Review: We Stayed in the Charming Country House Hotel, The Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey
Built in 1610 as a coaching inn, the timeless appeal of the Devonshire Arms has as much to do with its friendly and efficient staff and rooms stuffed with stunning art and antiques as it does its rather beautiful spot by the River Wharfe
The building’s first incarnation was that of a humble travellers’ inn, but a better current description of The Dev, as it’s affectionately known, is that of a fine country house hotel. That said, it is most definitely not of the stuffy type, far from it in fact. Its mood is relaxed, cleverly combining a lofty and rather dignified appearance with a genuinely warm welcome.
It sits in 33,000 acres of stunning Dales countryside on the Bolton Abbey Estate which is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The original, now much extended, building stands in landscaped gardens whilst inside there’s a clever combination of cosy furniture and contemporary art interspersed with antiques and artwork from Chatsworth’s Devonshire collection. There’s also a spa in a converted barn across the road but sadly it was close for a refurb at the time we visited.
Our room is in the older wing and is richly furnished with a four-poster bed, thick draped curtains and plenty of seating. Winston, our rather snooty Daxiedoodle (I have no idea if that’s how it’s spelt but it will do for now) is with us. He rather remarkably had his own four-poster bed too, which he quickly settled into and having assessed the selection of biscuits kindly left for him, suitably impressed he fell asleep.
Not for long however as we are keen to explore more of the estate. It’s glorious and rugged countryside on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales and as earthy a landscape as you can imagine. The property came into the family at the time of the 4th Duke of Devonshire, but it was the 5th Duke who, seeing the property’s attraction as a place to visit, created a patchwork of footpaths for would-be visitors. Dusk is falling so we head straight across the parkland towards the river and catch our first glimpse of the romantic ruins of the nearby abbey, but the drizzle sends us back prematurely.
Of course we headed to the bar, lured by the large roaring fire and the promise of fine wine. Wine and pint duly ordered we settled down and watched the world go by. The hotel was busy, almost full in fact, but actually you wouldn’t have known it, which is always a good sign. Guests appeared to be rather an eclectic mix of friends, families and couples celebrating special occasions. There was a band staying and were were happily entertained by an impromptu set from their very accomplished pianist on the bar’s grand piano for a full half an hour.
Dinner was in the bright, boldly decorated Brasserie where the menu is crammed with classic comfort food. Another pint and a bottle of Merlot, alongside fishcakes and chicken liver parfait commence proceedings, swiftly followed by a hearty fish pie and an eight ounce sirloin from the grill (an excellent choice). For pudding, the refreshing lemon posset and the traditional crumble (Yorkshire rhubarb) were the perfect finale, nicely presented and pretty delicious.
Winston was first up the following morning as the sunlight sneaked through the heavy curtains. We had decided on a decent walk, but before that breakfast was on the cards and what a classic it turned out to be. Served in the main dining room, unusually there was no walk to collect various bits and pieces, instead everything was ordered from a robust menu with a plentiful choice – being served was rather nice actually. Winston watched the comings and goings and approved heartily of the sausages. (He was not so chuffed later when we returned without him for dinner.)
Heading out we were greeted by one of those rather confusing British days when the weather can’t make up its mind. To avoid the rain we drove to nearby Skipton to inspect its castle, and then on to Ilkley and the famous Cow and Calf high up above on the moor.
Back at base the rain had stopped so we headed out to explore the abbey on foot. Our walk took in the small nearby village as well as the riverside and the stepping stones across the Wharfe seen so often in photos of Bolton Abbey. Unsurprisingly it can get very busy but today it was relatively quiet and we wandered the atmospheric ruins in peace.
Dinner that evening was in the hotel’s four AA Rosette Burlington restaurant. As I said, this is not a stuffy hotel but we were glad we had decided to dress up a little – a view our fellow diners seemed to share. We opted for the six-course tasting menu (there is a nine-course version too) with the Sommelier’s recommendations for wine pairings. These included a selection of three whites and three reds, all with intelligent and broad appeal. I say that not as an expert in wines, but because they tasted very good, which seems to me to be the most important aspect of wine tasting. It’s worth noting that the extensive cellar here is renowned and lovers of the grape should take special note. This is accomplished cooking but not overly complex and the service attentive but by no means overbearing.
After a late night stroll in the gardens with Winston we head up to our room rather regretting we had to leave early the next day.
As we left the fire in the hallway burnt less brightly than on our arrival, reflective of our mood perhaps. This is an historic and highly regarded country house hotel. Hidden away in the south Dales it has charm and character, the staff are friendly and well informed, the food excellent and the rooms warm – we had to drag ourselves away.
The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa
Bolton Abbey Estate, Bolton Bridge, Skipton BD23 6AJ