A WEEKEND away in North Yorkshire towards the end of January may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing break.
For so many, the weather is the be all and end all when it comes to deciding the perfect place for a few nights away.
But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Take, for example, our weekend at Natural Retreats just outside of the market town of Richmond.
It involved rain, a bit of mud and some harsh winds – and that was just in one evening!
But I honestly couldn’t think of better surroundings to enjoy (yes, you read that right) all of the great British weather in. Use whatever adjective you like; beautiful, stunning, breath-taking, the picturesque Yorkshire countryside were all of those rolled in to one, and then some!
On our drive in, we passed the iconic ruins of Richmond Castle and knowing my partner’s love for British history, a visit there later in the weekend was definitely on the cards.
View from the lodge
Just five minutes from the Castle and we had reached our destination. The modern cabins set into the hills of the Yorkshire Dales blended with the landscape perfectly from behind, the grass-covered roofs doing a great job of masking the unique buildings.
From the front, it was a different matter. The modern, stylish, luxurious cabins certainly had the ‘wow’ factor and the large glass fronts did a great job of reflecting the countryside back out off the structures.
Set in acres or grassland – with a few ponds dotted around, and even more wild rabbits – the setting for our winter getaway couldn’t have been any more relaxing.
The cabins themselves were very stylish and looked like they had been plucked straight from an interior design brochure.
But this wasn’t a classic case of style over substance. This had both, by the bucket-load.
Natural Retreats houses several award-winning eco-friendly lodges, catering for different sized parties, and in my experience they are practical, comfortable and homely.
The log-burner allows for those cosy nights in with a bottle of wine and the welcome hamper that was waiting provided a lovely touch on top of the warm welcome we had already received.
Our first evening was spent in one or two of the local pubs which – in slightly more friendly conditions – would have been a 15 minute walk away, but given the rain and general January weather, it was a five minute taxi ride.
In the middle of Richmond sits a cobbled market square, lined by boutiques, restaurants, cafes and pubs.
We sampled a few of them before heading back to the lodge with food, as we had a hectic day planned on the Saturday.
After a fantastic night’s sleep in the gloriously peaceful bedroom we awoke refreshed and revitalised – and with local cheese, bread, butter and eggs in the fridge!
Our first job of the day was a trip to Richmond Castle, which is a sight to behold.
The English Heritage ruins were magnificent to see and when at the top of the Keep it was possible to see over the River Swale, and on to Richmond Town FC’s football pitch.
I was happy to set up camp there but my partner had other ideas, so back down we went to explore the other parts of the ruins, including a majestically landscaped garden.
After getting blown about by the strong gales on top of the hill, it was time to head back to the lodge before an evening on the town.
We opted for a Sicilian restaurant by the name of Alessandro's Hideaway (I’d advise booking as it is only a small restaurant).
The food was sublime and the atmosphere was delightful – just what you’d expect from a Sicilian eatery.
After that it was on to the pubs – and some of the oldest in the town – including The Bishop Blaize, The Castle Tavern and The Unicorn.
A town with such charm and character is what the Yorkshire Dales are all about for me. Unassuming and without the bravado of other market towns, it has a country feel and a welcoming atmosphere – what more could you want?
The following day meant a trip to Aysgarth Falls, about a half-an-hour drive from our base outside Richmond, and we were glad we did.
The natural beauty on show was well worth the visit before our journey home and the weather stayed dry and mild – if not a little blustery at times.
Looking back on our winter weekend away, Natural Retreats and Richmond ticked all the boxes.
Somewhere awe-inspiring, with gorgeous walks to take advantage of in the summer months, and that allowed you to forget about your life of mobile phones and Sky television for a couple of days.
The epitome of relaxation, Natural Retreats provides the perfect base to go and explore the vastness of the Yorkshire Dales, and take in the local drinking holes of Richmond during the evening.
For information on Natural Retreats, visit: www.naturalretreats.com/uk/d
MUCH like Conisbrough Castle just up the road from us, the 12th century Richmond Castle is celebrated as one of the great ruins of northern England.
Sitting on the River Swale, we decided to park at the bottom of the hill and take the long flurry of winding, deep steps up the hillside to the entrance of the Castle.
It certainly blew off the cobwebs from the night before but provided a great walk to this iconic building.
A trudge to the top of the keep was well worth the narrow staircases and limited head room, though.
Despite visiting on a rather blustery day, the views were stunning and the 360 degree panoramic look out over the Yorkshire Dales certainly took the breath away.
For more information on Richmond Castle, visit: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/richmond-castle/