Top 10 weird and wonderful British stays


In the 18th century, pineapples were an exotic delicacy in Britain; a symbol of power, wealth and lavish hospitality. Which partially explains why the Earl of Dunmore built this spiky-looking summer house (rumour has it, as a belated wedding present for his wife). Known as the "Dunmore Pineapple", and often described as ''Scotland's most bizarre building", it lords over an immense walled garden (which is managed by the National Trust) 12 kilometres east of Stirling.

As well as being able to nose inside the stony pineapple, guests can get some shut-eye in the old gardeners' quarters – the bothies built either side of the fruity structure. Sleeps four; four nights from $428 a night.


Planted on the pebbly beach of Aldeburgh, a quaint seaside town on the delightfully chilled-out Suffolk coast, this chunky quatrefoil-shaped building was part of a network of defence posts constructed to protect Britain's shores from Napoleon.

The tower's vaulted, teak-floored interior has been neatly renovated into two bedrooms, a spacious living area and kitchen. A tip: buy takeaway fish and chips from the renowned town chippy, or freshly caught shellfish from the beach-side fishermen's huts, and dine on the tower's old rooftop battery to a backdrop of squawking seagulls and breaking North Sea waves. Sleeps four; four nights from $977.


Enhancing the photogenic allure of Penzance's Chapel Street, a sloping stretch lined with idiosyncratic boutiques and nautical-themed pubs, is the exceedingly flamboyant Egyptian House. Formerly a Victorian shop and museum selling books, geological finds and minerals, it now shelters three well-sized apartments behind a gloriously gaudy facade.

A five-minute stroll from Penzance harbour, Egyptian House is a fine base for exploring West Cornwall, with St Ives, St Michael's Mount and the Minack Theatre all within a 30-minute drive away. Sleeps four; four nights from $317.


Tucked among fields by the North Yorkshire Moors, the Pigsty resembles a Grecian temple. Constructed with timber columns, it's believed to have been inspired by its builder's travels across the Mediterranean in the 1880s. The Pigsty's erstwhile porcine residents – and their troughs – are long gone, and windows have been added to cut out the draughts.

Guests can enjoy views over the hills towards the sandy beaches around Robin Hood's Bay, and visit the neighbouring town of Whitby, whose haunting clifftop abbey made an appearance in Dracula. Bram Stoker became enchanted by it while holidaying in the area. Sleeps two; four nights from $469.


A grand Georgian gateway is all that remains of this one-time prison, which used to accommodate up to 70 wrongdoers (most of whom were guilty of minor crimes and misdemeanors such as petty theft, disorderly conduct or that once serious, subversive offence of idleness). Ideal for families, the House of Correction has two bedrooms – one double and a twin – and its renovated living area is furnished with a roaring fire and sleek kitchen.


Nearby places of interest include Woolsthorpe Manor, the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, and Belton House, which featured in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice (starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle). Sleeps four; four nights from $568.


Built in the 1800s as a weekend pad for an affluent lawyer, the red-brick chateau wouldn't look out of place in the French countryside. But it sits atop a grassy knoll above a bend of the River Trent on the edge of Gate Burton park, 20 kilometres north of the cathedral city of Lincoln (whose historic castle, by the way, has just reopened after a $40 million restoration project). The chateau has retained much of its period style.

Its downstairs space has an elegant entrance hall, while its principal upstairs room has a high coved ceiling and balcony overlooking the surrounding parkland. In the visitor book, one guest wrote: "It is like living in a very upmarket doll's house." Sleeps two; four nights from $568.


Gracing the Sandringham Estate, the private home to four generations of British monarchs since 1862, the Appleton Water Tower was built to provide a clean water supply following a series of typhoid outbreaks. Some of the junior royals even laid the foundation stones. Still boasting its distinctive neo-Byzantine shell, the tower has a fully rewired, replumbed and redecorated interior with two bedrooms and a cosy dining room. Scale the tower's spiral staircase and from the terrace on top of the tank, you can survey north Norfolk's bucolic wooded countryside and dune-fringed coastline. Sleeps four; four nights from $902.


In the mid 19th century, Britain's maritime chiefs decided to protect naval bases such as Plymouth from attack by land as well as by sea, so a chain of forts was built. The best-preserved of these Victorian defences is Crownhill, whose steep earth ramparts enfold a central parade ground, around which are the old officers' quarters that have been turned into guests' accommodation.

Boasting sweeping views towards Dartmoor and the sea, the fort is studded with vintage maritime and military paraphernalia, and has kept its atmospheric, explorable tunnels. Sleeps eight; four nights from $792.


Dramatically plonked above a steep wooded gorge near the Yorkshire Dales, this eclectic little pavilion – a former banqueting house – fuses a medley of architectural styles, with Gothic, Georgian and Classical elements shaping what has become a popular honeymoon retreat.

Part of the Hackfall Gardens, a man-moulded 18th century landscape of flowerbeds, follies and waterfalls, the Ruin is most eye-catching for its triple-domed "ruin" cap, which some believe evokes ancient Rome. Inside you'll find a bedroom, bathroom and an elegantly decorated sitting room that opens on to a terrace granting idyllic countryside vistas. Sleeps two; four nights from $530.


A victim of the infamous Dr Beeching, whose 1960s overhaul of Britain's railways led to a drastic reduction in branch lines and local stations, this old railway hub is a treat for train buffs. As well as being able to stroll, or cycle, on the abandoned line, you get to bed down in the station's old Italianate villa-style ticket office and former stationmasters' house.

You can cook in the small private waiting room, and dine by the fire on the long table in the main waiting room. Nearby Alton Towers – one of the country's best-loved theme parks – makes for a great family day out. Sleeps eight; four nights from $832.

Steve McKenna travelled as a guest of Visit Britain