As I wind my way along miles of Yorkshire dry stone wall on a sunny autumn Sunday, I arrive at Grantley Hall, a popular destination among Yorkshire’s well-heeled elite to enjoy a relaxing break.
I realise it must be close to ten years to the day since I first visited ‘North Yorks’. At the time I was a guileless university ‘Fresher’ recently back from a trip around Southeast Asia with the tan skin and Chang Thai t-shirt to prove it. A decade later, the Dales’ chocolate box villages still offer up the same welcoming character and charm despite being in the throes of a global pandemic. It is in this picturesque region, a few hours from London, nicknamed 'God's Own Country', that I discovered this majestic country estate.
In 2015, Valeria Sykes – a Yorkshire local – purchased Grantley Hall after seeing a ‘For Sale’ sign on her way home from an otherwise ordinary Sunday lunch. That drive would change her life. ‘I wanted to put Yorkshire on the luxury map,’ she says. Four years and £70 million in renovations later, the coal miner's daughter has proven her ability to manage a grand-scale restoration project. The 17th-century Palladian pile retains its former grandeur, with amenities befitting a five-star resort; but it is something quite different. The ELITE fitness centre – two stories of machines not out of place in a medieval dungeon – includes a cryotherapy chamber, underwater treadmill, and high-altitude training rooms simulating an Everest base camp. Personal training sessions are popular, and you might sign up for one, too… Because what truly sets Grantley apart is the food.
Sean Rankin, a local-lad-turned-Michelin-star-rated-chef, presides over his eponymous restaurant within the splendour of the Hall’s former ballroom. An ode to Yorkshire, his ten-course ‘Taste of Home’ menu offers a journey through this much-loved county by way of some of its most famous dishes, each paired with an expertly chosen wine. ‘Drippings’ and gravy are presented in the form of bone marrow-infused whipped cream with a side of ‘beef tea,’ followed by a tender cut of locally-sourced venison and seasonal blackberries. It’s great fun to share the ‘Kitchen Garden’ course – straight from the kitchen garden, where else? –; and since the proof is in the pudding (or ‘sweet,’ to use the local vernacular), the final flourish includes a selection of petit-fours and a novel take on the humble teacake.
If a ten-course meal sounds a bit like a mastication marathon, opt for the relatively low-key Fletchers, renowned for its beef Wellington and proper Yorkshire puddings. Or EightyEight, tucked in beside a NHLE-listed Japanese garden, proposing dainty Pan-Asian-inspired dishes. ‘The difference is in the details,’ according to Andrew McPherson, General Manager. Thoughtful touches like the ‘100 Years of Cocktails’ menu hidden in the library of the oak-panelled Norton bar demonstrate his dictum.
Over the years, Grantley Hall’s 47 suites have accommodated visiting dignitaries and members of parliament. Today it is a favourite among Yorkshire’s well-heeled elite, with the crunch of gravel-under-tyre often overpowered by the roar of a Ferrari engine. In the stately realms of The Royal Suite, the attentive details continue. A complimentary minibar is filled with locally sourced goodies; a decanter proclaiming ‘Let the fun be-gin’ stands surrounded by the makings of a proper Yorkshire brew; and bucolic oil-paintings blink to life on television screens at the flick of a remote. Book a pool slot in advance at the sprawling indoor/outdoor Three Graces Spa and you’ll feel as though you have the place to yourself: it’s limited to 16 people at a time, an unexpected silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can almost certainly bet no one will be joining you in the steam room.
Moving southwards with the rugged, rolling Dales for a backdrop, I promise myself that I’ll come back before another decade passes, pandemic or otherwise. Grantley Hall serves as a reminder of why this is indeed ‘God’s Own Country’. Valeria, you certainly have succeeded in putting Yorkshire on the luxury map.