If you're old enought to remember the Ladybird book version of Rapunzel, its beautiful illustrations spring to mind the moment you clap eyes on the 65 feet Outchester Ducket. Although no-one knows the tower's original use, it was latterly used as a dovecot, the Northumbrian vernacular for which is 'ducket', hence its name. It has taken an epic eight years to turn this 18th century Grade 2 listed ruin into a holiday residence, providing luxurious self-catering accommodation for two. Behind the loving restoration are owners John and Heather Sutherland, who have brought it into the 21st century, installing state-of-the-art Wi-Fi and ground-source heating.
As far as quirky holidays go, this tower near Waren Mill, Northumberland is hard to beat. It is set in its own grounds on the edge of an open field and enjoys stunning views over the rolling countryside towards the Cheviots. Graham, my partner, and I crave holiday boltholes where you can lock out the world and relax. We can barely contain our excitement when we find what's behind the handcrafted oak front door. Well, it's another door, but once you're through the inner and outer doors, you find yourself in the entrance hall. The stone walls, three feet thick, have been left exposed, and there is a spacious bathroom just off.
Beyond, you discover a cheerful yellow room with framed floral botanical drawings. A detail that amused us was the great white fluffy bathrobes hanging on the back of the door, marked for the Duke and Duchess of the Ducket. Let's be honest, we all have delusions of grandeur. The entrance hall provides ample space to hang up coats and leave shoes beside the door. The Sutherlands have cleverly used every inch of space, creating a series of circular rooms over five storeys, linked by a beautiful bespoke curved staircase. Up the first flight of stairs you find yourself in the bedroom, as dictated by planning requirements (so you can jump out the window in an emergency). Nooks and crannies are utilised for cupboard and wardrobe space, hidden behind sumptuous floral fabrics. Comfort is the name of the game in this room and our favourite features were the sheepskin rugs on either side of the king-size bed.
The second floor features a kitchen which would not be out of place in one of the glossy interiors magazines dotted around the Ducket. It is well equipped - a fridge, freezer, cooker and dishwasher have all been shoehorned into a compact space, but there is still room for a small dining area. Aquamarine glass tiles and the cleverly moulded worktop fitted into the curved wall set the colour palette, while details such as the Cath Kidston mugs make it feel chic.
The Sutherlands' son, Christopher, farms high-quality oysters on the seashore of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve nearby. He supplied a dozen for the fridge, but as a vegetarian I passed on sampling their briny delights. Still, just knowing oysters are in your fridge is romantic enough.
The sitting room on the third floor looks towards the rolling countryside on one side, and out towards the coast and Holy Island's Lindisfarne Castle on the other. The raspberry fabrics and model ship and chandelier are wonderful decor touches. Original art is found throughout the tower, my favourite piece being a small shield in the living room showing St George slaying a dragon. I feel sure this would have Rapunzel's seal of approval. Furniture was made to fit as the room is compact - a great excuse to cosy up with your other half in front of the fire.
Finally, a tiny library room sits at the very top of the tower, commanding amazing views underneath the wooden criss-cross beams. It's the ideal perch for a couple of lovebirds. We feel secure inside our tower as the wind howls outside. The structure has solidity and strength - it has stood proud as a landmark for a long time. We don't feel at all trapped or locked away from civilisation, unable to escape. But it is delightful to bolt ourselves in at night and gaze over this amazing countryside.
The fairytale kingdom of Northumberland, where big landscape meets even bigger skies, has enduring appeal. Driving to nearby Seahouses, we pass three Exmoor ponies, tossing their haughty manes at the wind. Their velvety muzzles perfectly blend into the sea grass as it billows in the breeze. On the sandy beaches the galloping waves crash onto the shore. Bamburgh Castle hangs above the mesmerising landscape, shimmering like Camelot.
Happily, I had brought my prince with me to enjoy it all; perhaps you should take yours, too!
Outchester & Ross Farm Cottages
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