Set in 20,000 acres of parkland and moorland, the Swinton Park Hotel dates from 1695 with Georgian and Victorian Gothic additions which explains why the view that greets you when driving through the magnificent gatehouse arch is suitably imposing, with its tower, turrets, and crenellations in warm Yorkshire stone. And this is Wensleydale, so the views from the house in every direction are equally glorious.
Built by the Danby family, and later owned by the Cunliffe-Listers, whose fortune was founded on the wool and silk mills of Bradford, the hotel has seen various incarnations, as a school, a college and management training centre, before being bought back by Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Baron Masham, and opened as a hotel in 2001. The interior is a blend of grand rooms, high ceilings, huge fireplaces, an oak staircase to end all oak staircases, and an intriguing bar – once the family chapel.
Budget or boutique?
This is a plush venue for special occasions, and in the reception rooms, as we collapsed into plump sofas, we were surrounded by folk celebrating – whether it was a special birthday, anniversary, or just meeting up with old friends – which made for a great atmosphere.
Wining and dining
The grand wining and dining takes place in Samuel’s a hugely vaulted space, with another fine fireplace and windows that look out on parkland and deer. And venison is on the menu, alongside partridge and other game from the estate, Dales beef and fruit and vegetables from the walled kitchen garden. Hearty breakfasts are served here too.
There are 32 rooms, and from the smallest (not small) to the largest suites, all pay great regard to comfort with squashy sofas and chairs and wide beds. Some rooms are decorated in extravagant country house style, some coolly modern. Bathrooms are large and warm, with toiletries by The White Company. There is also the Swinton Bivouac with Tree Lodges and the Meadow Yurts in the grounds for a rustic yet comfortable take on the outdoor life. In each there is a wood-burning stove, and for convenience while “roughing it” you are within reach of the Bivouac Café with its views across a valley, serving coffee, great soups and even better scones.
Worth getting out of bed for
The estate offers shooting, fishing, pony trekking, off-road biking, a birds of prey centre, a cookery school and a newly opened country club and spa. The latter is a spectacular modern building which encompasses the Terrace restaurant, a light and airy space with an open kitchen and a view to the terraced garden.
There is also, of course, a pool, saunas, steam rooms, gym and treatment rooms with Elemis and Bamford products, and lovely local touches such as the modern seating cushioned by sheep fleeces from the estate.
And if you can tear yourself away from Swinton Park, Ripon and Harrogate are easy to get to. Even easier is Masham, a charming market town with two great breweries, Theakston and The Black Sheep, both offering brewery and tasting tours.
From the welcoming glass of prosecco to the sloe gin decanter in each bedroom, you are treated as an honoured guest. An extra, which costs £20 per person but is not to be missed is an estate tour with head park ranger Tony, a man with a great love of the countryside, and a suitably Yorkshire sense of humour.
A two-hour tour took us up through stone hamlets and sheep country to the high moor and then back round to the parkland lakes, which include Coffin Pond, where Saxon stone coffins were found and, to top it all, the Druid’s Temple. Created as a folly and employment project for veterans of the Napoleonic wars, there is a cave created for the Druid hermit and a mini-Stonehenge with its very own sacrificial altar – every home should have one.
Not so much a hotel as the full country house estate experience.
Double rooms at Swinton Park Hotel are from £195 bed and breakfast, or £295 dinner, bed and breakfast. Swinton Park Hotel, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 4JH. (01765 680900, www.swintonestate.com)