Think Yorkshire and you might imagine sheep-gnawed Dales, famous tea rooms, or upscale spa towns. The in-between parts – pub hamlets, fairytale woodland walks, secret riverside picnic spots and button-cute main village streets – are often forgotten or ignored. Especially if I’m in Nidderdale.
Poor old Nidderdale. It is pristine and lovely, but despite its name it is not officially part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was awarded Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status in 1994, but visitors to its nearby tourist hotspot Harrogate often can’t venture farther. You don’t want to fall into the same trap this year.
Nidderdale is blessed with natural beauty. Not only will you find the structured structure of the Yorkshire countryside veined with streams and rivers, but also oddly shaped rocks that make for great afternoons (Brimham Rocks, nationaltrust.org.uk; The Druids’ Temple at Ilton, visitharrogate.co.uk) ; fantastic caves and family-friendly activities at How Stean Gorge (howstean.co.uk) and Stumpcross Caverns (stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk); gentle tank walks at Thuscross, Swinston and Fewston; and excellent woods to explore.
One of my favorite walks – and Dame Judi Dench’s – is Nidderdale’s Hackfall Woods (woodlandtrust.org.uk). Sorry to share it slightly, but if you love follies, fairy tales, waterfalls and lots of leafy woodland, this Grade I listed garden is Yorkshire’s answer to Fern Gully.
In the middle of Nidderdale is Pateley Bridge, a Victorian market town that is home to the world’s oldest sweet shop (yorkshire.com). And if you’re stopping by, make time to visit nearby Fountain’s Abbey for what may be arguably the finest water garden and ruin complex in England. Whenever I visit, the surrounding tree banks are a painter’s seasonal color palette.
The Ritz of Ripon
To Nidderdale’s extra credit, there are some excellent hotels already on staycation radars: Swinton Park, which featured on the BBC’s Amazing hotels; Rudding Park, with its famous rooftop baths and waters drawn directly from the Harrogate springs; and Sportsman’s Arms publisher, just to name a few.
One that has particularly attracted the attention of the rich and famous recently is a certain Grantley Hall, who has earned his name among locals and real estate agents such as the “Ritz of Ripon”. This country house ownership was on my radar just as planning permission was granted to transform the empty Palladian pile into a luxurious country hotel and has intrigued me ever since.
The hall dates back to 1680 when it was built shortly before Queen Anne’s reign. It has since experienced periods as aristocratic residences, a convalescent home during World War II (the Dame Vera Lynn once sang to the troops here), and an educational facility. In 2015, Yorkshire-born Valeria Sykes walked past the property, which was for sale at the time, and bought it using her divorce agreement. Since then, she and her family have restored it to its former glory (to the tune of £ 70 million), involving as much Yorkshire produce and local help as possible.
The first thing you notice as you stop is the fleet of supercars parked out front, although anyone with the means to do so will likely be flying in a helicopter now the hall has its own pad. However, you will be greeted by lovely tweed-clad waiters who won’t judge you as you pull over in your gray Fiat 500. The gardens, which include one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the country, are vast and immaculate, and there are 47 lavishly designed rooms (think Harrison Spinks beds, free minibars, marble bathrooms) that make you feel like royalty.
Location, location, location
It is immediately clear why the rich flock to this hotel. Its northern location makes it less well known than its southern contemporaries, unless you’re from a certain social circle, so it’s not overrun with tourists who don’t appreciate it. Instead you’ll find affluent locals and weekend vacationers (including members of the Real Housewives and Rooneys franchise), and the place exudes new-world luxury in an old-fashioned setting.
Its renowned culinary credentials include Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, British brasserie Fletchers, library-style Norton Bar and its outdoor terrace, and EightyEight, a trendy outpost drenched in teal that serves up signature dishes. Instagrammable Asian inspiration and theatrical cocktails to match.
By far one of its most distinguishable features is the wellness offering, a big draw for millennials and middle-aged people. The two-level gym is equipped with high-tech equipment in multiple training areas and features a cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill, and altitude training facilities. The luxurious spa – exclusive to guests in an extremely tranquil way – is complete with a vaulted lap pool, an indoor and outdoor vitality pool, a snow room (yes, really), a sauna, a steam room, and an equipped spa garden . The treatments, perhaps one of their exclusive bespoke massages, stay with you for a long time.
The glitzy retirement has indeed triggered a real estate boom since opening in 2019, with local real estate agent Hopkinsons saying there is strong off-market demand for property particularly in the surrounding villages of Grantley Hall. “People stay for two or three nights in Grantley and then call me to see if they can see properties near it,” OBE owner Jeremy Hopkinson told a local news bulletin.
It sure looks like there is still hope for Nidderdale. With Grantley Hall offering people a reason to detour honeypots and instead discover this little pocket, which serves as a destination in its own right with plenty to explore within a few miles, the word is getting around. So now is the time to visit, before everyone else does.