"From yurts, tipis and bell-tents, to eco-pods, campervans and wigwams, you'll find them all over the network."
Self-catering holidays offer freedom and a chance to get closer to nature - perfect for families and handy for pets. These days, there are plenty of options for the keen self-caterer, offering home comforts, the minimum of effort on your part, and all those living-beneath-the-stars benefits you'd like to expect.
From yurts, tipis and bell-tents, to eco-pods, campervans and wigwams, you'll find them all over the network. Sample the Mongolian yurt lifestyle in the Lake District with Wild in Style (wildinstyle.co.uk) or Long Valley (long-valley-yurts.co.uk) or put a solid roof between yourself and the heavens in a holiday cottage on a working farm near Darlington (holidayfarmcottages.co.uk). In the meantime, did we hear you asking, 'What's a yurt?' Read on now...
Stop off in a campervan
Here's the kitsch, but cool, way to go self-catering - in a retro VW campervan (hippie wig and peace signs, optional!) The obvious benefits are flexibility and mobility: once you get off the train and pick up your campervan, your destinations and the attractions you decide to visit are dependent only upon your imagination and the length of your hire period.
Campervans are romantic in a hip kind of way and great fun for young families, too, since you can stop whenever you need to. Check what you're hiring, though, as these old VWs vary in their amenities: facilities can include anything from fridge, sink and cooker to iPod dock, Freeview TV and DVD. Some hirers also throw in free camping club membership.
VWs can usually seat and sleep from four to six, including baby-seats, but they can take a bit of practice to drive.
So what do you do when you get it?
Hire-a-VW-Campervan, based in Tyne and Wear, has easy routes to the Lake District, the Scottish borders and Yorkshire; likewise the delightfully named Putt-Putt Campers, of Cumbria. Stock up on basics before you head off, and plan where you want to stay on the first night; most campsites are best booked before midday.
Perfect for... Free spirits.
Go by train: Newcastle or Grange-over-Sands
Chill out in a yurt
Lattice-walled and circular in construction, yurts have a ribbed, shallow conical roof and they've been used as portable dwellings by nomads on the Central Asian steppes for thousands of years. At York Yurts, the tents are furnished with a few more luxuries than our Mongolian nomad cousins might be used to, though.
There are four yurts for hire, set amid three acres of grass and surrounded by mature woodland and a farm. Each sleeps two to four people which makes a yurt a quirky weekend getaway for couples who are tired of the typical city break. You'll soon see that cosiness and romance are a top priority, with rich fabrics, plump cushions, a wood-burning stove and an inviting bed.
So what do you do when you get there?
Each yurt has its own cooking tent and fire pit, for those packing their own produce and wine, or you could order breakfast in bed or a candlelit dinner à deux. A communal heated marquee with dining tables is available nearby, should you feel the need to socialise. In the next-door field, there's an undercover hot tub as well as a double-ended roll-top bath, shower and WC. It's not Glastonbury, you know! And if you suddenly yearn for evening entertainment, the city of York is just a short taxi ride away.
Perfect for... Adventurous romantics and would-be nomads.
Go by train: York. 15-min taxi
Cosy up in a wigwam
You won't need a feather headdress at Humble Bee Farm Wigwams in Scarborough. Unlike the wigwams that children of the seventies might recall, these sturdy timber chalet-style dwellings are triangular in shape, with plenty of home comforts. Situated in its own 'village', surrounded by the Yorkshire Wolds, each wigwam sleeps up to five people.
The heated amenities block nearby has showers, toilets, baby-change, constant hot water and even a book exchange for the family bookworm. The site shop sells essentials such as milk, tea bags and locally sourced sausages and bacon.
Once you've unpacked, you'll discover electric sockets, a kettle, a fridge, a microwave and padded platforms for seating and sleeping. There's even a heater so you can stay in a wigwam any time of year! With a children's play area nearby, and the animals of Humble Bee Farm close by - collect your own fresh eggs for breakfast! - this place has 'family fun' written all over it. You can even bring the dog.
So what do you do when you get there?
Humble Bee Farm has a packed events diary over the summer months, offering kiddie-friendly activities such as 'Creepy Crawlies' and 'Creatures of the Night' hunts. You'll have to book in advance during the school summer holidays, though. And if the little ones get restless, the Yorkshire coast and the seaside resort of Scarborough are just a few miles away.
Perfect for... Families who'd secretly love to live in the country.
Go by train: Seamer. 15-min taxi
No self-catering holiday is complete without...
Pocket-sized games (try Pass the Pigs or Uno)
Pack of cards
Books (or a Kindle)
Salt and pepper