If you’re planning a getaway to the UK, you don’t have to be loaded to stay somewhere picturesque. There are plenty of places you can find paradise for peanuts – in fact, some will even pay you to stay.
Stay for free
Housesit by the beach
Register with a housesitting service and you could choose to stay in someone’s home for a weekend or longer; most companies charge a small fee but it’s worth it for the range of clients they have. Mind My House, for example, which charges just Dhs75 to register as a sitter, recently had a weekend housesit just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in Worthing in West Sussex.
Get spiritual near Stonehenge
In exchange for conservation work at Hazel Hill Wood, a 70-acre woodland just 11km from Salisbury, you can get food and accommodation on a range of conservation weekends. Facilities include heated sleeping lofts or camping, an indoor group room, civilised toilets and showers.
Hazel Hill Wood, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, www.hazelhill.org.uk (+44 7769 598 141).
Go wild camping on the Downs
While it’s technically illegal to plonk your tent down on any patch of land that takes your fancy, if you choose your spot carefully (not next door to the farmhouse, say) there’s a good chance no one will bother you. The more remote parts of the North and South Downs in Sussex are good beginners’ sites. The South Downs is home to the majestic Seven Sisters chalk hills – well worth the trip.
Dhs100 or less
Bunk up in a youth hostel
The Youth Hostel Association has 200 hostels in England and Wales, many of them in great rural locations – such as the one in Saffron Walden, in a 600-year-old former maltings with oak beams. Prices start at Dhs87 a night for non-members.
Myddylton Place, Saffron Walden, Essex, www.yha.org.uk (+44 845 371 9137).
Camp by the sea in Suffolk
The seaside town of Southwold has many charms, from candy-striped beach huts to an enchanting pier. Pitch up at Harbour Camping, 1.6km out of town, and it’s a mere hop over the dunes to a large sandy beach. About Dhs87 a night for two adults.
Ferry Road, Southwold, Suffolk, www.waveney.gov.uk (+44 1502 722 486).
Get scary in East Sussex
Camping in East Sussex’s bewitching Blackberry Wood, near Ditchling, amid leafy clearings, is perfect for ghost stories. Set up in one of the 20 or so pitches – or you can opt to stay in a retro caravan, or even a London bus. Camping from Dhs29 a night; caravans from Dhs116 a night; bus Dhs290 a night; plus Dhs29 to Dhs46 per adult.
Streat, Sussex, www.blackberrywood.com (+44 1273 890 035).
Go commuter camping at Debden
If you’re staying mostly in London and want to keep your camping really cheap and cheerful, head east on the Central Line to Debden House, seven fields over a 50-acre site that offers party camping at its noisy, raucous best. Two fields have huge fire pits around which friends and families gather to play music; it’s just like a festival but without the annoying bands. Perfect. Dhs40 per adult per night.
Debden Green, Loughton, Essex, www.debdenhouse.com (+44 208 508 3008).
Dhs700 or less
A volunteer weekend in Dorset
Volunteer weekends at National Trust sites involve anything from cleaning up beaches and moats to setting up weekend theatres. For Dhs350 per person you could spend a weekend weeding ragwort on the Golden Cap Estate in Dorset, with a guided walk on the Jurassic Coast on the Sunday, or upgrade to a premium weekend in a holiday cottage from Dhs700 per person.
Filcombe Farmhouse, Muddyford Lane, Bridport, Dorset, www.nationaltrust.org.uk (+44 1297 489 481).
Find your inner cowboy in Somerset
Set in an 18th-century farmhouse on a 100-acre farm near Badgworth in Somerset, the Mendip Stud offers western riding lessons for the energetic, or a lake and extensive grounds for the less equestrian-inclined. The Mendip Hills and Weston-super-Mare are close by, and so are Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole Caves for rainy days. Accommodation in an elegant double room starts at Dhs320 a night; one-hour riding lessons are Dhs218.
Bow Farm, Badgworth, www.themendipstud.com (+44 1934 751 258).
Bed down in a Sussex yurt
Hate camping but love the experience of nodding off to the noise of nature? Woodland Yurting could be your nirvana. Opened last spring, this tiny site in Shadow Woods, on the edge of the South Downs and the High Weald on the Surrey/Sussex border, is a delight; it has five functional yurts (traditional Central Asian style structures) dotted around the woods and a nearby meadow. Yurts come with a lantern, gas stove, cooler box, firebowl and even bedding if you don’t want to bring your own, all for Dhs700 for a two-night weekend retreat in a double yurt.
Shadow Woods, Weald Downlands, West Sussex, www.woodlandyurting.com.
Stay in a train on the South Downs
Set just outside the town of Petworth in West Sussex, the Old Railway Station lets you stay in a converted Victorian railway station, with old Pullman carriages acting as characterful rooms – and all from Dhs262 per person per night. Breakfast is served on the platform when it’s sunny, or in the waiting room when it’s not. This being the South Downs there are great walks, while nearby Petworth is a must for antique-shop fans.
Petworth, West Sussex, www.old-station.co.uk (+44 1798 342 346).
Sample a spa in Bognor Regis
Last year, holiday camp chain Butlins unveiled the Dhs117 million Ocean Spa Hotel at Bognor Regis, where most of the 200 rooms feature rainfall showers, balconies and views of the sea or South Downs. A midweek two-night stay starts at Dhs356 per person, leaving you spare cash to try the spa, which includes a snow cave and a choice of around 70 relaxing treatments, with prices from Dhs116.
Bognor Regis Resort, West Sussex, www.butlins.com (+44 1243 820 202).
Dhs1,200 or less
Time-travel on the Isle of Wight
With a secret rocket launch site, a tiny train network that uses old London tube carriages and miles of glorious white cliffs, the Isle of Wight is a real island paradise, just 15 minutes by ferry from Portsmouth. A two-night stay in a ’50s caravan starts from Dhs930.
Hazlegrove Farm, Ashey, Isle of Wight, www.vintagevacations.co.uk (+44 7802 758 113).
Be the Colonel Kurtz of the Cotswolds
Follow the nautical trend with a riverboat hotel weekend exploring Britain’s waterways. Stay on the cute Edward Elgar riverboat as it makes its way through the Cotswolds on the Severn. It’s not Apocalypse Now, but it has an air of rural France. Weekends from Dhs1,138 include two nights in a double cabin, six meals and three ports of call.
Live like a king in King’s Lynn
King’s Lynn in Norfolk is a medieval town that rewards the intrepid explorer – nip down any unlikely-looking alleyway and you may stumble upon an Elizabethan watchtower. Stay at the swish Bank House Hotel, an 18th-century townhouse with all mod cons, including a great restaurant and river terrace. Double rooms from Dhs583 per night, including breakfast.
Quayside, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, www.thebankhouse.co.uk (+44 1553 660 492).
Have a sandy clamber at Camber
Camber Sands in Sussex is a glorious seven-mile-long beach protected by a wall of sand dunes. Its secluded western end sits opposite the modernist boutique hotel Place at the Beach, which kick-started the gentrification of Camber and is still a real draw for couples and families looking for good food and a quiet weekend. Double rooms from Dhs578 per night.
New Lydd Road, Camber, East Sussex, www.theplaceatthebeach.co.uk (+44 1797 225 057).
Need to know
Gulf Air flies to London Heathrow via Bahrain (approx 10 hours travel time) from about Dhs2,900 return (www.gulfair.com, 04 271 3222). Alternatively, fly direct with Emirates to Gatwick, Heathrow or Manchester from about Dhs3,600 return (www.emirates.ae, 04 214 4444).