February 09 2010
I have always loved York with its Roman history, 18th-century atmosphere (watch out, Bath!) and quirky shops and restaurants. Yet I have seldom lingered for want of an appealing place to stay within its medieval walls. It turns out that I was looking in the wrong direction, for just outside the ring road is a William & Mary gem. Middlethorpe Hall was there all the time, though a charming secret known mainly to race-goers – it is next to the course – and classical musicians.
Unusually it is owned by the National Trust, which may explain why Middlethorpe is one of the last proper country house hotels that has not surrendered to the flummery of Balkan footmen in breeches. Instead of a bogus Upstairs Downstairs “experience”, what I got here was about as close to staying in a private country house as seems possible, though with more imaginative cooking. Bedrooms are exceptionally comfortable despite – or rather because of – being furnished completely in period.
Such authenticity is now a rarity: the NT doesn’t do shabby chic, let alone the urbanised decor that clashes with the architecture in so many country house hotels. What some genius here has seen is that there is still scope for the sort of updates thoughtful modern hosts might provide. Such as WiFi, a working fireplace and homemade biscuits. And some they might not, such as a spa and gym in a row of Georgian cottages.
There is a hint of local grit too. As I gaze out over beautifully maintained gardens, a Russian Steppe Eagle executes a terrifying blitzkrieg out of a clear sky – to land in a flurry of wings on its handler’s gauntlet. Real England, real Yorkshire is alive and well just minutes from the city and its Castle, Minster and National Railway Museum.
From £199 for a double room in the courtyard, £269 for a double in the historic hall, including breakfast.