THERE can be few hotels in the UK as visually rewarding on first sight as Waterton Park and Walton Hall. The hall is a gracious 18th-century Georgian mansion built by Thomas Waterton on an island.
Cars are parked across the bridge and visitors make their way over the lake, where the water laps against beautiful gardens, the peace broken only by the ducks, geese and herons living there.
In 1821, Waterton’s son Charles started a five-year task to build a wall around the estate to protect the wildlife, creating what is believed to be one of the first nature reserves. Ironically, he died in 1865 after tripping over a bramble bush. A case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ perhaps.
Happily, Charles now rests in peace at the head of his lake, surrounded by the wildlife he loved so much, and which now welcomes visitors from all over the world, lured not only by the beautiful setting, but also by the dual treasures that are the Hepworth Wakefield – Yorkshire’s inspiring new gallery celebrating the area’s unique artistic legacy – and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – a fascinating combination of art, heritage, learning space and landscape.
To get there by car from Edinburgh, take the A1, then M1, or from Glasgow, the M74, M6, M62. There is a also a direct rail link from Edinburgh to Wakefield Westgate station. n
WINING AND DINING? Local produce and a menu dedicated to popular traditional dishes ensure a homely dining experience in the elegant Bridgewalk Restaurant, which holds an AA rosette. Follow king scallops and black pudding from Lishman’s of Ilkley, poached apples and cauliflower foam with seared Gressingham duck breast and caramelised orange segments, pickled red cabbage drizzled with port gravy or peppered pork fillet, Parma ham, braised chicory and apple and calvados sauce. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, Charlie’s Bar serves food all day and, if you’re lucky enough to see the sun, patio doors open to a stone terrace with tranquil views across the lake.
ROOM SERVICE? There are 22 rooms on the island, and a further 43 in the hotel across the bridge, on the ‘mainland’. Our spacious room overlooked the lake; we opened our French doors as soon as we walked in to make the most of the beautiful vista on a warm and sunny day, despite the noisy, squabbling ducks that seemed in a constant state of high dudgeon. In one of the biggest hotel bathrooms we’d ever seen, floor-to-ceiling tinted windows – again with a lake view – made a dip in the equally huge freestanding bath a must. I have to admit bubbles were drunk, as well as added to the water. The bed seemed bigger than king-size and was super-comfy, and there were the usual flat-screen TV and tea/coffee-making facilities for those who, like me, can’t leave a hotel room in the morning without a cuppa.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR? The list is long – fantastic countryside, the beauty of nearby Nostell Priory, the magnificent Wakefield Cathedral with the tallest spire in Yorkshire, to the depths, 140m below ground, of the English National Coal Mining Museum. For us, though, it was ‘arts’ weekend, with trips to the Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Sculptor Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield in 1903, and the gallery named for her is 1,600 square metres of light-filled, purpose-built exhibition space, the largest of its kind outside London, bringing together work from the city’s art collection, exhibitions by contemporary artists and rarely seen Hepworth works. The sculpture park, just outside Wakefield in the village of Bretton, has long been one of my favourite places. Wandering through fields and coming across sculptures with sheep grazing beside – and sometimes in and on top of – them, is lovely. You haven’t lived until you’ve touched Henry Moore bronze warmed by the sun.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE? Neither; the pleasure to be had from a stay here is in the setting and space, the warm welcome and the uniqueness of it. These things make it a Mecca for wedding planners, and I would have liked to relax in Charlie’s Bar without overhearing detailed conversations about at least two couples’ forthcoming nuptials – wedding lady with the loud voice, please can you and your clients get a room – but when surrounded by such natural beauty it was difficult to be irritated for long.
LITTLE EXTRAS? The views, views and, oh yes, the views.
GUESTBOOK COMMENTS? The perfect place to return to after a day sculpture-seeking. Lovely food and room. Thank you, Charles Waterton, and rest in peace. We did.
Waterton Park Hotel and Walton Hall, Walton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire (01924 257911, www.watertonparkhotel.co.uk)