The Duke would be dining with us tonight, we were told. Lord Burlington too. They’d been shooting on the hill and having dinner later in the restaurant. Fair enough. They owned it, after all.
The 12th Duke of Devonshire and his eldest son, it turns out, own a large, scenic slice – 30,000 acres – of Wharfedale, along with even more of Derbyshire, and a few thousand extra acres in Ireland. The Devonshire Fell is on of the Cavendish family’s smaller enterprises, its 16 bedrooms paling besides the 126 rooms in their main home, Chatsworth. But if you want a classy boutique hotel in the Yorkshire Dales, and one that allows you to take advantage of all the spa facilities on offer at the Devonshire Arms, down the road at Bolton Abbey, look no further.
If you know the Yorkshire Dales, you’ll know all about that road (the B6160) from Bolton Abbey, and how it heads downhill for about a mile as it nears the picture-postcard village of Burnsall. On 6 May this year, that’s what the cyclists of the tour de Yorkshire will be doing, and because they’ll be going so fast, they probably won’t notice this millstone-grit mansion – once a clubhouse for Victorian mill-owners – near the bottom of the hill. It has lovely views over Burnsall (where they filmed Calendar Girls) and its five-arched stone bridge over the Wharfe. There’s a wonderful mix about its clientele, from Lycra-clad cyclists to walkers opting for a luxury stop-off on the seven-day Dales Way from Ilkley to Windermere and hunters heading for the hill with a dog and gun. Most, though, are like us – middle-aged comfort-seekers looking for a dog-friendly stopover on a slow journey south from Scotland or a good place for a luxurious but not over-expensive weekend break. We stayed in a Superior Double room with river views (worth asking for) which cost £225 for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Budget or boutique?
Definitely boutique. For anyone expecting classical country house style, all hunting prints, antlers, taxidermy and heavy drapes, the Devonshire Fell is a welcome surprise. Yes, there’ll still be a secure case for your grouse-shooting guns in your room, but on the way there, you’ll be walking on grey and purple striped carpet past modern art from the Chatsworth collection in the bar area, portraits of designers such as Achille Castiglioni, Frank Duffy and Shiro Kuramata in the corridors upstairs, and there’ll be a Hockney or Rothko print in the bedroom. Yet you’ll still find good Yorkshire craft ales like Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker behind the bar, and – at least when we were there – not a male ponytail in sight.
Wining and dining
Rob Harrison, former sous-chef under James Mackenzie at the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass near Beverley, is in charge in the kitchen and has an AA rosette for his menu, which makes the best of fresh, local produce (lamb rump and kidney faggot, £23.50; belly pork sage and onion risotto, £18.50) at a reasonable price – all to be consumed in the comfortable conservatory dining room with its great views. And if you’re looking for a well-stocked cellar, the Devonshire Fell’s can draw on that of its nearby sister hotel, which has one of the best in Yorkshire.
Worth getting out of bed for
First of all, the prospect. We pulled back the curtains on one of those dawns when every spider’s web shone like diamond clusters, every field was bright with dew. This is the Dales at their picturesque best, the Wharfe sweeping by in the middle-ground, the limestone hills gently lowering to the south. Nearby are the ruins of Bolton Abbey, with its extensive riverside walks, and the beautiful village of Grassington, both about five miles away in opposite directions.
There are Feeling Fruity toiletries for two-legged visitors, and free concierge service for canines if you book through PetsPyjamas.com (otherwise your dog adds another £10 per night to the bill), who give it a good dog-friendly rating.
A colourful, quirky treat. Not what I expected – but in a good way!
Double rooms cost from £125 B&B per room, while suites (two bathrooms plus settee/sofabed) range from £175 to £325 per room. The Devonshire Fell Hotel, Burnsall, North Yorkshire BD23 6BT. Tel: 01756 729000. www.devonshirefell.co.uk