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Swinton Estate, Ripon

Kristin Atherton checks out Swinton Estate, 'one of the largest and most beautiful private estates in the country'

The credentials:

“20,000 acres of Yorkshire pride” is how Swinton Estate describes itself; rolling hills of purple heather and twisting woodland as far as the eye can see making it one of the largest and most beautiful private estates in the country. The imposing turreted 17th century manor house – covered at this time of year in the most stunning blood-red and crisp green ivy – was converted into a hotel just 17 years ago. On site is a cookery school, bird of prey centre, Bivouac glamping campsite and café, private cinema, gentleman’s smoking/snooker room, two fully stocked bar areas, four-acre walled kitchen garden, 200 recently restored acres of lakes and gardens, two excellent onsite restaurants, and a newly-built Country Club and Spa facility.

Still proudly owned and run by the Cunliffe-Lister family (descendants of the famous Victorian inventor and industrialist Samuel Cunliffe-Lister), Swinton is absolutely steeped in history. But grand though it is, the family have created a hotel that feels thoroughly unpretentious. Think Downton Abbey without Maggie Smith’s arch disapproval over the Earl Grey! The welcome from the staff is warm and friendly and a complimentary drink is in your hands within moments of you putting your bags down. There is a roaring fire in nearly every beautifully appointed drawing room (of which there are several, from the opulent to the intimate) and so much to explore that even with the house full of guests you can find a space all your own.

Sleep:

Swinton Estate has 32 unique bedrooms and suites, each individually furnished and tastefully decorated. The rooms take both their style inspiration and their names from the surrounding Dales, castles, abbeys and towns, from the small but elegant Knights rooms right through to the more lavish Dukes rooms. Those looking for ‘bigger is better’ will be well served by either the three sumptuous Suites (the blue and gold decorated Harewood Suite, the tartan-clad Richmond Suite and the popular Bradford Suite) or three further Signature Suites (the York, the Wensleydale and the Turret). Each room has something that makes it stand out; whether it’s splendid views over the estate, a freestanding roll top bath, or extravagantly canopied bed (or in our case – staying in the York Suite – all three).

The York suite was positively palatial in size, set over two floors, with a generous separate living room and a bed so huge you could have slept an entire family in it! The Nespresso coffee machine, thoughtful selection of teas and chocolate truffles were particularly welcome additions, as was a lovely selection of bath products from the White Company. For such an enormous room we were surprised at how warm it stayed right through the night and – as you’d expect from sleeping in a bed the size of my entire London flat – the sleep itself was deep and restful. And a roll top bath is an absolute winner in my eyes; I could have lain in it even longer than the bed!

For those seeking a little less luxury and a lot more communing with nature, Swinton has the rather unique option of glamping at the Swinton Bivouac out on the estate itself (available between Easter and the end of October). Guests can choose from six Tree Lodges, seven Mongolian Meadow Yurts or two en suite family rooms in the Bivouac barn if wood-burning stoves and outdoor hot tubs are more what you’re after.

Dine:

Guests are spoilt for choice at Swinton Estate’s two dining options.

Brand new space The Terrace – a part of the recently built Spa and country Club outbuildings where we were lucky enough to have dinner – is chic, uber modern and puts Swinton’s own seasonal produce squarely at its heart. Think vegetables freshly picked from the semi-wild walled garden, foraged herbs, game birds and deer that come straight from the surrounding woods and fields. At first glance the menu is almost intimidating it is so unusual; but having opted for the Taste of The Terrace (£45pp for 15 small plates) I cannot recommend the food highly enough. Easily the freshest and most inventive tasting menu I’ve had for some time, the journey from plate to plate was a revelation. From the fresh (cucumber and poppy seed) to the rich (leeks and smoked eel sauce) to the moreish (creamed corn and smoked paprika) to the meaty (salt aged peking duck breast and harlequin sauce) to the simply perfect (grilled skate wing, brown butter and capers). And I have never been so torn between picking a favourite out of three whole desserts (warm plum and almond tart, frozen blackberry parfait, and raspberry fool with lemon balm shortbread), or so sorry that I was too full to finish them.

If you’re looking for romance and something a bit more sumptuous, then Samuel’s restaurant is the second option for diners. Holder of three AA Rosettes and three gold stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association in 2016, Samuel’s has a reputation for providing some of the best fine dining in the North of England. Located in the main house, in the same spacious room as breakfast is served in, Samuel’s also has a focus on local produce; you can expect to see venison, rabbit and smoked trout from the estate on the menu, and there is the option of al la carte (£58 for three courses) or the tasting menu (£70 for seven courses).

Out and about:

There is such a wealth of activities at Swinton you could happily spend several days going through them all. From half to full day courses the Swinton Cookery School – run by Great British Bake Off: Crème de la Crème contestant chef Kevin Hughes – can teach you everything from classic baking and Sunday Roasts to Sushi-making and Spanish Tapas. The Bird of Prey centre lets you get eye to eye with both tawny and tiny owls, and you can even try your hand at falconry. The estate itself has a wealth of walking and running trails, woodlands and lakes to explore – the Druid Temple up by the Bivouac is certainly worth a peek around – and there are bikes for hire if you’d really like to make the most of those 20,000 acres. Fishing, golf, clay-pigeon shooting and pony trekking are also available.

But the jewel in Swinton Estate’s crown in undoubtedly its brand-new Spa and Country Club facility opened in June 2017. Very much a destination in its own right, the extensive and beautifully designed facilities include an 18-metre swimming pool plus additional hydrotherapy pool inside, whilst outside is an alfresco pool terrace where you can find a 10-metre natural pool (no chlorinated water or heating used at all, to make you feel like you’re taking a plunge in a lake) and a small but perfectly formed cedar hot tub. The spa’s heat rooms are so numerous you may have trouble finding them all, but they include an aroma steam room (with seasonal, natural fragrance in 100 percent humidity for deep muscular relaxation), a salt steam room, a blistering Finnish sauna, an alfresco sauna and a row of foot spas. Not to mention there are a whole suite of rooms dedicated to utterly divine massage and body treatments using luxurious products from either Elemis or Bamford (I was treated to the Bamford De-Stress massage), as well as relaxation suites featuring low lighting and water beds. There are also a whole host of beauty therapies on offer – from pedicures to waxing treatments – if you fancy some real top to toe pampering. The whole facility is a triumph; a perfect marriage of the natural beauty all around Swinton with the most sleekly modern design, and it is deservedly busy (whilst avoiding feeling over-crowded). And with food and drink delivered poolside it is a tempting to spend the whole day there.

The worst thing:

I wasn’t bowled over by the breakfast; the local sausage and bacon in the full English were scrummy but my companion’s avocado on toast with poached egg was a little bland and the service not as attentive as elsewhere in the property.

The best thing:

So hard to choose; the spa is top class, the grounds are stunning and the rooms are delightfully characterful, but having chatted to so many warm, utterly wonderful staff members I would say it’s them. Young or old, local or from overseas, their friendliness and love of the estate (as well as their clearly warm relationship with the owners themselves) absolutely shines through and makes Swinton somewhere you’d like to hurry back to as soon as possible.

The details:

Double rooms begin at £195, junior suites at £370, The York or Turret Suite at £435, and the Wensleydale Suite at £470.00.
Swinton Estate, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 4JH, Tel: 01765 680900, enquires@swintonpark.com, www.swintonestate.com