Country escapes don’t come more welcoming than Ringshall Grange, a manor house near Stowmarket in Suffolk.
The old rectory is Grade II listed and has just undergone a restoration project that saw the moat dredged and refilled while 1,000 trees and hedgerows, bulbs and flowers were planted in the grounds. It’s no surprise that the result is an all-year haven for wildlife.
Relaxing in the distinctly modern addition of the eight-seat hot tub, we watched ducks and moorhens in the moat, while under the trees deer foraged and pheasants wandered past.
Winter welcomes: Ringshall Grange, which dates from 1560, is set among 130 acres of private grounds
Quieter groups than ours might spot the resident barn owl, kingfishers and kestrels as well as hares and otters. Ringshall Grange is well set up for youngsters, with play equipment, high chairs and cots. For older children, there are 130 acres of private grounds to roam, and we headed outdoors every day – in brightly coloured Hunter wellies chosen from the selection lined up for guest use in the boot room.
Building a den in the middle of an ancient forest was another highlight. In the mornings my husband whipped up a full English using local organic eggs left for us by our host. In the afternoons it was wonderful to settle down in front of the roaring open fire in the drawing room, the huge sash windows framing the rustic views like a painting.
Ringshall Grange dates from 1560, but today the interiors are spot on, with velvet sofas, fourposter beds and statement wallpaper. Our day trips around Suffolk included a short drive to Lavenham, considered Britain’s best-preserved medieval village. With more than 300 listed buildings, including the National Trust’s historic Guildhall in the market square, it’s a step back in time.
We also found a friendly pub for Sunday lunch, The Punch Bowl Inn, a bracing 45-minute walk away in the village of Battisford. Then there’s the chance to see the Viking gold at Sutton Hoo, a 40-minute drive away, or blow away the cobwebs at the seaside towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold or the village of Walberswick.
Although we all need to abide by the restrictions on travel and gatherings during the pandemic, it should still be possible to arrange a festive staycation for our nearest and dearest. To help, we have included prices that comply with the ‘rule of six’.
Ringshall Grange, Suffolk
Cooking good: The large rustic kitchen at Ringshall Grange in Suffolk
At Christmas Ringshall can be rented for £5,000 for seven nights or £119 per person per night if divided by six guests
Where: Ringshall is four miles south of Stowmarket in the heart of Suffolk.
Festive fun: Games room with pool table, darts and bar area; karaoke room with hundreds of fancy-dress outfits and wigs; a large dining room with open fire. Expect Christmas decorations, including two trees as well as a festive welcome hamper of organic local goodies.
Sleeps: In normal times it can host up to 23 in eight bedrooms.
Christmas week: £5,000 for seven nights or £119 per person per night if divided by six guests to comply with the rule of six (ringshallgrange.co.uk).
Culls Cottage, Gloucestershire
Culls Cottage in Gloucestershire is a great spot for a Boxing Day walk, with many cosy Cotswolds pubs on the doorstep
Where: Southrop, near Lechlade.
Festive fun: This Grade II listed cottage could come straight from the front of a Christmas card. Luxurious interiors include an inglenook fireplace with wood-burner and Christmas extras include a tree, crackers and bottle of champagne. You’re in a great spot for a Boxing Day walk to one of the many cosy Cotswolds pubs.
Sleeps: Up to six in three bedrooms.
Christmas week: £2,995 for seven nights or £71 per person per night if divided by six (oneoffplaces.co.uk).
Gitcombe House, Devon
The stately dining room at Gitcombe House, with room for all the family
Where: Set on the private Gitcombe estate, a short drive from Totnes.
Festive fun: Prep your Christmas lunch in the farmhouse kitchen, complete with an Aga, and tuck in on the large mahogany table in the stately dining room. There are tennis courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and children’s play areas.
Sleeps: Up to 13 in five bedrooms.
Christmas week: £4,126 for seven nights or £98 per person per night if divided by six (luxurycoastal.co.uk).
Wolfen Mill, Lancashire
One of the 11 stylish bedrooms in Lancashire’s Wolfen Mill. It costs £6,456 for seven nights over the Christmas period
Where: The village of Chipping in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland.
