The Devonshire Fell might play second fiddle to its sister hotel, but James Lawrence finds it’s anything but second best.
After a slow start, Great Britain now has the luxury hotel market sown up. Venues such as Limewood in the New Forest and the Dormy House Hotel & Spa have completely reinvigorated the UK prestige tourist industry, offering a level of luxury that was hitherto unseen in these fair isles. Wonderful.
The only slight snag with this unrestrained opulence is that the luxury sector has squeezed out the middle market somewhat over the past few years, making it harder and harder to find a good, but not overly expensive rural retreat or restaurant. Sometimes you don’t want to spend thousands on a weekend break, or hundreds on a meal.
This brings me nicely onto The Devonshire Fell in the Yorkshire Dales. Set amongst miles and miles of gorgeous countryside, the village of Burnsall is charm personified. The property is part of the Duke of Devonshire’s 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey Estate, whose eponymous 12th-century ruined abbey lies six miles south. Indeed, the hotel is wonderfully situated for day trips; Grassington is 10 miles north-west and the busy market town of Skipton is 11 miles south. Leeds is less than an hours’ drive away. It’s almost too perfect.
But look, this hotel doesn’t break the bank in style or opulence. After a night at the sister hotel –the luxurious Devonshire Arms – The Fell almost felt like a comedown. There are limited facilities, although you’ll enjoy free access to the spa in its sister hotel a few miles away. Nonetheless, The Fell offers a warm welcome, comfortable rooms and most important of all: delicious, refined food. It’s a destination that forms part of a dying breed and yet deserves a massive resurgence; a hotel that makes all its guests feel very welcome, but doesn’t cost the earth.
The deal is as follows: a 19th-century building is equipped with a conservatory lounge/bar area, restaurant and 16 guest rooms. The décor is a Shoreditch loft’s worst nightmare: traditional and cosy, rather than chic and achingly trendy. There was a fairly muted colour scheme in our bedroom, with a serviceable bathroom, however, the bright pink and charcoal striped carpet running through the corridors of this handsome Victorian building was a showstopper. The antiques and oil paintings also add a touch of class.
Check-in was quick and painless – always a good sign. In fact, my enduring memory from both The Fell and Devonshire Arms is how much I liked the staff. The team at The Fell generally hailed from different parts of Europe, and were uniformly courteous and obliging – another reason not to do Brexit, then!
I know, I know, we’re all sick of Brexit. Instead, let’s explore the walk from Burnsall to Grassington, which pulls at the heartstrings for all the right reasons. You start on the bend of the River Wharfe – by the excellent Red Lion pub – and meander along river banks, crossing fields and meadows, swing bridges and acre after acre of stunning scenery. I’m usually very wary of nostalgia – it seems so futile to lament the passing of such an inevitability as time, but The Yorkshire Dales does feel stuck in a time warp. It’s undeniably comforting – you can imagine the scenery looking reasonably similar a century ago. We drank in the beauty for hours.
After a long walk and bath, we decided to place our trust in resident chef Rob Harrison. Responsible for handling all gastronomic duties at The Devonshire Fell, Harrison has been in residence for several years, having cut his teeth at various kitchens in Australia. Upon his return, Harrison became Sous Chef under James Mackenzie at the Pipe and Glass in South Dalton near Beverly and stayed there for 8 years – The Pipe and Glass gained a Michelin star in 2010. Our expectations were therefore understandably high.
We began with his wild mushroom risotto, and a tomato and sweet pepper soup. Both were spot on, the risotto reminded me why this venerable dish is best left to the experts. My companion assured me the soup was “rich and velvety beyond belief.”
We both went for the 28-day-aged rib-eye steak – served with a freshly foraged mushroom, grilled tomatoes and chunky chips to be precise. The region is known for its top-quality produce and true to form, the rib-eye was delicately tender and yet intensely rich in flavour at the same time, anchored by a terrific red wine reduction. It was like all my dreams of the perfect meat feast came at once.
Yet desserts were omitted – the Devonshire Fell allows dogs in the conservatory and the “yap fest” going on between two Yorkshire terriers was starting to get annoying. Still, it’s their policy – the hotel is a dog lovers’ paradise, incidentally. I’m personally not a fan, but I recognise I wasn’t in the majority that evening. And besides, it gave me something to moan about over breakfast.
On a happier note, the wine list is very democratic, with reasonable markups and a fair smattering of affordable options. “We would rather our bottles were enjoyed by wine lovers, as opposed to simply collecting dust,” aptly observed one waiter. Quite right too, offensive mark-ups are all too commonplace today, and it was refreshing to see this trend being challenged. Such ethos clearly extends to the kitchen, as our excellent meal was very fairly priced.
In a market crowded with both over-priced destination hotels and lacklustre restaurants, long may The Devonshire Fell and Rob Harrison continue their respective activities.
|The Devonshire Fell Hotel||Rooms from: £116 inc breakfast|
Yorkshire Dales National Park