meant the Landmark Trust was left with no option but to dismantle it and re-erect it on firmer ground. They moved it back from the cliff’s edge but positioned it so that it retains as many of its original sight lines as possible. 

To register and to book from 3 March, visit the Landmark Trust website (www.landmarktrust.org.uk).