The Yorkshire Dales offers some beautiful scenery and walking trails so we packed our walking boots and set off bright and early one late January morning for an overnight visit. We decided to stay in Bolton Abbey nestled in the heart of Wharfedale. It’s a picturesque village located between Skipton and Harrogate in North Yorkshire.
We’d reserved a room at the Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa which has been a landmark of the village since the early 17th century. The hotel came into the ownership of the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1753 as part of the Bolton Abbey Estate. Over the years, the hotel has been further developed and in 1981 underwent a major refurbishment under the supervision of Her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire with many of her personal touches still in evidence today.
As soon as we had parked our car, the concierge, smartly attired in country tweeds came to greet us and carried our luggage into the elegant yet homely hotel lobby with its log fire, stone flags and beautiful antique furnishings. Our luxuriously appointed room was located on the ground floor, its windows perfectly framing the magnificent views across the estate to Beamsley Beacon which rises to 328 metres above sea level.
There was a Nespresso coffee maker and thick slices of traditional Yorkshire parkin, which is northern England’s answer to gingerbread, differing as it is made using oats. Lifting the lid of a little dish we also found home made cookies, a treat for our afternoon tea. Next to the bed there was a small wooden hamper containing a selection of Yorkshire delicacies to enjoy.
Being curious to see more of this former coaching inn, we went for a wander around the hotel and found several cosy lounges with original art work from the Chatsworth collection. After admiring the paintings, we settled down for cups of coffee in the Dog Lounge with its gorgeous dog themed decor and life size ornamental dog sitting by the fireside. Relaxing on one of the comfortable sofas, we felt warm and cosy and could easily have been tempted to linger longer. As we wanted to explore the surrounding estate, we popped our coats back on and headed outdoors.
The Devonshire Arms provides guests with complimentary parking permits for use in all of the estate’s car parks making it easy to explore the stunning Yorkshire Dales National Park countryside. It was only a short drive to the centre of Bolton Abbey from where we walked through a stone archway to the ruined Augustine priory. The land was given to the Augustinian canons in 1154 who worshipped there until 1539 when the dissolution of the monasteries took place, stripping the priory of all its assets. The ruins are located in a stunning setting, overlooking the River Wharfe.
Next to the ruins lies the Priory Church of St. Mary & St. Cuthbert which is one of the finest medieval churches in the north of England. Despite the loss of most of the Priory buildings, the western half of the original nave was preserved, allowing the local parish to continue worshipping there.
In front of the Abbey are the stepping stones which were originally laid as a crossing point for the lay workers of the priory. Nowadays the 60 stones offer a fun way to cross the river. Unfortunately, the river was high during our visit, submerging the stones beneath the water so we made use of the adjacent wooden bridge which offers a safe crossing point throughout the year. After strolling along the river bank a little further, we retraced our steps so that we could return to the hotel in time for lunch in the hotel’s Brasserie.
The Brasserie has a contemporary feel with wooden floors and vibrant, striped furnishings. We were shown to a window table and whilst we were looking at our menus a helicopter arrived on the lawn. The passengers came into the Brasserie for lunch – now that’s definitely the way to travel!
The menu had lots to tempt us, but I finally settled on the Devonshire Fish Pie which was filled with king prawns, salmon, cod and smoked haddock, topped with creamy mashed potato – delicious comfort food for a winter’s day! For dessert, I was again spoilt for choice but was delighted with my Trio of Lemon, comprising baked lemon cream, lemon parfait, lemon cake and a refreshing raspberry sorbet.
After cups of coffee we needed more exercise, so we strolled through the hotel’s grounds for a wander around the south facing vegetable garden which was established in Victorian times and reinstated more recently. The garden is designed in tiered sections with low box hedges and traditional dry stone walls providing shelter. As it was mid-winter there wasn’t too much to see, but during the warmer months it provides a plentiful supply of seasonal produce for the hotel’s kitchens. Up in one corner, we spotted some bee hives, no doubt a source of honey for the chefs.
Returning to our room, we unpacked, picked up our swimwear and then made our way over to the Devonshire Spa which is housed in an ancient barn just a few steps from the hotel. On arrival, we were handed fluffy aubergine dressing gowns and towels with pairs of matching flip-flops. After changing, we took a dip in the good sized pool where the water was lovely and warm. After our swim we spent some time relaxing in both the jacuzzi and sauna before returning to our room to prepare for dinner.
In addition to the Brasserie where we had enjoyed lunch, the Devonshire Arms also has an award winning fine dining restaurant called the Burlington. I’d taken two dresses with me and had to have a little fashion parade in the room before deciding which one I wanted to wear! Decision made, by 7.30 p.m. we were both sitting comfortably in the cocktail lounge enjoying pre-dinner drinks and canapés served on a Westmorland slate.
We’d heard that Paul Leonard who joined the Devonshire Arms last summer is one of the UK’s most talented chefs so we decided to opt for his 9 course seasonal tasting menu. The restaurant uses some of Yorkshire’s finest ingredients with meat and fish reared or caught on the Duke of Devonshire’s estate. After selecting from the extensive wine list, we were shown to our table in the elegant restaurant.
Despite the formality, we received a warm and friendly welcome which created a relaxed atmosphere during this special dining experience. As each course was delivered to the table, the waiters would describe the dish and were more than happy to answer any questions we had. You might think that a 9 course meal would be over-facing but the portion sizes were just right to be able to enjoy each course comfortably. The combination of flavours and textures were sublime and coupled with the beautiful presentation we were both in food heaven!
We rounded off the evening relaxing in on one of the cosy lounges which oozed country house charm. Here we enjoyed a cafetière of coffee and some petit-fours reflecting on what a lovely day we’d just had.
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