It’s not just the cold water that will leave you gasping during a wild swim on the Castle Ashby estate in Northamptonshire. Every time you take a stroke in its lake – designed by Capability Brown – you can glimpse the breathtaking 100-room Elizabethan castle through your goggles.
I’m in pretty esteemed company, too: one of the wetsuit-clad figures navigating the waters is Lady Northampton, the sixth wife of the 7th Marquess of Northampton, the charming owner of Castle Ashby who is standing on the banks. The couple (who introduce themselves as Spenny and Tracy and whom staff address as Lord and Lady N) have recently opened The Falcon hotel in a 16th Century pub on the 10,500-acre estate.
Like its owners, it’s not at all grand. The gorgeous little retreat has 22 rooms costing from £140 a night. That price also gives access to the scenic estate with its lakes, arboretum, formal Italian gardens and a meerkat-filled menagerie.
Palatial: The imposing formal grounds of the Castle Ashby estate where The Falcon is sited
There is more, though, to this place than beautifully designed rooms, meals created from estate produce, and yomps and bike rides through idyllic countryside. Spenny (whose fascination with mysticism earned him the nickname the Mystic Marquess) and Tracy (a yoga teacher and psychotherapist from Plymouth) are health and wellness aficionados and have designed The Falcon to reflect their core values.
‘It is dedicated to our experiences of things we hold most important in our lives,’ says Spenny. ‘It is a reflection of us.’
They have rifled through their little black book of contacts and brought in experts in their fields, from massage to meditation. ‘All the people we have brought in are our dear friends,’ says Tracy.
The charming owner of Castle Ashby is the 7th Marquess of Northampton, aka Spenny
Which means that, like me, you may well find the owners in the studio taking a superb yoga class with Lara Stapleton, or enjoying a sound therapy session, where we lie on the floor as Kanti Freeman creates a cacophony using cymbals, gongs, crystal dishes and a water-filled bowl she ‘plays’ with a violin bow. It turns out to be both an impressive and soothing symphony.
The standard of everything is superb here, and nature is included wherever possible. I enjoy a guided meditation in the Castle Ashby grounds, my thoughts already calming as we walk to the sound of rain falling on the leaves, then settle beneath the enormous canopy of an ancient weeping beech tree. There will also be art lessons in the gardens (a local pottery has already been enlisted where you can throw a pot or two), as well as horse-riding, and nature rambles when you can avail yourself of the Hunter wellies in the boot room.
There is more to come this year, with hot tubs by the lake for warming up after a wild swim, a series of retreats and a wellness centre in the old dairy. This will include a yoga wall designed by guru Simon Low, oxygen chambers and a machine for treating sports injuries, as well as sauna, steam and treatment rooms. Clearly, no expense is being spared in the quest to do things well.
For now, you can enjoy massages in one of The Falcon’s cottage rooms. Like those in the main building, these are all calmingly chic, in shades of green, ochre and sienna, designed by the Northamptons’ friend Jackie Blakey to bring the outdoors in. Some are snug, others are spacious affairs with beams and slipper baths. All are cosseting, with divine La-Eva unguents in the bathroom, and a QR code by the bed linking to guided meditations.
Throughout the hotel there is a profusion of wood, leather and stone, from the lounge with its contemporary chairs and parquet flooring, to the light-filled East Wing, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, plaster casts of nature and slick modern bar (there’s also a cosy cellar bar)
Throughout the hotel there is a profusion of wood, leather and stone, from the lounge with its contemporary chairs and parquet flooring, to the light-filled East Wing, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, plaster casts of nature and slick modern bar (there’s also a cosy cellar bar).
In the stripped-back restaurant, guests dine on a menu strong on estate produce, from the foraged mushroom mousse amuse bouche to delicious venison. If there’s a slight weak point in the whole set-up, this is it. Some dishes are still being tweaked and the prices are expensive compared with the rooms – expect to pay £50 for two courses.
Yet for a country escape with the added bonus of a bit of rest and renewal, you can’t really go wrong at The Falcon. And, if you’ve got grander designs, you may in future be able to stay at Castle Ashby itself, which has been in Spenny’s family since Henry VIII’s time.
It is currently closed (Lord and Lady N live at their smaller, 84-room house at Compton Wynyates, just over an hour away) but it did have a past life as a hotel with 26 suites. ‘If The Falcon is a success, we will open them again,’ says Spenny. Now that really would be lording it up.
B&B stays cost from £140 a night, a 75-minute yoga class is £25, while wild swimming with wetsuit hire is £70pp (thefalcon-castleashby.com).
Or how about stepping up the aristocracy ladder with a stay at the refined Granary Lodge B&B in the grounds of Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s summer retreat near the Caithness coast.
A room in Granary Lodge at Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s summer retreat near the Caithness coast and now a property owned by Prince Charles
In these parts, its current owner is known as the Earl of Rothesay, but he usually goes by the name Prince Charles. One of its ten bedrooms has a floral fabric corona above the bed, just like one in the castle itself. Decorated by the Prince’s former valet, they have antique furniture, wallpapered bathrooms and either views of the castle or out towards Orkney.
Currently the drawing room and dining room are closed, but you can still inspect photographs of the Queen Mother lining the corridors. Guests have unrivalled access to the castle and to the walled garden filled with delphiniums and the Queen Mother’s Albertine roses. A private tour costs £50pp.
Breakfast hampers can be delivered to your door, and evening platters are also available. B&B from £155 a night (castleofmey.org.uk).
The Devonshire Arms on the 30,000-acre Bolton Abbey estate in Yorkshire features many antiques, artworks and elegant furnishings chosen by the Duchess of Devonshire herself.
For the more traditional rooms at this hotel and spa, you’ll want to stay in the original building, which dates from 1610, when it was an inn. Otherwise, book a room in the modern extension. Outside are landscaped grounds and a formal Italian garden, as well as all the joys of the Yorkshire Dales.
The spa, in a converted barn, is currently limited to just two different groups – although it does mean you and a friend staying in a different room could have it to yourselves. There is a pool beneath a beamed ceiling, an Arabian-inspired rasul mud chamber, a sauna, steam room, hot tub and four treatment rooms where therapists use Temple Spa products. B&B is from £199 a night (thedevonshirearms.co.uk).
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s ancestral home is actually Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, where they run a handful of accommodation options. The swishest of these is the Cavendish Hotel in Baslow, a short walk across the fields from Chatsworth House. It is furnished with many pieces from the stately home itself, and there is Chatsworth artwork on show in the Gallery restaurant.
The good life: A rolltop bath at the Cavendish Hotel, a short walk across the fields from Chatsworth House in Derbyshire
Book a picnic from the hotel and take it to explore the 105-acre Chatsworth gardens, with a cascade, pools and Victorian rockery.
The 28 rooms are done out in country style and are at their most decadent in the Coach House. Room-only doubles cost from £170 a night, or £210 for B&B.
For a less expensive stay, the estate also has two pubs, both called the Devonshire Arms, in the villages of Pilsley and Beeley (devonshirehotels.co.uk).
Also in Derbyshire, on the nearby Haddon Estate, is The Peacock at Rowsley, a boutique hotel owned by Lord and Lady Edward Manners of Haddon Hall.
The Peacock at Rowsley, a boutique hotel that’s full of ancestral portraits, antiques and four-poster beds
The Peacock at Rowsley is owned by Lord and Lady Edward Manners of Haddon Hall
The converted 17th Century manor house is full of ancestral portraits, antiques and four-poster beds, but the 15 rooms have been given a contemporary twist thanks to bold colours and modern furnishings.
Enjoy a locally sourced dinner at Mouseman oak tables in the dining room or have a less formal meal in the bar.
The beauty of the Peak District National Park is right on the doorstep. Guests can fish on the estate and get reduced entry to Haddon Hall. And don’t miss the lovely eight-mile round-trip walk to Chatsworth House, featuring the River Derwent and a pit stop at the Red Lion in Bakewell. B&B is from £215 a night (thepeacockatrowsley.co.uk).
In what is surely one of the most picturesque corners on the Isle of Skye, Kinloch Lodge lies at the head of Loch na Dal and at the foot of a mountain.
The bar area at Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye where a B&B package costs from £280 a night
Its owners are Lord and Lady Macdonald – Lord Macdonald is the 34th hereditary chief of the Macdonald clan. Today it is their daughter, Isabella, who runs the 19-room hotel, adorned with family heirlooms and portraits, and with many of the contemporary rooms overlooking the loch.
Lady Macdonald is a food writer, so it’s no surprise to find excellent cuisine served here, created by chef Marcello Tully. He also holds workshops.
You can forage in the forest or on the loch shores with a ghillie, fish for salmon or sea trout, or stalk deer around the Cuillin Mountains. B&B costs from £280 a night (kinloch-lodge.co.uk).