I’ve always had a soft spot for the Yorkshire Dales. It’s where my late maternal grandmother was born, and she and my grandfather kept a holiday home up there for years. I have very fond memories of magical summers there as a child, paddling in rivers with my brothers, exploring hills and waterfalls, and tucking into cream teas in little village cafes. So, when I was invited to review boutique guesthouse Brownber Hall, which sits on the northwestern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, I jumped at the chance to take my mum back to an area we both love for a much-needed December getaway.
Built in 1860 for the local Fothergill family, Brownber Hall is a handsome grey-stone manor set amid a sea of rolling fields. It’s now owned by Peter and Amanda Jaques-Walker, who swapped hectic London lives for this remote corner of northern England in 2016. They fell in love with the house as soon as they saw it and set about transforming it into a modern take on the traditional country hotel. The finished result has been getting rave reviews in the press over the last few months, and we couldn’t wait to check it out for ourselves.
We arrived at dusk, winding our way up the driveway (past signs warning us to watch out for resident red squirrel Rusty) just as the moon appeared overhead. Getting out of the car, the first thing that struck us was the view: towering peaks silhouetted against a vast rose-tinged sky, with the tiny village of Newbiggin-on-Lune huddled beneath the slopes and clusters of trees dotted here and there.
The second thing that struck us, as we stepped inside to find coffee and cake waiting by the fire, was the homely, laid-back feel – this really is the kind of place where you can kick off your shoes, sit back and unwind. The ground floor has been turned into a series of interconnecting living rooms decorated in a wonderful mish-mash of old and new, with contemporary art alongside original William Morris wallpaper, mid-century sofas by vintage armchairs and giant potted plants on kilim rugs. There are also beautifully restored period features, plus tables and shelves brimming with books, magazines and board games. It’s not exactly the kind of pared-back style that I’m normally drawn to, but it’s a charming, eclectic and very inviting mix.
Our bedroom – one of eight – turned out to be just as pretty. Painted in a soft grey, it had a striking black-framed four-poster, a cherry-red velvet sofa, a smart ensuite shower clad in metro tiles, and a tall sash window gazing out over the hills. We shared a double room as it was the only one available over our preferred dates, but there are also twin and single options, plus two dog-friendly rooms.
Once we’d settled in, we headed back downstairs for G&Ts from the honesty bar (a retro 1930s-style affair), before wandering through to the dining room for a meal. There’s no formal restaurant at Brownber Hall, but on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings Peter makes sourdough pizzas topped with the likes of Cumbrian air-dried ham, goat’s cheese, gorgonzola and asparagus. They were delicious, as were our antipasti starter and seasonal butternut-squash side salad.
Breakfast the next morning was equally tasty. After an excellent night’s sleep (comfy bed, cosy linen, and no city traffic buzzing past the window), we were treated to toast with Amanda’s mum’s homemade marmalade, waffles with maple syrup and bacon, and steaming cafetières of coffee. It was tempting to linger over a second helping, but aware that a weather warning had been issued for later in the day, we decided to head out to explore while we could.
Brownber Hall sits in the Howgill Fells, with stunning scenery in every direction. We ambled for miles along the disused Smardale railway (now a nature reserve), without encountering another soul other than buzzards soaring high overhead and a few inquisitive sheep. When dark clouds began to roll in we made a beeline for The Black Swan in the nearby village of Ravonstonedale, where we feasted on a top-notch gastropub lunch before heading back to the hall for a lazy afternoon of reading.
By nightfall the storm had well and truly set in, but we didn’t mind. There was something special about cosying up by the fire as a gale howled outside, and we spent a happy evening challenging ourselves to Scrabble (I soon remembered why I no longer play with my mum – she’s far too good!) over more pizza and a bottle of wine. It was bliss, and just what we both needed in the busy run-up to Christmas.
We awoke the next morning to find the wind and rain had been replaced by crisp winter sunshine. Watching shafts of golden light dance across the hills as we sipped coffee in bed was the perfect end to our stay, although it did make dragging ourselves away all the more difficult come check-out time. I don’t think it will be long before either of us return…
Book a stay at Brownber Hall here. Double rooms start at £90 per night (breakfast included).
Brownber Hall kindly provided a free stay for the purpose of this post, but all words and opinions are my own.
All photography by Abi Dare