A spot of luxury in County Durham

To say I fell head over heels for Rockcliffe Hall is pretty accurate. This Victorian/contemporary amalgamation is charming, comfortable and offers five-star luxury along with five-star service, on a beautifully presented plate.

Rockcliffe Hall

A little later than planned, my boyfriend Jamie and I hurriedly enter the grand lobby of this beautiful Victorian pile before I topple over my suitcase and land flat on my face. Slightly pink, I am grateful to be scooped up by the kindly concierge, along with the contents of my handbag. Half an hour later my embarrassment evaporates into contentment as I sink into the steamy open-air hot tub, munching frozen grapes and admiring the view. We spend the next couple of hours slipping back inside to the glass-walled sauna, curling up in front of the firepit and being pummelled by the jacuzzi before accidentally falling asleep on the warm, body-shaped beds in the tepidarium – a kind of low-lit sauna that relaxes the body and mind.

Delicious plates
Set in the quiet village of Hurworth-on-Tees, Rockliffe Hall is a stone’s throw from the North York Moors. There’s a long list of outdoor pursuits on offer, from horse riding to stargazing, but we decide to pad back for some R&R in our spacious room. Contemporary and with views of the grounds, it’s my very definition of luxury. King-sized bed and mood lighting? Check. Dressing room and lounge seating? Check. Marble bathroom with double sink and TV above the bath? Check. So, after yet another bath and an episode of Countryfile, we head to the cellar to sample wines with sommelier Daniel. Speaking as someone who only really knows the difference between red and white wine (the colour being a giveaway), this kind of exercise has been a bit lost on me in the past. But Daniel’s passion and knowledge is so infectious, I leave for dinner rosy-cheeked and with a greater respect for the drink I’ve been quaffing for well over a decade.

Dinner is served in
The Orangery, Rockliffe Hall’s flagship 4AA Rosette restaurant, whose extraordinary tasting menus come with optional wine pairings. We choose the whole shebang and eat our way through 10 delicious plates, including venison with savoury granola and pickled brambles, Landrace pork with charred carrots and marigold, and plum with sheep’s curd and lemon balm. It’s a menu that takes us foraging through the English countryside. By the last course we feel fit to burst but sad it’s coming to an end, as with our time at Rockliffe Hall generally. I have fallen head over heels for this place, literally
as well as metaphorically – I have the bruises to prove it.

Rooms cost from £220 per night, including breakfast and spa access (rockcliffehall.com)




For more information visit rockcliffehall.com and visitwiltshire.co.uk


 

Getting cosy in Wiltshire

I haven’t set foot in a stables since my schoolgirl riding days, but my boyfriend Jamie and I ended up having supper in one during our stay at this charming 14th century inn deep in the heart of Wiltshire’s Nadder Valley.


‘With bags in tow and the sun in our eyes, we trundle up the path to the quaint Compasses Inn. After a quick, rather squinty selfie, we push open the black wooden door and are immediately transported back to the 14th century. Tankards and lanterns hang from original wooden beams on the low ceilings and rusty horseshoes, leather tack and old farming equipment adorn the stone walls. A rich, smoky smell that’s hard to place but oddly comforting fills our noses. History wafts all around us, yet the pub feels surprisingly up to date.

It has all the charm of the old stables without the horses or, dare I say it, the muck. Apparently a stream once ran directly through the inn so animals could drink alongside the customers, but today, with no horses around to join us for a tipple, we enjoy a local ale in a cosy alcove before being shown to one of the four rooms above.

Our room is contemporary but with a country cottage feel; modern fixtures mixed with wooden furniture, and a plate of home-made biscuits to accompany our cups of tea. The bathroom is glossy-magazine perfect, with gleaming white wall tiles and gold detailing and, although there’s no bath, the luxurious shower more than makes up for it.

With glorious countryside on our doorstep and English Heritage sites Stonehenge and Wardour Castle a short drive away, we have every intention of heading off to explore. Instead, we end up conking out on the comfy bed. Oops.

Dinner is a hearty, unpretentious affair with the emphasis on seasonal and local produce. The menu changes daily but you can expect to find elevated pub classics with the odd wildcard. We opt for the rolled pork belly, chorizo and sherry sauce with mashed potato, plus a butternut squash risotto cake oozing with fontina cheese,and a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. But the real showstopper is the dessert: a sticky ‘cola’ pudding with bourbon toffee sauce and clotted cream. Truly inspired and certainly better than the cheese-and-pickle sarnies I used to eat after my riding lessons all those years ago…’

Doubles £110, including breakfast (thecompassesinn.com)




For more information visit thecompassesinn.com and visitwiltshire.co.uk