SUE ROBINSON ticks a box on her personal wish list and holidays in a very special National Trust cottage.
My holiday home was the estate manager’s cottage in the grounds of a house that, in its time, had broken new frontiers. Its Victorian owner had created household improvements that nobody else could have dreamt of.
I’d be living for a week on the Northumberland estate of the inventor Lord Armstrong, who was the first to light his home, Cragside, using hydroelectricity.
So as all the UK south of Newcastle baked in unseasonable October sun I, under a darkening sky, opened a gate marked ‘Private’ and entered my new home for the week.
The cottage was charming and I could imagine Lord Armstrong’s tenants queuing at the door to pay their rents or maybe even collect wages.
It was clean and furnished in an Edwardian style. The furniture had been left to the Trust in the will of a member and everything looked perfectly in place and at home.
The bequest extended to photos and books so the cottage had a very personal atmosphere. However I was delighted that the needs of a 21st century holidaymaker were also met.
There was a TV, a fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, fridge/freezer and washing machine and, most importantly for ‘up north’, central heating.
To greet me was a beautiful display of flowers beside a tray with teabags, milk, coffee and a packet of National Trust biscuits, very welcome after a long drive.
The cottage overlooks the Italian Terrace of Cragside’s formal gardens to the east. To the south there were breathtaking views of the Coquet Valley.
It was difficult to choose the better view – both very different but each perfect.
Cragside house is amazing. It’s built high on the side of a crag, hence the name, and looks down onto a valley full of the tallest pines I have ever seen.
To describe it as a house is not to do it justice – Cragside could be a castle in a Disney theme park.
Built in the late 19th century Cragside is mostly Victorian Gothic but with a taste of Tudor and some Arts and Crafts thrown in for luck.
Inside Lord Armstrong filled his home with inventions, gadgets and some ingenious devices. He had trained as a mechanic when young and Cragside is his technological and technical experiment.
He installed central heating, a water-powered lift, fire alarm and a Turkish bath for his guests. When royalty came to stay he built a ballroom.
The interior design is varied, again Victorian gothic meets Tudor repro but with an Arts and Crafts fireplace that takes your breath away.
Lord Armstrong also appreciated fine art and the rooms are furnished with paintings by old masters, he even has a room decorated with William Morris wallpaper.
Outside the house is situated in a beautiful rock garden full of verdant ferns and marked trails. There are miles of footpaths in the surrounding woodland where you can explore all day and not meet anyone. Accessibility on the steep ground is clearly indicated.
But the highlight of staying in a National Trust property is the exclusive use of the gardens when all the visitors go home or, if you’re an early riser, before they arrive. At these times you do feel you have the place to yourself.
Finally a gin and tonic in the Victorian conservatory overlooking the dahlia walk or a cup of tea on the cottage terrace trying to spot the elusive red squirrel – these unique experiences completed a holiday that exceeded my expectations.