A Fairytale Cottage in Yorkshire
Enjoying a long weekend away at this time of year is such a treat. In order to maximise our time away in Nidderdale, we stopped off en route in Ripon; a place we’d not visited before. What an attractive market town it is, with an array of independent shops. While we were there, looking for somewhere for lunch, we happened across W Benson’s hardware shop. Although the ground floor is a hardware shop, deceptively, the first floor boasts one of the best selections of Barbour and Joules coats and jackets – and Hunter wellies – in the North of England. Not only did they have everything on our Christmas lists, they also recommended a great place for us to have lunch: now that’s what I call great customer service.
After admiring the stunning photographic display and tucking into a hearty sausage and mash and a pearl barley risotto with pumpkin, at the stylish Lockwoods restaurant, we continued our journey through picturesque villages until we reached the turn off for our secluded hideaway.
Agra Cottage doesn’t need to shout about its Five Star status: from the approach along the winding driveway, you get the idea that you’ll be staying somewhere pretty special. What I didn’t realise was that it would be a place of fairytales.
We arrived for our winter break late in the afternoon, just as the light was fading and we were greeted by cheery beacons of light blazing in all the windows – what a welcome! Mark and Eleanor, the owners, had thoughtfully switched on the lamps and the central heating ready for our arrival. There was a Yorkshire welcome pack in the kitchen with all the essentials for a stay at an ‘out of the way’ country retreat: Yorkshire tea, Rosebud preserves (from just down the road), locally produced fresh bread, milk, butter… you get the idea.
As I wandered from room to room, admiring the loving restoration, stone walls and stone flag floors, I remembered reading on their website that the owners are architects and, I have to say, it really shows.
Once upstairs, I felt a little like Goldilocks as I tried out the three beds, all exquisitely made up and piled high with pillows and cushions. In the first bedroom (which in daylight I discovered had a view of woodland), I tried a double bed with a romantic-looking white metal frame. Next, in the duck egg blue ‘chambre’ on the other side of the landing, I reclined on the French-style bed and admired the matching armoire, bedside cabinet and dressing table.
I then stepped through an interconnecting doorway and into the master bedroom, to discover a King-sized bed, double wardrobe, tall drawers and matching chair. As well as the welcome tray, toiletries and fluffy robes (which featured in all the rooms), in this room I spied something else: our suitcases! My husband had looked in that bedroom first – took one look at the dove grey walls, oak beams and huge bed and decided that the room was ‘just right’.
Once we had unpacked and settled in, our host popped in to welcome us and make sure we had everything we needed which, thanks to his foresight, we did. He told us some of the history of Agra Cottage and the family home (next door), complete with its own cheese cellar. Apparently, some of the stone features apparent throughout the property came from nearby Jervaulx Abbey, which was severely ravaged and pillaged during the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541.
Mark and his wife Eleanor, own and manage a company called Angels Events. In fact, they’re responsible for putting on some of Yorkshire’s premier events including the Firecracker Ball (which this year raised over a million pounds on behalf of Barnardo’s) and The Variety Club’s 50th anniversary celebration at Harewood House, which Mark told us was attended by none other than the Prince of Monaco! As you would expect from hosts with such credentials, Mark and Eleanor know how to entertain: with a little notice they can organise for guests a sumptuous evening of fine dining, with a seven course ‘tasting menu’ prepared and served in the cottage, complete with wine-tasting and local cheeses.
In fact, Agra Cottage is ideally placed for foodies like us, with no less than three local restaurants with Michelin stars. The Yorke Arms is only 4 miles away and, favourites of ours, The Black Swan and The Feversham Arms at nearby Helmsley, as well as award-winning local sausages at Beavers in Masham, Wensleydale cheese and a whole host of farmers, markets and greengrocers selling fresh local produce.
One look at the well-equipped kitchen (Smeg cooker, Dualit toaster and kettle and Belfast Butler sink and all the pots, pans and bits and bobs you’ll need, including a potato-ricer) and you may decide, like us, to buy some local produce and dine in. The cottage has a dining room which seats eight and in summer, I can imagine it would be lovely sitting there looking out at the private walled paddock. However, for our winter retreat, we were content to draw the blinds and take advantage of the mood lighting for a cosy night in.
After all that sumptuous food, you can relax in the lounge and enjoy a digestif and a game of solitaire or dominoes – or watch a DVD or some television. If you prefer to read, there are books and a whole host of magazines, from National Geographic and Time magazine to Country Living; and from Home and Gardens to the Shooting Gazette.
Talking of shooting, Mark offers shooting breaks for keen hunters and clay pigeon shooting for absolute beginners as one of Agra’s ‘Boutique stays’. He told us that he once took a guest rabbit-shooting and, in return his fellow hunter – who it transpired was a professional chef - invited Mark and Eleanor for hearty rabbit supper. (Check out their website for more details of boutique stays.) Shooting’s not really our thing so, we did a spot of bird-watching instead, seeing redwings, fieldfares, lapwings, coal tits, chaffinches, a red kite, a kestrel and a buzzard all in an hour’s walk from the cottage to the stream at the bottom of the hill as well as dozens of pheasants.
As well as being an ideal location for bird-watching and walking, High Agra is also great for cycling and it’s also a well-known spot for bouldering. For less ‘sporty’ visitors, there’s a book in the cottage to inspire you: Yorkshire Dales: Teashop Walks by Jean Patefield – or you might prefer visiting the pretty North Yorkshire market towns such as Thirsk, Helmsley or Masham.
For beer-lovers, the obvious place to head to is Masham, which is home to both the Theakston and Black Sheep breweries – and visitor centres. Masham also has much to offer non-beer-lovers too, including a contemporary gallery, designer glass and a chocolaterie.
In Thirsk, on Saturday, it’s market day; with an array of local produce for sale, but any week day you can find superb fresh fruit and vegetables from the local greengrocer’s. We visited some great local butchers’ shops too – in Thirsk and Masham – stocking up on rabbit, venison, pheasant and locally made sausages: great winter food and something to look forward to back at home.
After a good night’s sleep in our big, comfy bed, we went to say hello to Agra’s ducks, hens and Shetland ponies before deciding to get into the Christmas spirit by visiting Castle Howard. How nice to see it by candlelight, all ‘trimmed up’ and ready for the festive season – and what tasty cakes they sell in the cafe! The stroll back to the car park was illuminated by Christmas trees lining the drive – simply stunning.
Whatever time of year you visit Nidderdale, there’s a whole lot on offer and what better place to stay than a cottage from a fairytale?
Beavers Masham Sausage Shop
Black Sheep Brewery
Lockwoods Restaurant, Ripon
W Benson, Ripon
The Black Swan, Helmsley
The Feversham Arms, Helmsley
PHOTOS AVAILABLE ON REQUEST - COPYRIGHT ASPINALL INK