Festive fun: This 16th Century former water mill has bi-fold doors opening on to a deck overlooking the mill dam and is ideally located for idyllic walks in the Bowland Fells. Children can enjoy a tractor ride, run wild in the adventure play area or explore tunnels in the hay barn. There’s a hot tub and no fewer than three kitchens – that’s one for each course of Christmas dinner, perhaps…
Sleeps: Up to 22 in 11 bedrooms.
Christmas week: £6,456 for seven nights or £153 per person per night if divided by six (sykescottages.co.uk).
Polpier House, Cornwall
Where: Village of Mevagissey, five miles south of St Austell.
Festive fun: Any takers for a bracing Christmas morning swim? Polpier overlooks the harbour, but if it’s too chilly the two-acre gardens include a heated pool as well as a croquet lawn, clay tennis court suite, with a romantic wood-burning stove, overlooks an orchard.
Sleeps: Up to 16 in eight bedrooms.
Christmas week: £11,400 for seven nights or £271 per person per night if divided by six (thewowhousecompany.co.uk).
Thatch Cottage, Derbyshire
Where: Ticknall, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
Sleeps: Up to six in three bedrooms.
Festive fun: This quaint 17th Century thatched cottage on the National Trust’s Calke Abbey country estate couldn’t be more picturesque or more peaceful. Red and fallow deer roam freely and you can enjoy more than 600 acres of woods and parkland in private – at least until the day- time visitors arrive. In the cottage you get low-beamed ceilings and there’s a big fireplace that’s perfect for Father Christmas to come through.
Christmas week: £1,399 for seven nights or £33 per person per night if divided by six (nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays).
The pretty Orbis farmhouse in Dorset, which can sleep up to 12 guests with six bedrooms
Where: The tiny hamlet of Milborne Wick near Sherborne.
Festive fun: This impossibly pretty farmhouse has luxurious interiors, an orangery, games room and cosy living room with wood-burner. Watch Christmas movies on the giant projector screen or stroll through the gorgeous gardens that include a mill stream and a grotto that would suit the pickiest Santa. There’s even a hot tub, sauna and steam room.
Sleeps: Up to 12 in six bedrooms.
Christmas week: £13,500 for seven nights or £321 per person per night if divided by six (uniquehomestays.com).
Auchterarder House, Perthshire
Auchterarder House in Perthshire features ten bedrooms with perks including a cinema room, gym and billiard room
It costs £40,000 to rent Auchterarder House for a week – or £952 per person per night if divided by six
Where: Auchterarder, close to Gleneagles and 30 miles from Edinburgh.
Festive fun: With stunning views of the Grampian mountains and the Cairngorms, the 20 acres of grounds include a private loch. There’s also a cinema room, gym, conservatory and billiard room. A Christmas tree and decorations can be supplied.
Sleeps: Up to 20 in ten bedrooms.
Christmas week: £40,000 for seven nights or £952 per person per night if divided by six (ltrcastles.com).
Carrington Manor, Northamptonshire
Where: In the village of Mears Ashby.
Festive fun: Burn off the Quality Street with a stroll round the grounds of this Grade II listed Jacobean house, featuring ornamental lakes, a stream, woodland and paddocks, plus a tennis court, games barn and hot tub. Then get the party started in the disco room, complete with glitterball!
Sleeps: Up to 20 in nine bedrooms.
Christmas week: £12,500 for seven nights or £297 per person per night if divided by six (thewowhousecompany.co.uk).
Compass House, Cornwall
Compass House in Cornwall looks over the beach and steps from the house lead down to the sand
Where: By Porthminster Beach in St Ives.
Festive fun: This classic Edwardian villa looks over the beach towards St Ives – a view that is particularly striking from the double-aspect tower bedroom. Steps from the house lead down to the beach.
Sleeps: Up to six in three bedrooms.
Christmas week: £3,665 for seven nights or £87 per person per night if divided by six (cornishgems.com).
Gupton Farm Surf Lodge, Pembrokeshire
Where: On the Wales Coast Path near Pembroke.
Festive fun: If surfing doesn’t appeal, you couldn’t find a more scenic spot for an off-grid Christmas, surrounded by 800 acres of working farmland. And you can discover breathtaking beaches and wildlife on the Wales Coast.
Sleeps: Up to ten in five bedrooms.
Christmas week: £1,999 for seven nights or £47 per person per night if divided by six (nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays).