“A classic coaching inn, this is the perfect stop-over when travelling between Yorkshire and the Lake District, or between Scotland and the south: close to the A1, and right beside the A66. And it’s got pedigree; Charles Dickens, it’s said, stayed here when researching ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ for which he took inspiration from a school at nearby Bowes near Barnard Castle.
A large and handsome Georgian building, it’s comfortably traditional with plenty of leather Chesterfields, hunting prints and a formal, panelled dining room. The food, however, is surprisingly contemporary and inventive - strong on local sourcing and with nice touches such as quirky amuse-bouches - and well-deserving of its two AA rosettes. The bar bistro serves more standard pub dishes. Even if you eat in the dining room, do check it out for the entertaining murals of Dickensian characters.
Another surprise is the spa. On the site of an old garage, it has a motoring theme - Formula One facials, for example - and a funky style, with hot and cold plunge pools, an outdoor hot tub and a shepherd hut’s sauna. Bedrooms are fresh and simple with country-pine furnishings; those in the courtyard or with open beams have the most character.
Although you can’t avoid traffic sounds from the A66, there are pretty gardens to relax in, and walks across the surrounding fields. The French-chateau-style Bowes Museum, with its breath-taking art, decorative art and textile collections, and the antique shops of Barnard Castle are a 10-minute drive while the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales are around an hour away.”
Written by Helen Pickles