York is rich in history. You could spend two weeks here and still only scratch the surface – we had three days and two nights and Middlethorpe Hall seemed to be the perfect base.
Thirty-five years have passed since I was last in York, so the return had to be special. York and its surrounding areas have plenty of beautiful country house hotels to choose from, but Middlethorpe’s charm leapt off its website, and it was perfectly located, literally minutes from York city centre and, because of its position next to the racecourse, it felt like it was in the countryside. We liked that.
Middlethorpe Hall is “a perfect William and Mary country house built in 1699-1701 of beautifully laid mellow red brick with limestone dressing and panelled interiors of excellent joinery.” It was built for Thomas Barlow, a prosperous master cutler (a person that sells or makes cutlery) who bought the Middlethorpe estate in 1698 as a bid to establish himself as a country gentleman. By all accounts it worked.
Women have also made their mark on Middlethorpe. It was once the home of the famous diarist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), one of the most remarkable women of the 18th century, not least due to her campaigning for the introduction of smallpox inoculation, but also as a writer and poet.
It was also the family home of Fanny Rollo Wilkinson (1855-1951), who was the first woman professional landscape gardener in England and paved the way for women to enter the profession, which until then had been a strictly male preserve. She may well have been inspired by its beautiful grounds.
Middlethorpe is influenced indirectly by the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren, especially his Hampton Court of the 1690s with its horizontal skyline and its pattern of red brick, white sash windows and stone quoins and window surrounds; all features taken up at Middlethorpe.
“Set in twenty acres of its own gardens it strikes quite a pose.”
As you drive up, it has a stately but sturdy stance – no nonsense, very Yorkshire. Set in twenty acres of its own gardens it strikes quite a pose. To the left of the main house is a 18th century courtyard which is home to several rooms and four beautiful spacious suites with names connected to the history of Middlethorpe; The Colonel Wilkinson, Sir Henry Thompson, Paget and ours, the Sir Francis Terry Suite. All have a comfortable sitting room and separate bedroom with king-size double bed (that can be twinned), and are furnished with antiques and fine prints, plus all the usual modern accompaniments. The suites have views over the gardens or the courtyard.
Our suite was tastefully decorated, and the two bathrooms (one ensuite) featured Penhaligon Quercus toiletries. Free WiFi access is also provided. One of the details we particularly loved was the staff attire – green waistcoats, pressed trousers, cotton shirts and ties. Very smart indeed.
On our first evening we had booked dinner and what an excellent meal. The food, the presentation, the dining room, the service – all perfect.
We weren’t surprised to hear that non-residents regularly dine here. Breakfast is also particularly popular with discerning locals too.
We were hoping to visit York Minster prior to our arrival at Middlethorpe but hadn’t banked on our King putting in an appearance the following day. Understandably, the preparations for the visit trumped our “We’re from Wales and we’d like to look around”. No worries, we took ourselves off to Durham Cathedral instead and we weren’t disappointed. A brilliant experience made all the more enjoyable by, refreshingly, no admission fee and the good fortune of meeting Aidan Brewer, a charming young man full of knowledge and a real passion for the cathedral’s history. We could have listened to him for hours – a real asset to the organisation.
Afterwards, we found a wonderful little tearoom called Cafédral. A real gem. Good coffee and it would have been rude not to try their fresh cream scones which were delicious. If you’re in Durham, we highly recommend it.
The following day, after a superb Middlethorpe breakfast (we both chose smoked haddock and poached eggs – incredibly good), we headed for Whitby, the famous working fishing port on the east coast. It was raining on arrival but the cloud soon broke and we enjoyed a few hours walking its streets and mooching around the harbour.
I had hoped to visit Saltwick Bay, Sandsend Beach and Port Mulgrave to do a spot of fossil hunting but, alas, time got away from us. I follow the lads at Yorkshire Fossils on YouTube. Perhaps next time.
After a relaxed exploratory drive around the local villages, we returned to the hotel having booked ourselves afternoon tea. We weren’t disappointed. Yet again Middlethorpe surpassed themselves – we sat in a gorgeous sitting room with a coal fire gently glowing in the hearth. The ambience combined with tasty sandwiches, handmade scrummy cakes and beautiful bone China ensured this afternoon tea was a particularly special one.
After tea, Jennifer took herself off to the spa for an hour of rest and relaxation. The Health & Fitness Spa, in a subtly extended pair of Edwardian cottages opposite the hotel provides a large swimming pool, spa bath, steam room, sauna, three beauty salons and Club Room where meals and drinks can be served. On this occasion, a quick dip followed by a sauna was the order of the day.
Later in the evening, we headed for the Vue cinema in York. John Wick 4 was showing and, having enjoyed the previous three, we thought we’d catch it while we could. While enjoyable, and beautifully shot, it lacked any real narrative or substance, unlike Middlethorpe which had perfect scores across the board.
The following morning, we opted for the full English, Middlethorpe style, and were not disappointed. With full tummies, we checked out and headed for York centre determined to have a few hours in the Good Friday morning sunshine.
A quick visit to the Minster (the outside anyway) and then a lovely, leisurely walk around the city walls to bring our great North run to a close. We’d driven 900 miles over five days and had enjoyed every moment, even the drizzly ones.
To sum up, everything about Middlethorpe Hall is quality. Is it five stars? I hadn’t even checked. It certainly felt like five stars to us.
Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 2GB
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Middlethorpe Hall was featured in Vale Life magazine
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