When you think of Yorkshire, you might picture sheep-munching Dales, famous tea rooms or upscale spa towns. The bits in between – the one-pub villages, fairytale forest trails, secret riverside picnic spots, and cute little village streets – are often forgotten or ignored. Especially when they’re in Nidderdale.
Poor old Nidderdale. It’s unspoilt and beautiful, but despite its name, it falls short of being officially part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was awarded Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status in 1994, but visitors to neighboring Harrogate’s tourist hotspot often fail to venture further afield. You won’t want to fall into the same trap this year.
Nidderdale is blessed with natural beauty. Not only will you find Yorkshire’s textured landscape dotted with streams and rivers, but also oddly shaped rocks that make for great afternoons (Brimham Rocks, nationaltrust.org.uk; The Druids’ Temple at Ilton, visitharrogate.co. UK); cool caving and family activities at How Stean Gorge (howstean.co.uk) and Stumpcross Caverns (stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk); gentle reservoir hikes at Thuscross, Swinston and Fewston; and excellent forests to explore.
One of my – and Dame Judi Dench’s – favorite walks is Nidderdale’s Hackfall Woods (woodlandtrust.org.uk). I’m a bit reluctant to share this, but if you love folly, fairy tales, waterfalls and lots of green woodland, this Grade I listed garden is Yorkshire’s answer to Fern Gully.
Right in the middle of Nidderdale is Pateley Bridge, a Victorian market town home to the world’s oldest candy store (yorkshire.com). And if you’re stopping by, make time to visit nearby Fountain’s Abbey, which may well be the finest collection of ruins and water gardens in England. Every time I visit, the surrounding tree benches 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’ radar – Swinton Park, which was featured in the BBC’s Amazing Hotels; Rudding Park with its famous rooftop spa and water straight from Harrogate springs; and the Sportsman’s Arms pub – to name but a few.
One that has particularly caught the attention of the rich and famous lately is a certain Grantley Hall, which has earned the nickname “Ritz of Ripon” among locals and real estate agents. This country house property was on my radar when planning permission was granted to convert the vacant Palladio stack into a luxury country house hotel and has fascinated me ever since.
The hall dates back to 1680 when it was built just before the reign of Queen Anne. It has since served as a noble residence, a convalescent home during World War II (where Dame Vera Lynn once sang) and an educational institution. In 2015, Yorkshire-born Valeria Sykes drove by the property, which happened to be for sale at the time, and bought it with 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 as you pull up is the fleet of supercars parked out front, although anyone with the means will likely fly in by helicopter now that the concourse has its own dedicated space. Nonetheless, you’ll be greeted by gracious tweed-clad servants who won’t judge you as you pull up in your gray Fiat 500. The grounds, which include one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the country, are spacious 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’s immediately clear why the rich flock to this hotel. Due to its northern location, it’s less well known than its southern contemporaries unless you belong to a certain social circle, so it doesn’t get overrun with ungrateful tourists. Instead, you’ll find wealthy locals and weekenders (including members of the Real Housewives franchise and the Rooneys), and the place exudes new-world luxury in an old-school setting.
Renowned foodies include Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, British brasserie Fletchers, library-style Norton Bar and its alfresco terrace, and EightyEight, a trendy teal outpost serving Asian-inspired fare and theatrical Served cocktails that are Instagram-worthy and the cocktails to match.
One of its most salient features, however, is its spa offering, a major draw for affluent millennials and midlifers. The split-level gym features high-tech equipment in multiple workout zones, and features a cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill, and altitude training facilities. The luxurious spa – exclusive to such ultra-peaceful guests – is complete with a domed lap pool, an indoor-outdoor vitality pool, a snow room (yes, really), a sauna, a steam room, and a serviced spa garden. The treatments – perhaps one of their signature bespoke massages – will stay with you long afterward.
The glitzy retreat has indeed fueled a property boom since it opened in 2019, with local estate agent Hopkinsons saying there is strong off-market demand for property, particularly in the villages surrounding Grantley Hall. “People stay in Grantley for two or three nights and then call me to see if they can view properties nearby,” owner Jeremy Hopkinson OBE told a local news outlet.
Certainly there still seems to be hope for Nidderdale. Word is getting around with Grantley Hall giving people a reason to bypass the Honeydukes and instead discover this little pocket that serves as a destination in its own right and has plenty to explore within a few miles. So now is the time to visit – before everyone else does.