Breakaway - The Coniston Hotel
One room with a view, 1,400 acres of countryside, three lakeside walks, two bars, two restaurants, a 4X4 off-road adventure, six clay pigeon traps and 48 hours of sunshine. Georgina Farrer discovers the key ingredients to a perfect two day break
Independently owned by the Bannister family, who live in a beautiful country house that sits on the other side of the 24-acre lake to the hotel, the Coniston and its estate are located in the small village of Coniston Cold, between Settle and Skipton. Although a purpose-built hotel, it has all the characteristics of an old country house a view over its own private lake, acres of land and privacy but the conveniences of a modern hotel, such as large glass sliding patio doors in the rooms that face the lake, contemporary and colourful soft furnishings and immaculate bathrooms with waterfall effect showers. And it’s also all on one floor, which makes late night walks back from the bar a lot easier when there’s no challenge of a 10-flight staircase.
The estate is vast, but immaculate. Farmland borders the immediate grounds, which itself is home to a flock of rather friendly sheep and a curious grey pony. Owned by the Bannister family, the pony wanders happily from field to patio. It adds character to the place, and certainly enjoys lapping up the attention from guests.
Our stay at the Coniston was as relaxing as it was fun. After enjoying gin cocktails in front of the lake and supper in the Huntsman’s Lodge on the first evening, (I’d recommend the smoked haddock and prawn gratin) and boiled eggs and butter-soaked soldiers the next morning, we were certainly fuelled for a day of adventure which began in the onsite shooting ground’s Canadian lodge, where we were met and briefed by our shooting instructor Nigel. Paired up with another couple, he talked us through the basics of how to hold and use a shotgun correctly and safely, before taking us outside to the CPSA Premier Plus ground, (which we were told is one of the best in Europe). We shot six clays at six different clay trap stations, which allowed us to try out different shooting techniques as some fired the clay towards you, some away, while others flung the bright orange disc high to the left or straight and low. Although I never missed more than two shots on any one station, annoyingly it was in fact my partner who took the shooting title that morning. I have to stress though while the competitive element to the game made it enjoyable, it was Nigel’s patience, sense of humour and skill as a tutor that really made it fun.
We spent the afternoon in the lovely little Dales town of Grassington. Ice creams in hand, we explored the handful of quirky independent shops that line the square. Handmade, outdoor furniture shop Burnt Rock, The Flower Shop and the fabulous Courtyard Pottery gallery, where you can see the potting wheel in motion, were some of our favourites. We stopped at Whimsical Cottage Tearooms for scones before heading back to the Coniston for the next part of our adventure: the ultimate 4x4 off-road Range Rover experience.
This adrenaline-fuelled hour was my favourite part of our stay. In a group of four, with a qualified instructor beside me, I was first behind the wheel of the brand new gleaming white Range Rover. After a brief introduction, I was tackling steep slopes, deep gulleys and drops I couldn’t see the bottom of. Nerve-racking as it was, under the guidance of the instructor you soon learn to place all your trust in the machine you are driving, and once you know what to press when, the car can pretty much drive itself. This did have its advantages, especially when one of our group mistook the accelerator for the brake during an emergency stop on (what felt like) a vertical drop.
That evening we enjoyed prosecco in the hotel’s very own Caribbean Hut, which is adjoined to Macleod’s Bar, before heading through to Macleod’s Restaurant for dinner. Although more formal than the Huntsman’s Lodge, it’s still very relaxed and has an impressive à la carte menu that makes great use of local suppliers. We enjoyed shallot purée and pancetta crumbs in Madeira jus, and the Yorkshire pork: braised pig’s cheek, pork ballotine wrapped in Parma ham, apple and black pudding croquette. We couldn’t look beyond the sirloin steak for our main course. With fondant potato, roasted vine tomatoes, mushroom ragout and peppercorn sauce, it was the ultimate Friday night treat meal.
There are many great things about the Coniston Hotel but at the top of the list has to be its location. Handily situated right on the edge of the Dales, you really do have an abundance of things to do and places to see right on your doorstep. Our route home involved a visit to The Courtyard – which has a small but wonderful collection of independent retailers, including artisan cheese shop The Courtyard Dairy, woollen clothing and accessories specialist Abraham Moon and the Lime Gallery to name just a few. We also stopped for a wander around Clapham, a tiny but picture-perfect village that offers several marked walking routes, a pub, the intriguing Ingleborough Hall, and a beautiful church where the doors are permanently open to locals tourists such as ourselves, fascinated by the area’s and history. Keen gardeners will also be interested to know that Clapham was once the home of plant collector Reginald Farrer, who travelled Asia in search of new plant species which he brought home and planted in the Dales. He is responsible for many of the plants that grow in the area today.
Our trip (as always) went too quickly, but with a drive home that took us right through the Dales, at least we were able to admire more characterful Yorkshire villages along the way, and pick out those we’d visit properly on our return visit to what has to be one of Yorkshire’s most idyllic, and fun, hotels.