The joy of a last minute break (one that’s needed and deserved but not expected) sometimes beats the pleasure of that meticulously planned and anticipated trip that has been months in the making. So it was I wandered through the thoroughly appealing website of Gorgeous Cottages, more in hope than expectation. Our requirement that the property should be dog friendly narrowed the field but even then I found a few corkers were available – mind you it was post half-term February. On a whim (no prayers were needed) we booked a cottage and some 36 hours later we were on our way.
The property in question appeared more country house than cottage (and the clue was in the name: The Coach House) but this irrelevant quibble did not allay that crucial first impression you are struck by when arriving at a holiday destination. To avoid any major family disruption my wife dealt with the key safe and alarm (I’m really not very good with either) while I made the first foray into the expansive grounds with the young hound Winston, who seemed especially relieved after his two hour journey, enjoying both the formal and elegant garden and the surrounding but less curated acreage of meadow that led to the all-weather tennis court.
I was especially delighted to see the abundant carpet of snowdrops punctuated in part by a flourish of crocuses, spring was unquestionably on her way. Unloading the car was speedy and as ever in these circumstances I was eager to explore. As I mentioned, the property was more house than cottage, the front door led via a small vestibule into the impressive, generously proportioned and (as we were to find out) extremely well-equipped kitchen, replete with large breakfasting/dining area and large island. The six-door Aga was another treat and kept the contemporary rustic feel up as well as the room’s temperature.
From the kitchen the generous hallway led onto a delightful snug, a great place to relax with the cosy wood-burner, comfy sofas, a range of books and the large TV should the mood take you. The next room along the hallway was an elegant dining room. With floor to ceiling windows overlooking the garden it had charm and antique furnishings aplenty, giving it a sophisticated yet cosy mood which cried out for a dinner party. At the end of the hall were library bookcases and a large strategically-placed armchair for reading. The more formal sitting room was light and bright. This large space was brimful of character with a really gorgeous aspect onto the gardens and patio doors demanding to be flung open on the arrival of fairer weather. With some intriguing art on the walls, this was a most elegant room and as I paused for thought I considered how well equipped the property was for a special birthday or friends' reunion for a week or maybe just a long weekend. The Coach House would work for two families, or three or four couples and what it really offers is that happy mix of cosy comfort with an elegance that helps when hosting a special occasion.
If the downstairs offers a mix of cosiness and elegance the upstairs is similarly blessed. All the bedrooms are generously proportioned and our master bedroom, complete with walk-in dressing room and adjoining ensuite, was an especially sumptuous room. Other highlights include the family bathroom with splendid roll top bath, ideal for a long soak. Three other bedrooms (one other ensuite) mean ample space for larger parties.
Returning to the kitchen we decided to make a plan: we had three nights and vowed to eat out at least once. While the getaway had been a last minute decision it did little for any form of advance planning. But with some good notes in our welcome pack, a plethora of maps coupled with my own knowledge of the area it soon became clear that there was much to do and be done. The issue was what to leave out, especially with the arrival of my beloved mother who had agreed to join the party as a last minute extra (pretty impressive for a nonagenarian) this also involved a visit to York (two in fact). While York is one of my favourite cities, driving there, especially in the centre, can be a complete pain… so to avoid family domestics be prepared! Once there the shopping is good, places to eat are plentiful for every budget and there are a range of things to do with the Minster as a spectacular highlight.
Outside York, I would recommend Malton (much improved of late with a supermarket as well as a range of characterful independent shops) as the nearest port of call. Whitby on the coast is busy and fun, Robin Hood’s Bay is a delight and further inland I would always recommend Helmsley, a charming market town with a far better than average selection of shops. There are oodles of country pubs to choose from in the area and if you want a real treat, head for the Star at Harome (there are various dining options available here). I have always fancied a trip on the classic North York Moors Railway, definitely one for my next trip. Dalby Forest is riddled with good walks and the Hole of Horcum is also worth a peek. Another gem we discovered was Thornton-le-Dale and the nearby ancient church of St Hilda at Ellerburn. Rievaulx Abbey near Helmsley is another celebrated must-visit and The Hare at Scawton is well worth an inspection too… terrific food.
There are a huge range of pubs on offer but the one which got our vote was the welcoming Crown & Cushion in Welburn. Friendly staff, good classic pub food with some twists and Winston-friendly meant it was the ideal place to concoct plans for the following day. Chief amongst any prognostications when staying in or anywhere near these parts is a visit to Castle Howard. Surely one of the UK’s finest country houses. Under constant renovation, its grounds, its cheery tea room, outstanding farm shop and garden centre, not to mention the house itself are all worthy of high praise. We plundered the farm shop and though not the cheapest, the quality was excellent.
As ever our stay passed all too quickly. Highlights included a leisurely dinner in the dining room, late breakfasts and strolls with Winston in the neighbouring countryside. The Coach House would be ideal if you were racing at York, but whatever your fancy this is an exceptional place from which to enjoy this unique part of the world.
The house with its varied collection of paintings and books (some quirky, some less so) and an impressive range of guides made me desperate to know more about the owners but that in part is the joy of renting a gorgeous cottage of any description. For it is you who are the ‘owner’ for a brief moment in time. If you have a landmark occasion to celebrate, perhaps with a few friends or family it would make an excellent choice.
The Coach House, Foston
C/O Gorgeous Cottages