Swinton Estate is spectacularly located in the North Yorkshire countryside. An astounding 20,000 acres, the estate has a feel of a seasoned English paradise. The estate is two thirds forestry, reservoirs and farmland and one third open moorland. Bordering the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it is criss-crossed by miles of public footpaths and bridle paths and the surrounding area is full of historical places to visit. Fluxlings visited this summer to experience the award winning idyll for ourselves, from the stunning countryside to the wonderful accommodation and food to the ecological atmosphere….Read about our trip to the estate’s Swinton Park castle hotel here in Part 2…..
Driving for about ten minutes from the Bivouac, or about five minutes from the village of Masham, you approach Swinton Park, Swinton Estate’s luxury castle hotel.
The building itself is dramatic – the ancestral seat of the Earl of Swinton and owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s. The family no longer reside at Swinton Park – the castle is now turned over 100% to the hotel. But the building – both the interior and exterior – has not been sanitised beyond recognition. It still has the feel of a family home, albeit an extremely grand one.
The castle is located in sweeping landscaped grounds, with gardens to the front, back and rear and beyond those a deer park that extends out to more open countryside. On our arrival you could see deer on the far bank of the river that runs past the hotel much to the delight of the fluxlings.
The hotel has 31 bedrooms and suites, all individually designed and which feature generously-sized bathrooms and superb views across the surrounding 200 acres of landscaped Parkland. Antiques and furniture, which have been in the family for generations, as well as the rich history of the castle and the families that have lived there, are part of the experience throughout the house. Our rooms were made up of the very large Semeter suite, complete with the most enormous bath I’ve ever seen, and an adjoining smaller room also with ensuite, which was a perfect bolthole for the fluxlings. Delighted with their room and the chilren’s goody bags laid out on the twin beds, the fluxlings proceeded to ban us from their room which was OK by us, giving us a bit of time to relax surrounded by the luxury woollen fabrics that made up the room’s décor. Unlike some luxury hotels, the rooms at Swinton Park are still fully equipped with tea and coffee making facilities and the more utilitarian items like ironing boards. You can still call on room service if you desire of course, but sometimes it’s a joy to be able to do things quickly for yourself without too much fuss.
Food really is a massive part of the culture at Swinton Park and dining at here is really something else. The laid back bar menu features classics that you can enjoy in the small side bar, or if it’s fine you can opt to be served outside at tables overlooking the lawns and the deer park. But the real knock out is the fine dining at Samuel’s Restaurant. Overseen by chef Simon Crannage, Samuel’s has won many awards for its high quality, including being cited as a “Top Scorer” by Hardens Restaurant Guides, and winning recognition as a 3 AA rosette restaurant.
The emphasis is on seasonal and local produce with a high proportion of the fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in the hotel’s four-acre walled garden which also hosts the hotel’s flower supply (you are welcome to explore this beautiful garden and truly I’ve never seen so many butterflies in my life). The larger estate also supplies the restaurant with venison, rabbit, smoked trout and game.
The restaurant itself is an enormous, elaborate high room with mirrors, gilt, the works. Adjoining the main dining room, there is a lovely private dining room, where we chose to dine. It made for a more relaxed affair, with all the pomp of the main restaurant but without the formality and the risk of disturbing other diners! The menu is full of produce from the estate, with a vegetarian garden menu. The whole experience was a treat and our evening was topped off when out of the tall windows at dusk we saw a herd of deer reatreat for the evening towards the house. Just amazing.
Alongside the main building, the converted Georgian stables has been converted into a Cookery School, impressively directed by Stephen Bulmer, ex-chef director at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. The school’s busy programme includes courses from Foraging to Flavours of the Orient. There are even children’s courses, so if you time your visit well, your little ones can be learning with the best.
Bordering the Yorkshire Dales National Park and falling within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the countryside you find yourself surrounded by at Swinton Park is truly spectacular and the range of activities is a treat for anyone who loves the outdoors. Thinking of everything, we loved the idea of ordering a gourmet picnic that will be delivered to a pre-arranged spot so you can enjoy a morning’s walking at your leisure and then stop off to find your lunch all ready and waiting for you was a wonderful idea.
We tried out horseriding at the practically adjoining riding stables – Masham Riding & Trekking Centre – where you can book pony treks and lessons. The school has permission to run treks through the Swinton Park grounds, which are otherwise closed to the public, being exclusively used by the hotel and its guests. Fluxling #1 and myself had a marvellous time on horseback riding up through the woods (with a guide on foot as we are such total beginners!) to the estate lakes on a wonderful sunny day with all the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees.
On the second day, we enjoyed a marvellous private falconry session with the inspiration Sophie Abbot who owns and runs the Birds of Prey centre that is situated in the hotel gardens. The estate supports a network of businesses who are part of the family at Swinton Park, and the Bird of Prey centre is one of those. It’s a great philosophy giving the estate an exceptional range that also reflects back on the estate creating a wonderful, communal-like synergy.
After talking about the impressive animals (Sophie has around ten birds who live in the aviary at the estate, but many more at her aviary at home and is very knowledgeable), we are given leather gloves and introduced to Gary the Barn Owl. Sophie expertly had Gary flying between us in no time. Both fluxlings were delighted – even fluxling #2 who was only 2 at the time. Next we met Ari – short for Arizona – the Harris Hawk. This was a bit much for fluxling #2 who retreated for this one, but fluxling #1 loved the experience and has a tale to tell about how Ari decided to use her hat as a perch. A highlight of our stay for sure, and at £75 for the familty is it good value and worth every penny – afterall it’s something to remember and something you usually won’t get the chance to experience.
One of the best features of our stay was the relaxed atmosphere at such a grand hotel. Outside a couple of footballs are left around and, after seeing some other children doing the same, the two children had a great time running around after the balls on the lawns. There is also a hidden treehouse and some tyre swings behind the hotel which although simple, was captivating because of its magical location. There is a kid’s playroom full of toys, and in the spirit of thinking of everything, Swinton Park even has an outdoor room full of bikes and outdoor gear in all sizes for guests to borrow.
Swinton Park is an amazing place to visit, for a family break or a Christmas treat! Thanks to all for a captivating stay.