Why you should care

Because vacations are about leaving behind the ordinary — and you won’t find anything this weird and wonderful on Airbnb. 

It’s said that an Englishman’s home is his castle — which doesn’t mean all Brits ache for a drafty, turreted pile, but rather that they will glorify the most humble, unlikely dwellings they can get their hands on and celebrate them as a quintessential exercise in self-expression.

Which is why many Brits spend years converting their garden sheds into eclectic retreats, while others take everything from wartime lookouts to old double-decker buses and transform them into unusual places to spend the night.

Interior of room with jail door

Malmaison Oxford

Then there is the railroad carriage that once traversed the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Today, it’s parked in a cottage garden in the middle of Dorset, aka Thomas Hardy country. The gleaming brass and leatherware are still in place, down to the old luggage straps, but under the original wood-beamed vaulted ceiling, a bench that converts to a double bed has been installed — along with window seats, a full kitchen and an antique French stove to keep the tootsies warm.Take the horsebox being rented out by Canopy & Stars, a company that specializes in finding quirky places to stay in the U.K. “Ges,” a 40-year-old truck that once transported thoroughbreds, has been decked out with cabin beds, paired with a pony trailer bathroom complete with compost toilet and hot shower, and marooned in the midst of a wildflower meadow in verdant Surrey. No windows, alas, but you can throw the back open when the rain holds off — an increasingly prevalent state of play in southern England since global warming kicked in.

…built for no reason at all except to allow the architect a bit of fun with stone and bricks left over from creating the great estate on which it sits.

Fancy a quirky place to rest your head that’s not on wheels? The Malmaison Oxford is a spectacular conversion of a medieval jail that retains all the accoutrements of a prison cell block. But only the austere corridors and vertiginous walkways allude to the building’s grim past — three cells were knocked down to make each luxurious suite, and doing time in the neon-lit cocktail bar is an eminently pleasant form of detention.

Britain’s Landmark Trust, which preserves historic buildings by commercializing them, is renting out a Martello Tower, one of the circular structures dotting the English shoreline that once protected the green and pleasant land from Napoleon’s army. Perched on the Suffolk coast in the picturesque, pastel-painted village of Aldeburgh, the interior of this particular tower retains a spartan, military feel with a canopied main room and handsome teak floor suggesting a nautical war room.

Interior of living space with canopy below ceiling

Martello Tower

As you’d expect, the trust has historic houses and lighthouses galore for rent, but the tour de force is that uniquely English expression of eccentricity: the folly, built for no reason at all except to allow the architect a bit of fun with stone and bricks left over from creating the great estate on which it sits. A favorite folly is the Gothic Temple in Stowe, awash with circular rooms and painted heraldry. As a guest wrote in the visitors’ book, “I’m glad the Gothic Temple exists, so ordinary people can stay in places as extraordinary as this.”

And thanks to the British bug for conserving and rejoicing in the useless but original, it looks as if quirky, one-of-a-kind digs are set to stay around in perpetuity.

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