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My Best-Kept Secret for a Cheap Outdoorsy Weekend in the U.K.

When you’re looking for a cabin rental for a group of friends, it’s hard to beat the ease of platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo, which allow you to search for extremely specific criteria. But this winter, when I was searching for a five-person rental near Eryri National Park in Wales (also called Snowdonia), I came across an option I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already found. Not only did it offer spacious homes with great historic character in gorgeous natural places, it was cheaper than Airbnb. Bonus: it came with some pretty fantastic extra perks.

If you’re unfamiliar with traveling around the United Kingdom, the National Trust may be new to you. As Europe’s largest conservation organization, it manages nearly 800 miles of undeveloped coastline, protected land, and hundreds of historic homes, castles, parks, and gardens around the U.K. If you’ve ever visited a castle paid for parking at a trailhead in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, there’s a decent chance that place was managed by the National Trust. Here’s the thing I didn’t realize until my friends and I were planning a cabin weekend in the Welsh mountains: The National Trust is also the best-kept secret for finding a group-friendly place to stay in England and Wales.

For three nights in late November, my friends and I snagged a last-minute booking and paid the equivalent of about $440 in total to stay at a four-bedroom house with space for eight guests. Called the Dyffryn Mymbyr Farmhouse, the home had two giant living rooms, an enormous kitchen stocked with everything we needed to cook meals, and free electric car charging in the driveway. It was just a few minutes away from the trailhead for Eryri (Mt. Snowdon)—one of the most popular mountains in the country—and an even shorter drive from the cozy restaurant and pub at Plas Y Brenin, an outdoor center specializing in mountain guide training.

When we arrived and saw how beautiful the views were, we couldn’t believe our luck. In the mornings, we sat in the generous bay window with cups of tea, journals, and the house pair of binoculars, which we used to spy on nearby sheep. On our first morning, the sunset was so stunning I couldn’t believe how lucky we’d gotten. How had this place been available, and for so cheap?

As it turns out, the National Trust manages hundreds of such holiday houses all over the country. Many of them allow dogs for no extra fee, and many also offer free charging for electric cars—which can save you quite a lot of money on charging stations, especially if you’re doing a lot of driving on your trip. One of the best perks is that everyone staying in the house can visit National Trust sites for free during the days of your visit. We took advantage of that at Bodnant Garden in northwest Wales, where we enjoyed a slow and leisurely walk through late fall foliage. Usually, the garden costs the equivalent of $21 per person, so we saved over $80 by staying at a National Trust property.

Just like Airbnb and similar rental platforms, you can search the National Trust holiday house database by number of bedrooms, number of guests, location, and other crucial features. That includes searching for accessible stays or homes with nearby pubs, beaches, or train stations. When houses aren’t rented for dates that are approaching quickly, the charity offers last-minute booking discounts, and you can search those specifically if you’re flexible on where to stay and mainly looking for a good deal.

Need a few ideas to get started? Here are a few gorgeous places with easy access to nature. Keep in mind that many National Trust properties don’t have wifi, so if that’s essential for your trip, make sure you double-check that it’s available before you show up and have to skip your company-wide Zoom meeting.

Dyffryn Mymbyr, Wales

There are two separately bookable houses on this property, so if you’re traveling with a big group, you could snag both to accommodate everyone. Dyffryn Mymbyr is a short drive from some of Wales’s most gorgeous mountain scenery, mainly Eryri. Also close is the beautiful town of Betws-y-Coed, where you can get a pint at one of many pubs and restaurants or provisions for making your own meals at the small grocery stores.

Triggabrowne Dairy Cottage, Cornwall, England

Triggabrowne Dairy Cottage
Image by National Trust

This one-bedroom house is within easy reach of Cornwall’s coast, and, thus, the South West Coast Path—one of the UK’s most famous and beloved long-distance trails. The Cornish coast is peaceful yet dynamic, with an ocean whose ever-changing shades of blue will never get boring. Triggabrowne is just one of many cottages and houses near the coastal path, but its historic slate exterior and cozy interior make it a great place to sneak away alone or with one other person. (And yes, it has wifi.)

Rose Castle Cottage, Cumbria, England

This adorable stone cottage built in the 1800s has two bedrooms and is right in the heart of the Lake District. It’s slim on modern amenities—you won’t find wifi, television, or a microwave—but you’ll have a large garden to wander, and you’ll be close to trails meandering the mountainous countryside through scenic pastures. The quaint town of Ambleside, full of historic stone houses, is just a 20-minute drive away. As a bonus for the most serious of outdoorsy Swifties, the house is even closer to Lake Windermere.

Snowshill Manor Farmhouse, Broadway, England

This five-bedroom house is as classic as it gets for the Cotswolds, one of England’s most scenic regions. With space for nine guests, it’s a perfect home base for some serious walking on the 102-mile Cotswold Way. The trail weaves through cow and sheep pastures and over mild hills with gorgeous views of the region, connecting dozens of small towns, villages, and historic sites along the way. The trail starts in the old market town of Chipping Campden and finishes in the city of Bath.  

Tri-a-Hanner, Gwynedd, Wales

Cottage by the sea
Image of Tri-A-Hanner by National Trust

This one-bedroom cottage is literally just yards from the sea on the Llyn Peninsula, so you can walk the coast to your heart’s content. While this house is less rural and remote than some others in the National Trust’s holiday network, you’ll be just a 40-minute drive from Eryri if the mountains start calling.

Dinefwr Home Farm, Carmarthenshire, Wales

This six-bedroom house has space for up to 12 friends or family members. Built in the late 1700s, it has tons of historic charm yet also many modern amenities to make your stay more comfortable. Think dishwasher, kitted-out kitchen, and washing machine and dryer for all your muddy hikes (no wifi, though). The house is a stone’s throw from Bannau Brycheiniog National Park (recently rebranded from the English Brecon Beacons), which has some of the country’s best and prettiest walks.

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