Travel: Wensleydale

SAY CHEESE. There’s no way around it, the dairy product so beloved of Wallace and Gromit is everywhere when you’re visiting Wensleydale.

But when cheese tastes this good, why fight it? Visit the Wensleydale Creamery at Hawes and embrace nigh-infinite variations on the crumbly, creamy delight. They’re all on display, inviting you to taste them, from the traditional Real Yorkshire Wensleydale to a blend with ginger via the oniony Abbot’s Gold.

Take a tour of the museum, packed to the rafters with vintage churns, scoops and even an entire farmhouse kitchen. Then watch the craftspeople of today making their wares for sale all over the world. While modern bells and whistles abound, the basics haven’t changed since the 12th century when local Cistercian monks came up with the recipe still used.

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Buy a batch of cheeses and take them back to Simonstone Hall country house hotel, in the next door village of Simonstone. This carefully restored, privately owned property set at the foot of Stags Fell offers mindblowing views over Upper Wensleydale, the River Ure and Pennine foothills.

But you can’t eat the view, making fellow guest Steve and me grateful for the mouthwatering meals on offer at the hotel’s Four Fells Restaurant, made by the executive chef using local ingredients. Among the mix of contemporary and classic cuisine we enjoyed were the starters of Yorkshire black pudding, featuring crushed new potato, poached egg and Dijon mayonnaise, and chicken pâté with onion marmalade and Melba toast. Mains worth munching included Mediterranean vegetable Wellington and a chicken supreme and haggis worthy of any high-class Scottish eatery. As for dessert, anyone for some truly excellent versions of sticky toffee pudding and Eton mess? Or, of course, a cheese board starring – what else? – Wensleydale.

If you fancy a bistro experience, Simonstone Hall’s Brasserie is the place for tender steaks, creamy haddock fishcakes and more. And if you look down at your feet, you’ll spot a glassed-over well. You can’t socialise there, but there is a pub and, for intimate occasions, the Wine Vault and Wine Cellar.

After such good meals you’re going to want to retire to your room and this is where the hotel really comes into its own. You won’t find identikit suites here, making you feel you’re sleeping in an especially upmarket Ikea. Simonstone Hall’s 18 rooms are individually fitted with refined period furniture; six even have four-poster beds so opulently inviting it’s tempting to spend all day under the Egyptian cotton sheets.

But get up and enjoy the rest of the hotel, whose past as home to Lord and Lady Wharncliff bequeathed the public rooms with names such as the Hunt Room and Stags Fell Room. Settle down in front of a log fire and imagine you’re in a Bronte novel. You’ll be in good company – previous visitors include Lily Langtry, Lord Randolph Churchill and, er, Jeremy Clarkson. And Kate Winslet honeymooned here after one of her weddings ...

If you’re of the active persuasion, Wensleydale is ideal for walkers, with both formal and informal routes. Simonstone Hall’s daily weather reports for guests will ensure you don’t go out and regret it. And if you wish to take a faithful companion along who isn’t called Steve, some of Simonstone Hall’s rooms are dog friendly.

Whether you’re canine or human, you’d be barking not to find this the perfect retreat. It’s a grand house all right, but there’s a relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel, if not at your own home, certainly at your rich auntie’s.

How rich? Well, there’s a helipad out back, though there’s plenty of parking for those of us without a personal chopper. For Scotland-based wage slaves wanting a weekend break somewhere far enough away to feel different, yet close enough to get to within a few hours, Simonstone Hall is the answer.

THE FACTS Stays at Simonstone Hall are £170 per night for dinner, B&B in a Standard room (01969 667255, www.simonstonehall.com). If you’re driving, Hawes is on the A684 west from the A1 at Bedale and equally accessible from the West via the M6. If you prefer rail, head for Leeds, then grab the Settle-Carlisle train and get off at Garsdale, six miles from Hawes (www.thetrainline.com).