Just inland from the 5km-long Newgale beach in west Wales, Roch Castle was built by a Norman knight between 1195 and 1210. It was besieged by Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1644, damaged by fire and cannon, and later fell into ruin, but it has reopened following a £6,4m renovation project.

The castle now has six bedrooms, all with walk-in showers, TVs, iPods, Wi-Fi and high-thread-count linens, not to mention stone walls more than a metre thick. A rooftop sitting room has floor-to-ceiling windows and views over the Welsh mountains and Irish Sea. While no staff live in the building, they visit every morning to prepare breakfast and make the beds, and a chef can be brought in to cater. Historic St Davids is close by. Sleeps 12, from £4000 a week.

. www.retreatsgroup.com


The National Trust is best known for conserving stately homes and castles and opening them to the public but it also lets out almost 400 historic properties to holiday-makers. Some are private apartments or converted outbuildings within properties that are open to the public (in many cases, once visiting hours are over, residents have the grand surroundings to themselves).

Others, such as Shute Barton near Axminster are stand-alone houses, forts, follies or watchtowers. Built in the mid-15th century, Shute Barton is one of Devon's most important medieval manor houses, with its former owners playing a role in the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War.

Last year it was converted into a luxurious holiday home, with original features including a nearly 5m-high medieval window and 17th-century painted paneling in one bedroom.

The kitchen has what is believed to be the largest fireplace in England, once used to roast two oxen together during a three-day party. Sleeps 10, from £1,260 a week.

. www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk


Rebuilt in 1565, Hoghton Tower is a fortified manor house between Preston and Blackburn, with a mile-long driveway and views of Lancashire and the Lake District. James I visited in 1617 and the story goes that the king was so pleased by the roast beef he was served that he knighted the joint "Sir Loin", supposedly giving rise to the word "sirloin".

The Irishman's Tower is one of the former garrisons that interrupt the ramparts surrounding the main house and was refurbished in 2010 to become a cosy retreat. Sleeps two, from £630 a week.

. www.hoghtontower.co.uk


Hardwick was the ancestral home of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury - better known as Bess of Hardwick - one of the most prominent and best-connected women in Elizabethan England. In the late 16th century, she decided to abandon the mansion in favour of a new, grander hall she had built nearby, and by the 18th century the original Old Hall had become a ruin.

East Lodge, a two-storey stone cottage built into the walls of the Old Hall, housed a laundry and later the custodian of the ruins but since 2010 has been rented out to holiday-makers following refurbishment by English Heritage.

It has smart furnishings and a modern kitchen flooded with light from the leaded windows. Better still, while public visitors to the Old Hall must leave at 5pm, those staying in the cottage are entrusted with a 12cm long key which opens a heavy wooden door, through which they can access the ruins and walled gardens as night falls. Sleeps four, from £631 a week.

. www.english-heritage.org.uk

© 2012 The Financial Times Limited