No sooner have we fled the M1, do we slip into a different dimension. Without boring you too much with tales of dreary rush-hour traffic, let’s just say that the timeless landscape of the North Yorkshire Dales is just the ticket. A vision of rural perfection: velvet-green hillocks populated by high-kicking lambs and studded with historic houses and stone-built barns. For us it’s complete with glowering cumulonimbi pierced by dazzling shafts of sun. ‘It’s like a fairy tale,’ I gush. ‘But heavier on the weather references,’ pipes up Mr Smith.
Over hills, and yes, dales, through time-stood-still villages and past acres of pristine farmland, we arrive at Bainbridge. We follow our noses to where we think we’ll find Yorebridge House, past a village green sporting mediaeval stocks quaintly still in situ. ‘Look for a bridge,’ I suggest. ‘The clue being in the hotel’s name,’ chips in you-know-who. An image of smarty-pants in those stocks foists its way into my thought bubble.
Lovingly renovated by David and Charlotte Reilly in 2006, our chosen boutique hotel was once a tiny village school. Victorian on the outside, with Noughties boutique styling on the inside, this former classroom and master’s house has undergone a serious conversion. Yorebridge House is seductively decorated with chocolate-brown walls, polished wooden floors, twinkling hurricane lamps and bold wallpaper – it’s accommodation most unexpected in this traditional Dales heartland. Famed for its eponymous cheese, James Herriott and more recently, those less-than-stylish exports, Wallace and Grommit, we’ve done our homework on Wensleydale, but still we aren’t expecting a retreat as chic as this.
As though faithful to a legacy of many commands of ‘Quiet at the back, please!’ reception in the schoolmaster’s house is serenely silent. Yet we hear a tantalising bustle a few rooms away. Of course – it’s mealtime. The hotel’s keen young team and also the guests have all migrated into the lively dining room. Tainted by too many arrival-after-9pm hotel experiences, we’re poised to fly into a panic. Thankfully someone appears just in the nick and whisks us to a world of more candles, gleaming wooden floors, and potted palms past an open kitchen. Here award-winning chef, James Fiske’s bright and beautiful team is in full swing, adhering diligently to the watchwords of modern British cooking – local, seasonal, sustainable.
The fixed-price menu has plenty of choices and lots of surprises amid amuse-bouches, flavoured foams and rectangular plates. Everything is prepared with imagination and integrity and service is of the sweet and charming, rather than formal or forbidding and enthusiasm is palpable from all, staff and diners alike. Local spring lamb loin with confit of mutton is a winner. Norwegian ice wine with pudding is unexpected and delicious. And if you’re asking us to mark the restaurant at Yorebridge House, we’re awarding an A+.
Ambling across the small gravel car park to our bedroom, we spy puffs of steam and hear giggling. Ah yes, the ground-floor bedrooms have hedonistic outdoor hot tubs. Shielded by rattan screens in petite private gardens, it is still clear that Yorebridge’s weekend boarders are bathing alfresco, and loving every minute. Forget a slap on the legs with a ruler or a cane to your buttocks – well, unless that’s your thing – these days this school clearly encourages a little misbehaviour.
Our room, Spanish-inspired Carabeo, is one of four in the grade-II listed schoolroom. The graceful barn-like building has been quartered to create apartment-style living, a feeling enhanced by seagrass on the floors, powder-blue chandeliers, pleasingly large Bang & Olufsen flatscreens and all the mod cons. In the centre of our boudoir is the puffiest bed ever, with a downy comforter and duvet, all heaped with pillows. Separated by a not-quite-to-the ceiling wall, the ensuite gleams with stone tiling, a vast rolltop bath, curlicued mirrors and cool, contemporary lighting. The only anomaly? An original half-window gives riverwalkers a bizarre view of loo-users’ ankles. Worried that Snoopy tattoo might reveal your identity? Thankfully, owners David and Charlotte have got all bases (and body parts) covered and rolling blinds protects all dignity.
The next morning, Team Yorebridge happily organises a breakfast for two in the quiet schoolmaster’s room. Reserved for private dining in the evening, here we enjoy locally sourced full Yorkshire brekkie, fat weekend papers and an eyeful of creatures great and small. Ducks quack in the river, lambs bounce in nearby fields – it’s a world away from home. So the concept of moving from the hotel is a little challenging, but eventually we don hiking boots and venture out.
We roam Castle Bolton’s crumbling ramparts, taste plentiful fruit-studded samples of Wensleydale in Hawes, hike at a window-shoppers pace aside Askrigg’s dramatic waterfalls and finally take a detour to Semer Water. Here a local jam-maker’s tasting room is our recompense. Raydale Preserves specialises in soft-set jams and way-out chutneys – this unmanned cottage filled with hundreds of pots of jam and plenty of spoons is trustingly begging us to sample. A sign politely requests money for any goods taken and so we settle up for some strawberry this and spiced banana that. We’re half tempted to get an extra jar to take back to our interior-design-educating hosts. After all they’ve done at Yorebridge House to make our weekend away so wonderful, we’re in the mood to play schoolmaster’s pet.