Great British breaks
Tighter budgets mean that more of us are cutting back on non-essential spending such as meals out, gym membership and new furniture. So it’s no surprise that the requisite summer holiday is also under scrutiny.
Spain’s tourism ministry revealed that 148,000 fewer Britons visited the country in January 2009 compared with a year ago, and 57% of us say we will make adjustments to our usual holiday plans, according to a survey from Legal & General. While 32% of Brits cannot afford a holiday at all this year, 21% say they plan to holiday in the UK instead.
Our rich heritage, array of cultures and beautiful natural scenery all account for the UK’s long-established reputation as a popular tourist destination, with 23.7 million visitors from Europe, 3.8 million from the US and 4.5 million from the rest of the world visiting every year.
And while you might think a holiday at home means eating greasy fry-ups at a badly decorated B&B with the rain pouring down, a summer holiday in Blightly could offer much more than that.
When to go
To find that great holiday at home, make sure you book early.
“If you’re looking to go at a busy time of the year, get booking now. UK bookings are up, so although you may be lucky and get a last–minute deal, you’ll get less choice,” says Bob Atkinson, travel expert for travelsupermarket.com. Booking early will also ensure you get the cheapest deal possible.
Hayley Senior, spokesperson for Visit Britain, a tourist information agency, agrees. She adds that you should take a bit of time out to research your options: “You need to really dig around for a good deal.”
As well as visitbritain.co.uk, which has links to accommodation websites, Tom Hall, travel editor for the Lonely Planet guides, suggests contacting the individual tourist boards of each county. These will have links to more local places and websites.
Type of holiday
But before you start looking for a deal you need to decide what type of holiday you’re after.
Holiday camps are currently experiencing a boom – Butlins has seen a 15% increase in guest numbers for the six-week peak summer period, and its upmarket version, Centre Parcs, has seen bookings rise 15.9% for the next financial year.
“There’s been a lot of upgrading of facilities, but there’s also a certain nostalgia about these places. They are very activity-driven – stars from TV’s X-Factor come to perform there and it’s a lot of fun for the kids,” says Atkinson.
However, going to a holiday camp isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re more of an outdoor type, spending your holiday at a well-established campsite, such as one of the Haven campsites, might be a better option. Depending on your budget, you can camp, stay in a mobile home or in a luxury lodge, chalet or apartment.
You will have the advantage of extra facilities, such as an indoor swimming pool and kids’ clubs, and the parks have enviable locations near the sea.
If you want to scale things down a bit further why not opt for a smaller family-run campsite or even a farm that has a field reserved for tent pitches? “Camping only costs between £10 and £20 a night for a family of four, and farms with small sites will cost a lot less than the all-singing, all-dancing corporate sites,” says Atkinson.
Camping is undoubtedly one of the cheapest ways to holiday and it has definitely become more chic. “It’s no longer about putting up with a leaky tent: you can rent a tipi in a Cornish field or find a small campsite with fabulous sea views,” says Hall.
Trendy yurts and tipis are furnished with rugs, boho blankets and comfy hay beds. For example, Featherdown Farms operates at 22 farms countrywide, and all its ‘tents’ come with a flushing toilet, wood-burning stove and wooden floors. Go to featherdown.co.uk or call 01420 80804 for more information.
For the more authentic approach to camping Jonathan Knight, author of Cool Camping England, recommends wild camping. “It’s cheaper and a much richer experience. In England and Wales, Dartmoor is the only place where wild camping is allowed by law.”
However, it’s completely legal to wild camp in the whole of Scotland. But there are some basic rules to follow: you shouldn’t camp anywhere for more than three nights; avoid enclosed fields and residential areas; avoid making fires; and follow the ‘leave no trace’ rule with rubbish. Go to outdooraccess-scotland.com for more information.
If you fancy a more stationary holiday, renting a holiday home could be what you’re after. But hiring a cottage or holiday home is always going to be one of the pricier accommodation options. However, going in a big group will cut the cost.
Another alternative is house swapping, which is as cheap as wild camping (that is free) – ukholidayswapshop.co.uk is the first website to exclusively feature houses in the UK, and for a limited time, annual membership to the site costs £14.95 compared with £29.95 normally.
Much like the mod-con camping facilities, B&Bs have had to smarten up in order to attract new business. They are good value for a few nights, stay, but a week for a family can be pricey. For example, it would cost £800 for two adults and two children at a B&B in Snowdonia.
A better option might be a youth hostel. Some hostels market themselves specifically at the 18-35 crowd. “These places tend to have a bar and they want to be known as party hostels,” says Colm Hanratty, editor of hostelworld.com. This might make it less ideal if you’re going with your family.
Another option is student accommodation. “Universities often rent out student rooms during the holidays, providing a low-cost place to stay,” says Senior.
Finally, make sure you save money on getting to your destination. Instead of paying for an expensive flight, take the train or coach to your destination. Just as students benefit from their young persons railcard, senior citizens and families can get a third off their rail journeys too.
By getting a railcard, which costs £24 a year, you’ll get a third off adult train tickets and 60% off a children’s ‘with the family’ pass. See familyandfriendsrailcard.co.uk.
“Book 12 weeks in advance for the cheapest fares,” says Hall.
Where to go in Britain
1. The Western Isles
Renowned for their wild beauty, the Western Isles offer fantastic scenery and the chance ‘to get away from it all’. Wild-camp on the west coast for a spot of bird and seal watching.
The foreign backpackers’ favourite should be appreciated by Brits too. Whether you want to enjoy the Edinburgh Festival or simply hit the shops and enjoy some city living, Edinburgh is a friendly place to visit.
3. Berwick, North East England
Enjoy the beautiful, expansive Northumbrian coastline, and if the weather turns, an indoor swimming pool and other activities will keep you entertained at Haven’s Park in Berwick.
4. Lake District
Great scenery and walks means even if it rains you won’t mind as much and staying in one of featherdown.co.uk’s fancy tents will help too.
5. Peak District
Walk, climb or cycle in Britain’s first national park, then head back to your very own yurt, courtesy of ambervalleys.co.uk.
Use ukholidayswapshop.co.uk to find a home from home in this beautiful Regency city, and spend your savings on a day at Bath Spa, then tea at the pump house. £29.95 or £560 at YHA Bath, an Italianate mansion with its own gardens
One of Jonathan Knight’s favourite finds is Eweleaze farm campsite in Dorset. It’s situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty and has access to its own private beach.
Admittedly one of the most expensive cities in the world, but there’s plenty to do for free, from museums and galleries to strolling through the parks. If you use ukholidayswapshop.co.uk, then accommodation will be free too.