Whether you want a Valentine’s treat, babymoon bolthole or just a night off from the kids, this country house on the Bolton Abbey estate is made for romance
My Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred husband (strong in arm, thick in’t head, some might say…) has always maintained there is nowhere more beautiful than the Dales, where he spent many of his childhood weekends. So where better to escape to for a romantic break, than a comfortable hotel on the edge of the national park?
But after a mammoth seven-hour journey (or rather, traffic jam) from London to his native York the previous day, and a further rainy drive to Bolton Abbey, I was feeling less than in love with, as he calls it, “God’s own county”. That was until we pulled up in the car park where, as if by magic, the sun suddenly broke through, illuminating a cricket match on the green in front of us – and I could feel my stress started to ebb away…
A cricket match in full swing outside the hotel was a welcome sight
From the outside, the Devonshire Arms, which sits on the Bolton Abbey estate and was built in the early 17th century, looks like a lovely country pub. But step inside this old inn and you realise this is much more luxury country house (probably down to its renovation being overseen by no less than the Duchess of Devonshire), with complimentary wellies and waders by the door, a roaring fire in the reception and interesting artefacts decorating the hallways. Explore further and you’ll find an elegant champagne bar, cosy lounge with quirky dog wallpaper and two excellent restaurants. Much of the artwork comes from Chatworth, the Devonshire family home in Derbyshire. It’s a combination of high quality in a relaxed atmosphere which was to be the very welcome theme of our stay.
The magnificent four-poster bed in our Shepherd Room
The hotel has 40 individually decorated rooms, spread across an old and new wing, and ours was aptly named The Shepherd, featuring gorgeous William Morris wallpaper and a carved wooden sheep wall hanging. My pet hotel room peeve is the absence of a full-length mirror but this one had the biggest I’d ever seen – real attention to detail. I was even more impressed when we were informed that they only served fresh milk for hot drinks so we should call down any time we fancied a cuppa. Rather happy with our lot, we flopped onto the antique four-poster and took a much-needed afternoon nap!
A nod to the theme of the room
The hotel's spa is situated across the road in a converted barn
Refreshed from our rest, we put on our bathing suits and hopped across the road to the spa. Housed in an 18th century barn, it has a lovely pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, as well as cold plunge pool (which my foolhardy husband braved twice). There’s also tennis courts, a gym and a full treatment menu but we’d booked massages for the next morning, so just chilled out downstairs for a couple of hours.
While I headed back to the room to get ready, Thom set off for a stroll up to Bolton Abbey and he returned in awe of the surrounding landscape. Looking at his pictures as we enjoyed a pre-dinner tipple and a trio of mouthwatering canapés (in particular the beetroot macaroon) in the champagne bar, I had to admit that his proud opinion of his home county wasn’t completely biased.
The beautiful Bolton Abbey estate offers plenty of opportunities for walking
Enjoy fine dining in the hotel's Burlington Restaurant or a more informal meal in the Brasserie
The Burlington is the hotel’s fine dining option and the chef Adam Smith has a bursting trophy cabinet, so we opted for eight-course tasting menu with the six glass wine pairing, in a bid to try as much of his inventive British cooking as we could. We were like a pair of kids at Christmas as we ate our way through tangy apple, lovage and fennel soup, then delicate marinated scallops with pigs head croquettes, followed by salt baked carrot with goats curd, hazelnut and truffle (a highlight for me). And that was just for starters!
Other delights that awaited us over the next few hours were creamy sautéed duck liver (served with a sweet dessert wine that was a revelation), east coast turbot with cauliflower and champagne, and a delicious honey glazed duck with gooseberries. A special mention should also go to the beef and ale bread – only in Yorkshire, my friends…
The course of salt baked carrot was a highlight of the tasting menu
Everything was beautifully presented and served with just the right amount of formality and fun. As if eight courses and six different wines weren’t enough, we also added on a cheese course, which involved picking five options from a trolley of 16. It was not a task we took lightly, with the lovely and knowledgeable waitress talking us through all the cheeses first.
Stuffed and satisfied after two desserts of apple fizz and Yorkshire strawberries with goats cheese, pine nuts and tarragon, we pretty much rolled into the lounge. There we both drank a massive espresso in an attempt to digest our feast, greedily forced down our petit fours and made the short walk upstairs to bed feeling utterly content with our lot.
Sensational scallops, paired with a white wine from the Loire region of France
They take the cheese course very seriously here...
The morning after
At 9am we were back at the spa for a 30-minute shoulder, neck and scalp massage each. It was Thom’s first ever such threatment and I was a little nervous for him, but his friendly therapist really put him at ease. “Why haven’t I done this before?” he asked afterwards. Mine was equally professional and charming.
Part of this ESPA treatment included an unctuous Pink Hair and Scalp Mud, which I opted to leave in instead of shower out. I was so relaxed, I didn’t care that I looked like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards as we returned to the Burlington for a silver service breakfast of eggs and the papers.
Alas, it was soon time to check out, but we dragged out the return to reality by driving north to the pretty village of Burnsall, sat beside the River Wharfe. We’d only had 24 hours off from reality but as we had one last stroll, it felt like a week away.
Overnight stay from £250 per room (two sharing), including breakfast and access to the spa. Tasting menu £75pp, 30-minute head, shoulder and back massage £35. Book at prideofbritainhotels.com or call 0800 089 3929.