Think Yorkshire and you might imagine the Dales with sheep, famous tea rooms or exclusive spa towns. The bits in between – the one-pub hamlets, adventurous woodland walks, secret riverside picnic spots and the cute village streets – are often forgotten or ignored. Especially if they are in Nidderdale.
Poor old Nidderdale. It’s unspoilt and lovely, but despite its name misses out on being officially part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was awarded Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status in 1994, but visitors to tourist hotspot neighbor Harrogate often fail to venture further afield. You don’t want to fall into the same trap this year.
Nidderdale is blessed with natural beauty. Not only will you find textured Yorkshire countryside with streams and rivers, but oddly shaped rocks that make great afternoons out (Brimham Rocks, nationaltrust.org.uk; The Druids’ Temple at Ilton, visitharrogate.co.uk); cool caves and family activities at How Stean Gorge (howstean.co.uk) and Stumpcross Caverns (stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk); gentle reservoir walks at Thuscross, Swinston and Fewston; and excellent forest to explore.
One of my – and Dame Judi Dench’s – favorite walks is Nidderdale’s Hackfall Woods (woodlandtrust.org.uk). I hate to share this a bit, but if you love folly, adventure, waterfalls and plenty of broadleaf woodland, this Grade I-listed garden is Yorkshire’s answer to Fern Gully.
Bang in the middle of Nidderdale is Pateley Bridge, a Victorian market town that is home to the oldest sweet shop in the world (yorkshire.com). And if you’re in, make time to visit nearby Fountain’s Abbey for what is arguably the most beautiful set of ruins and water garden in England. Every time I visit, the surrounding tree banks are a painter’s palette of seasonal colors.
The Ritz of Ripon
To Nidderdale’s added credit, there are some excellent hotels already on staycationers’ radars – Swinton Park, which featured on the BBC’s Fantastic Hotels; Rudding Park, with its famous rooftop spa and water taken directly from Harrogate’s springs; and the Sportsman’s Arms pub – to name a few.
One that has particularly caught the attention of the rich and famous recently is a certain Grantley Hall, which has earned its name among locals and estate agents as the ‘Ritz of Ripon’. This manor property was on my radar right back when planning permission to turn the vacant Palladian pile into a luxury country house hotel was granted, and has fascinated me ever since.
The hall dates back to 1680 when it was built just before Queen Anne’s reign. Since then it has endured as aristocratic residences, a World War II convalescent home (Dame Vera Lynn once sang for the troops here) and an educational facility. In 2015, Yorkshire-born Valeria Sykes drove past the property, which happened to be for sale at the time, and bought it using her divorce settlement. Since then, she and her family have restored it to its former glory (at a cost of £70m), using as much Yorkshire produce and local help as possible.
The first thing you notice when you pull up is the fleet of supercars parked out front, although anyone with the means will likely fly in via helicopter now that the concourse has its own pad. Still, you’ll be greeted by gracious, tweed-clad valets who won’t judge you when you pull up in your gray Fiat 500. The property, which includes one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the country, is vast and immaculate, and there are 47 sumptuously 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 wealthy flock to this hotel. Its northern location makes it less well-known than its southern contemporaries, unless you’re in a certain social circle, so it’s not overcrowded with unworldly tourists. Instead, you’ll find affluent locals and weekenders (including members of the Real Housewives series and the Rooneys), and the place exudes new-world luxury in an old-school setting.
Its famous foodie credentials include Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, British brasserie Fletchers, the library-style Norton Bar and its outdoor terrace, and EightyEight, a teal trendy outpost serving up Instagram-worthy Asian-inspired dishes and theatrical cocktails. .
By far one of the most distinctive features is the wellness offering, a big draw for cash-strapped millennials and midlifers. The two-level gym is equipped with high-tech equipment in several training areas, and has a cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill and altitude training facilities. The luxurious spa – exclusively for guests so extremely peaceful – is complete with a vaulted swimming pool, indoor-outdoor vitality pool, snow room (yes really), sauna, steam room and serviced spa garden. Treatments – perhaps one of their bespoke signature massages – will stay with you for a long time afterwards.
Indeed, the glittering retreat has sparked a property boom since opening in 2019, with local estate agents Hopkinsons saying there is strong off-market demand for properties particularly in the surrounding villages of Grantley Hall. “People stay for two or three nights at Grantley and call me to see if they can see properties nearby,” owner Jeremy Hopkinson OBE told a local news agency.
It seems there is hope for Nidderdale yet. With Grantley Hall giving people a reason to swing from the honey pots and discover this little pocket of the place, which doubles as a destination in its own right with plenty to explore within a few miles, the buzz is getting. So now is the time to visit – before everyone else does.