Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th February 2008.
You probably know of the Devonshire Arms, the swish hotel on the Duke of Devonshire's Yorkshire Dales estate. But what of its sibling, the Devonshire Fell?
Perhaps "daughter-in-law", not "sibling", would be more accurate. For if Mitford sister Debo, now the dowager duchess, was responsible in 1982 for the then new interior of the Devonshire Arms in the village of Bolton Abbey, it was her daughter-in-law Amanda who created the look in this hotel, also on the Bolton Abbey estate.
Except for its recent brasserie and bar, also designed by the younger duchess, the Devonshire Arms is traditional, as you would expect, while the Fell, in complete contrast, is modern and positively pulsating with colour.
So modern and colourful that once inside we quite forgot where we were. "If you were just plonked into this room, what place would you say you were in?" I asked my companion.
We disagreed happily for a while about whether it was a brasserie in Perth, Cape Town or perhaps even Cornwall in funky mode (the hotel has some pleasantly homespun touches; it might have been created by a switched on ex-surfer rather than a duchess) – and all the while the raw majesty of the shadowy fells outside receded farther and farther from our consciousness.
Picture the scene. Open-plan bar and restaurant, with purple and mauve walls, white shutters, bare wooden floors, background pop music. In front of the bar, long, low, leather sofas; in the brasserie, tub chairs at bistro tables, each covered in a different vibrant touchy-feely fabric: cerise, aqua, striped or flowery.
The excellent lighting is from wire-hung halogen spots, while on the walls are large, exotic, multi-coloured canvases, the work of a local artist with a home in Thailand. Babies were in high chairs at the table next to us; most of the other diners were in their thirties.
The staff are friendly and eager to please and we enjoyed our dinner, though it must be said that the bistro food was pretty average, with the usual suspects on the menu: moules, chicken caesar salad, mushroom risotto, steak and (soggy) chips.
The 10 bedrooms are spacious and, again, bursting with colour. There are also two suites, perfect for families, with two bathrooms in each.
As at the Devonshire Arms, guests of the hotel have free passes to explore the estate, including the romantic ruins of the 12th-century priory, miles of walking trails and the facilities of the Devonshire Health Spa.
If you want to visit – and Wharfedale is stunning at any time of year – then I would choose the Arms if you are à deux, and the Fell if you are en famille. Neither is cheap, but the Fell is much the less expensive.
In the morning, when we opened our curtains, we were very obviously not in Perth, Cape Town or Cornwall. Beneath us, the river curled under a bridge and the fell beyond was criss-crossed with dry-stone walls. We came downstairs and thought the place looked even better and more eccentric by day than at night.
We decided that it was fun to be in a Yorkshire hotel that was so different from the norm, and that we would be more than happy to return.