A Journey Through the North-East of England
It's not the work of a moment to decide if a hotel is deserving of the label "BEST Small Hotel". Here is the tale of a trip through the north-east of England searching out that elusive hotel that we can truly say is one of the best. Along the way, we also visited some interesting places and saw some wonderful scenery.
Our journey began near Skipton in Yorkshire, a town with a broad main street that hosts a market and at it's head, the imposing Skipton Castle. Our accommodation here was Cononley Hall B&B in the village of Cononley, just outside Skipton. This very nice 4 bedroom B&B was run by a friendly lady assisted by her family. The room was excellent but the Hall was divided many years ago and only the rear part is operated as a Bed and Breakfast. Much as we enjoyed our stay, it can't quite qualify. It's interesting to note though that there are not one but two Tesla charging points in the car park. (Handy if you happen to drive a Tesla, or two!)
We travelled north from Skipton through the Yorkshire Dales and the scenery was really exceptional. This is an area that would have justified taking our time, much more time than we actually had available. So with just a few short pauses to admire the scenery and scramble around a castle ruin or two, we headed to our next stay at Appleby Castle.
The castle in Appleby has evolved over the centuries from a typical mediaeval fortification into a grand Jacobean house. It has a Norman keep in perfect condition complete with rooms, windows and a roof (I'd never seen that before) but it's the 17th and 18th centuries that really left their mark. Since then, the castle has been subtly updated but the atmosphere remains firmly of it's age. Our room was large, with large, heavy, dark wood furniture with elaborate carving, including the date 1683 on the bedhead. Nonetheless the bed was extremely comfortable and we had a great view from the window. Most of the other decor in the hotel was of a similar era or at least Victorian and a few bits were rather shabby. We took a guided tour and learnt a lot about the history of the castle and the town, though the guide had a style all of his own and seemed keen to impart his own particular views to us. This was a very interesting house/hotel but in the end we felt that we would have to forgive just a few too many eccentricities to be able to put it on our website.
Our next stopover at Walwick Hall, was a complete contrast to Appleby Castle. Everything was newly renovated and pristine. The food in the restaurant was excellent and the location was ideal for visiting Hadrian's Wall. We felt quite bad about rejecting this hotel, but in the end the comfort, the spa and the elegant finish just couldn't quite overcome the lack of character.
Finally we headed further north again, and we stayed in the charming Cookie Jar hotel, just a stone's throw from the entrance to Alnwick Castle. At last we had found the perfect boutique finish that we had already seen at Walwick but this time combined with a truly sincere friendliness and personal touch. The experience was enhanced even further when we found that one of the staff there had previously been valet and chauffeur to the former Duke of Northumberland. Although he was clearly not entirely at one with some of the innovations of the present Duke and Duchess, his anecdotes and knowledge were definitely the icing on the cake. This was the hotel that made it into BEST Small Hotels.
While staying at the Cookie Jar, we visited some of the magical attractions of the Northumberland coast. The magnificent Bamburgh Castle was the highlight, but perhaps Lindisfarne would have been just as good if the tide had allowed us to go across the causeway to the island. We might also have visited Cragside, but we had already been there before.
Every one of the hotels we stayed in was a pleasant experience, but we set the bar high for BEST Small Hotels. In the end only one excelled to such a degree that we could admit it to our exclusive club.
29 May 2018, 11:36