Oh, look! There’s Jane Eyre, walking down the lane way toward the gardens. That didn’t happen, but it feels like it could at Swinton Park, a luxury property housed in a castle smack dab in the Yorkshire Dales of England.
With its mix of fine dining, cookery school, country club, spa, gardens and antique furnished rooms (38 in total), guests can experience the grandeur of a typical English grand country house. It seems like the greatest hits of all things British can be found right here.
There’s not a touch of hipness here. The décor is definitely classic and unapologetically old-fashioned. The rooms are large and roomy, full of floral prints, stately stripes, plushness and rich textures. That nod to the past is quite deliberate. The current owners, the Cunliffe-Lister family, took over the property and its surrounding 200 acres of parkland in the late 1880s.
Despite its elegance, the atmosphere is very relaxed. Guests roam through the pretty English gardens and pick wildflowers from the meadows. Or they curl up in one of the drawing rooms with a novel – a real live paperback – not an e-reader.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to do. There is. Plenty! The property has a reputation for fine dining and has spun that off into the creation of its own cooking (or cookery, as they say in England), housed in a former Georgian-era stable next to the hotel.
The focus here is local ingredients – really local, including produce from the garden (like spring rhubarb) behind Swinton Park, plus smoked trout, venison, rabbit and game from the estate. The Cookery School offers half day, full day and weekend hands-on classes throughout the year. Themes vary, ranging from a traditional Sunday roast dinner to sushi making, led by chef/teacher Kevin Hughes. Before it’s time to eat, you’ll have a chance to don an apron and get busy in the kitchen while picking up some savvy technique tips.
Meanwhile in the award-winning dining rooms of the property, guests can let someone else do the cooking. Samuel’s Restaurant is a grand-looking room with an ornate gold-leaf ceiling and enormous mantelpiece. It’s the place where you can have a romantic dinner. They do game meat (like rabbit or venison) really well, so if you’ve ever wanted to give it a try, this is a place you can trust to prepare it well.
Be forewarned that there is a dress code in effect for evening, so swap your sneakers and jeans for something a bit more spiffy. In the morning, it’s strictly casual for breakfast – a substantial one at that with hot and cold dishes offered. I only wish I could replicate the way they make tea at home. It doesn’t taste the same without skilled servers properly warming your teapot.
It’s not all about food at Swinton Park. There are outdoor pursuits, too. The Bird of Prey Centre allows guests to participate in falconry, the sport enjoyed by a long line of English monarchs. Once you’ve put on a thick leather glove, you can have a hawk, owl or eagle perched on your arm. It’s an incredible chance to see these remarkable birds close up. Some are surprisingly heavy.
Book an experience before your arrival, whether it’s a half-hour or hour-long session or a full day of training and handling with lunch included. If you’re getting hitched on Swinton Park, it will even arrange for the release of white doves to symbolize a marriage full of love and peace. Ahhhh.
If you’re comfortable handling firearms, you can also sign up to go duck, pheasant or grouse hunting on the property. Or skip the kill and go for the thrill by shooting clay pigeons. An instructor will demonstrate safe handling of a gun and how to shoot accurately. Fisherman can take their rod and reels to the River Ure and hook trout, salmon and grayling for their supper.
Ride horses or ride bikes, too. Swinton Park has a resort-like environment where you can be as busy or lazy as you like in a stunning setting that highlights the best of British country life. Jane Eyre would have been right at home here, as will you during your stay.
Michele stayed as a guest of Swinton Park and Visit Britain. As always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos courtesy of Michele Sponagle, Swinton Park, Flickr/David Surtees and Flickr/Victoria Winters.