Think of Yorkshire and you might imagine sheep-nibbled Dales, famous tea rooms or upmarket spa towns. The bits in between – the one-pub hamlets, fairytale woodland walks, secret riverside picnic spots, and cute-as-a-button village high streets – are often forgotten or ignored. Especially if they're in Nidderdale.
Poor old Nidderdale. It is unspoilt and lovely, yet despite its name misses out on being officially part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was awarded Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status in 1994, but visitors to its tourist hotspot neighbour Harrogate 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 textured Yorkshire countryside veined with streams and rivers, but strangely shaped rocks that make great afternoons out (Brimham Rocks, nationaltrust.org.uk; The Druids' Temple at Ilton, visitharrogate.co.uk); cool caves and family activities at How Stean Gorge (howstean.co.uk) and Stumpcross Caverns (stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk); gentle reservoir walks at Thuscross, Swinston and Fewston; and excellent woodland to explore.
One of my – and Dame Judi Dench's – favourite walks is Nidderdale's Hackfall Woods (woodlandtrust.org.uk). I begrudge sharing this slightly, but if you love follies, fairytales, waterfalls and lots of leafy woodland, this Grade I listed garden is Yorkshire's answer to Fern Gully.
Bang in the middle of Nidderdale is Pateley Bridge, a Victorian market town that is home to the oldest sweet shop in the world (yorkshire.com). And if you're stopping by, make time to visit nearby Fountain's Abbey for what could arguably be the loveliest set of ruins and water garden in England. Every time I visit, the surrounding banks of trees are a painter's palette of seasonal colour.
The Ritz of Ripon
To Nidderdale's extra credit, there are some excellent hotels already on staycationers' radars – Swinton Park, which featured on BBC’s Amazing hotels; Rudding Park, with its famous rooftop spa and waters drawn directly from Harrogate’s springs; and the pubby Sportsman's Arms – to name a few.
One that has particularly grabbed the attention of the rich and famous recently though is a certain Grantley Hall, earning its name among locals and estate agents as the ‘Ritz of Ripon’. This country-house property was on my radar right back when planning permission to turn the vacant Palladian pile into a luxury country house hotel was granted, and has intrigued me ever since.
The hall dates back to 1680 when it was constructed just before the reign of Queen Anne. Since then it has endured stints as aristocrats' residences, a convalescence home during the Second World War (Dame Vera Lynn once sang to the troops here) and an educational facility. In 2015, Yorkshire-born Valeria Sykes drove past the property, which happened to be up for sale at the time, and bought it using her divorce settlement. Since then, she and her family have restored it to its former glory (to the tune of £70m), involving 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 to will probably fly in via helicopter now the hall has its own pad. Nevertheless, you’ll be greeted by amiable, tweed-coated valets who won’t judge you as you pull up in your grey Fiat 500. The grounds, which include one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the country, are vast and immaculate, and there are 47 sumptuously designed rooms (think Harrison Spinks beds, complimentary minibars, marble bathrooms) that make you feel like royalty.
Location, location, location
It’s immediately clear why the wealthy flock to this hotel. Its northern location makes it less well known than its southern contemporaries, unless you’re of a certain social circle, so it's not overrun with unappreciative tourists. Instead you'll find affluent 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.
Its renowned foodie credentials include Michelin-starred Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, British brasserie Fletchers, library-style Norton Bar and its al fresco terrace, and EightyEight, a teal-smattered trendy outpost that serves Instagrammable Asian-inspired dishes and theatrical cocktails to match.
By far one of its most distinguishable features though is the wellness offering, a big draw for moneyed millennials and midlifers. The bi-level gym is kitted out with high-tech equipment in multiple training areas, and features a cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill and altitude training facilities. The luxurious spa – exclusive to guests so extremely peaceful – is complete with a vaulted lap pool, indoor-outdoor vitality pool, snow room (yes really), sauna, steam room and serviced spa garden. Treatments – perhaps one of their tailored signature massages – stay with you for a long time after.
The glitzy retreat has in fact sparked a property boom since it opened in 2019, with local estate agent Hopkinsons saying there is strong off-market demand for properties specifically in the surrounding villages of Grantley Hall. “People are staying for two or three nights at Grantley and then ringing me to see if they can view properties close to it,” the owner Jeremy Hopkinson OBE told a local news outlet.
Certainly it seems there is hope for Nidderdale yet. With Grantley Hall giving people a reason to swerve the honeypots and discover this little pocket instead, serving as a destination in its own right with lots to explore within a few miles, word is getting out. So now's the time to visit – before everyone else does.