Travel: The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa, Bolton Abbey

The Devonshire Arms is located in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The Devonshire Arms is located in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
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Scotland on Sunday: Do Not Disturb

There’s a lot to be said for a traditional luxury hotel, and the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire says it all. Situated just six miles from Ilkley at the southern tip of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it is part of the Duke of Devonshire’s 35,000-acre estate which contains some 80 miles of public footpaths.

Cosy rooms are completely befitting a traditional high-end hotel.

Cosy rooms are completely befitting a traditional high-end hotel.

Bolton Abbey, just a couple of fields away, isn’t the most spectacularly romantic ruin in the country, though it has inspired artists like Turner and Landseer and poets such as Wordsworth. But for many in the dark satanic mills of West Yorkshire, it and the Yorkshire Dales were their nearest glimpse of rural beauty. Masses of them came – on the 1890 August bank holiday, more than 40,000, which is as many people as now visit York in a week. They’d have passed the Devonshire Arms, looked in and seen what rich folks looked like. They still can. Though apparently, Karl Marx once stayed too…

Budget or boutique?

Definitely not budget. Just one night’s dinner (at the 3 AA rosette Burlington restaurant), bed and breakfast in a suite in August will set you back £565. We stayed in the Garden Room, overlooking the heavily pruned, patterned low hedges of the Italian garden with a view across the valley to the grouse moors. Its B&B rate (late September) was £258.

Room service

All suites have a six-foot four-poster bed, complete with steps, and interior designs chosen by the current duchess (I loved the faux-bookend wallpaper at the end of our corridor) and artwork drawn from the ducal collection at Chatsworth. For a high-end hotel, it is incredibly dog-friendly: apart from the restaurant and a few rooms, dogs are allowed almost everywhere. Our room had a series of watercolours painted by Emma Tennant at her studio in the Cheviots. You know you’re in a classy joint when nobody even mentions the fact. Doing so would be non-U, as Nancy Mitford – sister of the late dowager duchess Debo, whose portrait was outside our room – would have said.

Guests also have free use of the spa built in a converted and extended barn across the road (steam rooms, sauna, jacuzzi, swimming pool) which also has a full range of massages, facials, wraps etc.

Wining and dining

Chef Paul Leonard has just joined the Devonshire Arms after working as head chef at the Michelin-starred Isle of Eriska hotel near Oban and as sous-chef for Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. His eight-course tasting menu draws heavily on the hotel’s kitchen garden, right down to the honey from its beehives. Grouse was one of the main courses – whether or not shot by the duke and his son, who were there that day, wasn’t mentioned – along with beetroot, Swiss chard and elderberries. It was delicious, which you would expect from a £79.50 per person tariff. If all this puts too much of a strain on your budget, check out the food at the Brasserie next door, chuck out the winelist and try out some of the great Yorkshire beers behind the bar.

Worth getting out of bed for

The view. The walks past the abbey. Wharfedale pubs like the Craven Arms (Slogan: “Gateway to the Ales”) and the New Inn about 100 yards away at Appletreewick, which is as beautiful a village as it sounds. Two magnificent pubs and no shops.

Little extras

Fly-fishing on the Wharfe is quite reasonable, with day licences for trout at £32 and grayling at £22.50. Helicopter teas – Earl Grey and cake then a quick spin in a chopper up the valley for £100 – don’t sound too bad either. I quite liked the homemade Yorkshire parkin awaiting us on arrival too.

Guest book comments

A lovely, cosy, completely traditional high-end hotel, with impeccable and friendly service. The Devonshire Arms has been a hotel of sorts ever since the local landowner saw a business opportunity in the Reformation’s wrecking of the monasteries, and plundered the nearby priory to add to his own barns and buildings. We’re talking centuries of hospitality here – and these people definitely know what they’re doing.

David Robinson

Rooms start at £138 per night for a classic room. The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa, Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire BD23 6AJ. Tel: 01756 718 100. Email: