Settled peaceably near the intersection between the A59 and the river Wharfe, the Devonshire Arms Hotel has an air of lordly splendour, a commanding presence with a pedigree that is getting on for 300 years old, and possibly more.
The original Devonshire Arms was built in the early 17th century, quite possibly around the time of the Commonwealth, although, given the incidence of Lancashire–Yorkshire trade in centuries gone by and the nearby presence of the ecclesiastically important Bolton abbey, there would almost certainly have been a place of hospitality at this strategic spot for much longer than that, and, in time, an important coaching inn.
Today, the Devonshire Arms Hotel is part of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey Estate, sitting alongside one of Yorkshire’s finest rivers, the Wharfe.
The property came into the ownership of the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1753, and was further developed by the 5th Duke, a man who realised the importance of visitors to this enchanting area that attracted poets and artists alike, including Wordsworth and Turner.
For years, my wife and I have visited Wharfedale, working on magazine features and guidebooks for walkers including that for the Dales Way, which passes close by. So, it was time to effect a better acquaintance, to coincide with anniversaries; time out – and into the embrace of comfort, refinement and good food.
The immediate impression is of a country mansion timelessness; not quite stags’ heads and pointy antlers grimly sprouting from the wall, but the clear imprint of refurbishment supervised personally by Her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire; a delightful ornament here, a hunting scene painting there, tastefully muted colours and wallpapers, comfy chairs that must have been a bespoke fashioned specifically to enfold you warmly and encourage you towards a glass of something satisfying.
But there is, too, a charming warren of nooks and crannies that turn into a residents’ lounge, the ‘Dog bar’ – yes, this is very much a dog friendly establishment, although they are not permitted to drink alcohol, so I was informed – the Burlington fine-dining restaurant, and, if you wander far enough, the Brasserie, where less formal dining is available.
Once the arrival formalities were over we were whisked smartly to our room, the Shepherd, wherein I half expected to find a sheep – we did, too, but you’ll have to go and find it for yourself. A four-poster bed was the principal feature, but keenly rivalled by the view over Bolton Bridge to Beamsley Beacon, and a complimentary and much-appreciated bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne, of which this Chevalier de la Commanderie de Saulte-Buchon heartily approved.
A Tivoli radio provided background music, while the full length mirror is not something you see in all hotels. Had we the time, we could have luxuriated for hours in the huge bath, bubble filled with Temple Spa ‘condiments’, or even visited the spa in an adjacent building.
But we had an appointment with an 8-course tasting menu. Moreover, I had earlier discovered the hidden treasure that is the hotel’s wine store wherein bottles of Pétrus 1982 sat alongside Chateau du Tertre Margaux 2009, and Chateau Haut-Bages Libéral Pauillac 2003; there was also a 12-litre bottle of something I probably couldn’t lift. I later found more Pétrus, 1945 in particular, and a 1900 Chateau Lafite. I figured that these were likely to be beyond my budget; indeed, the Pétrus rolled in at a neat £4,500 per bottle, and the Lafite you could have for another £500 on top of that. I heard a few days later that a 1982 Pétrus had been bought by a guest; apparently it was divine. Small wonder the hotel is renowned for its wine list.
Maitre d’ David Clos is unusual for a Frenchman; he has a delightful and sharp-edged northern England sense of humour, and that goes down well in this neck of the woods.
A jellied tomato consommé with English mozzarella and olive started the culinary engagement, swiftly, but not too swiftly, followed by citrus cured salmon, avocado, heritage beetroot and salted cucumber.
By the time we reached the duck liver pressing, with chamomile and Sauternes jelly, Granny Smith apple and Praline it was clear that Head Chef Paul Evans had a deserved reputation as one of Britain’s rising stars. He has an exemplary track record to support his Devonshire ambitions having joined the hotel from the Michelin-starred Lords of the Manor Hotel in Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds.
Those of my family who have sampled my cooking and survived, consider that I’m a dab hand at risotto. But Chef’s Celeriac and Parsley risotto with goat’s cheese, pickled onion and wild rice just highlighted what I have still to achieve.
Braised halibut with brown shrimps, sea vegetables and a shellfish bisque was, for us, the highlight of the menu, cooked to perfection but, more importantly, with attention to detail.
Heading for the tail end of the menu we sailed joyously through the Yorkshire pork garnished with trompette mushrooms, carrot and pickled pear, skipped the cheese trolley and dove happily into the yoghurt panna cotta before slumping to the finishing line with Valrhona chocolate, praline, malt and hazelnut.
If I had a quibble – and it would be only a minor one – we both felt that the final chocolate course was too heavy a conclusion; admittedly it forced me into an Armagnac digestif, but something a little lighter would have been a more fitting conclusion.
I also felt that more should be made of provenance; only the pork announced where it came from, when so much more could have done, not least because the restaurant has its own fabulous potager that feeds vegetables and herbs into the kitchen on a daily basis.
I found it a bit odd to be served Italian water, when there is a perfectly good supply less than half an hour away at Harrogate; can’t think what that does for carbon footprints. But, to be fair, the Devonshire Arms hotel does filter its own water from nearby Wharfedale springs, and that’s good enough for anyone.
Of course, it isn’t over until it’s over, and that meant breakfast, and relief for me that the breakfast chef certainly knew how to bring the best out of smoked haddock and eggs Florentine.
Nothing was too much for the breakfast team, or, for that matter, the whole service brigade, and I left with a keen impression that ‘No’ is a concept they don’t understand. If you want, it the Devonshire Arms Hotel will get it, I’m sure – must ask for pink elephant salami next time to see how they cope…and there will be a next time.
Tell me more about The Devonshire Arms Hotel
The Devonshire Arms Hotel and Spa, Bolton Abbey Estate, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 6AJ. The hotel is actually at Bolton Bridge, Wharfedale, well within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and close by the junction between the A59 and the B6160 (Grid Reference: SE 07110 53151).
Tel: General Enquiries 01756 710441; Room Reservations 01756 718111 or by email to email@example.com.
Rates vary from day to day, but a Burlington Dinner, Bed and Breakfast package starts at £260 per night. The tasting menu is an additional £20. The Brasserie Dinner Bed and Breakfast package is from £200 per night.
A Classic double room in mid-October (for example) ranges from £135 to £215. This includes a full Yorkshire breakfast in the Burlington Restaurant, full use of the spa facilities (treatments charged as taken), free ample car parking and access to the Bolton Abbey Estate, and complimentary WiFi throughout the hotel.
A 5% service levy is added to all accounts on departure, with 100% of this charge being distributed to staff.
The Devonshire Spa is housed in an ancient barn, adjacent to the hotel. There are four generously-sized therapy rooms, indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, relaxation space and lounge, with views over the tennis courts. It has its own separate gym next door with cardio, weights and resistance zones, so is ideal for body toning as well as pampering.