I used to wonder if I fell into the group of Type A personality – I always love to have a project on the go, I like to think I’m proactive and I do have lots of ambitions, which hopefully I’m working my way through achieving – but then I resorted to Wikipedia to look up the definition of Type A personality. “Obsessed with time management” and “rigidly organised?” ERR. NO. These are not traits I possess. So let’s forget typecasting personalities and stick to facts. I am hopelessly tardy and the mountain of lost umbrellas on the London Underground, once belonging to me, would argue with whether I am organised but I really do love having a good project to plan.
When the opportunity arose to sort out our annual countryside reunion with friends, I jumped at the chance to get my teeth stuck in; looking at destinations, properties, reviews and activities – all the things I love doing anyway and it gets a task done. And then I started to hit the stumbling blocks and it went from being a fun project to being a royal pain. All’s well that ends well but I learned a few lessons along the way which I hope you’ll find useful.
Planning a UK country cottage break
- Avoid school holidays (unless you have school-aged children obviously). Unfortunately, by the time, I clocked onto this nugget of knowledge, we had firmly set the date but availability is hugely limited, many cottages have a minimum one week stay policy and prices are inflated compared to other times of year. If you do need to book during school holidays, start searching well in advance.
- Compare and contrast websites – I searched Cottages 4 you, Sykes Cottages, English Country Cottages and Holiday Lettings and I noticed that it is sometimes possible to find the same property appearing on different sites but with marginal price differences.
- Carry Cash – a tip aimed primarily at the urban folk among you but us Londoners are hopeless at carrying cash. We pay for our morning coffees on card, we pay for our meals on card, we pay for our groceries on card and we assume that when we need cash, there will be an ATM within arm’s length. Clearly, this is not the case out in rural villages. The nearest cash point is likely to be a drive away and whilst most restaurants and pubs do take card payment, there is nothing more embarrassing than queuing in the local village shop with a punnet of organic strawberries in hand and having to hand over your Mastercard. Trust me.
- Be flexible with rooms. Most cottages are designed to cater for parties of both adults and children so if, like us, you are travelling as a group of adults only, you will have far more options if you are prepared to entertain twin rooms (two years ago, one of the couples in our group even accepted a bunk bed, graciously taking one for the team!)
- Consider activities. Our countryside breaks have involved clay pigeon shooting, hill-walking, visiting beaches and most recently seal-spotting. We are reasonably flexible so tend to select property first and then see what’s around but if there are specific outdoor activities you are interested in, try and pre-determine your location accordingly.
- Check the layout of the cottage – sounds obvious but the point of a weekend like this is to socialise and relax with your friends and family so it follows that a nice open plan kitchen/living room, ample outdoor furniture and large, accommodating living rooms facilitate this. In the cottage we stayed in this year, we noticed what a huge difference it made having open-plan, spacious, communal areas.
Country cottages or country hotels?
– We have always opted for self-catered cottages but there are pros and cons with both. The cottage experience feels like a home away from home and is more private and cohesive. But this does mean you often need to bring your own food and drink, potentially cook your own meals and clean up after yourself. If you prefer a country break with spas, room service, buffet breakfasts and leaving the cooking and cleaning behind, then a self-catered cottage is not for you but there is no shortage of beautiful countryside resorts and hotels.
- Check what amenities are provided. It’s the staple items like washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets that can get forgotten but try and find out how much kitchen equipment is stocked, such as cooking utensils and crockery. This helps you prepare what you need to bring if you are planning to cook up a storm and although most places ought to provide basics, it is not uncommon to find places that don’t.
- Don’t rely on your GPS (hugely hypocritical coming from me, considering how much I rely on mine) but it was Pumpkin’s pearl of wisdom that we should print out paper maps because in the depths of the English countryside, you are often faced with dark, quiet, winding, rural roads and a GPS that doesn’t pick up any signal – which the clueless Londoner in me hadn’t even considered.
- This is an ideal time for a supermarket delivery – I’ve still never ordered groceries to be delivered to my home. I have no objection to it but I know that once I cross that boundary, I’ll venture into a dangerous level of laziness. But on occasions like this, it worked a treat to wake up at the cottage on Saturday morning and have all our rations for the weekend delivered straight to our door.
What are your helpful tips for planning weekend trips and have you had any mishaps that you have learned from?