It’s not just the cold water that makes you gasp for air while swimming wildly on earth Ashby Castle estate in the Northamptonshire. Every time you have a stroke in its Capability Brown-designed lake, you can see the stunning 100-room Elizabethan castle through your glasses.
I am also in very much esteemed company: one of the wetsuit figures who navigate the waters is Lady Northampton, the sixth wife of the 7th Marquess of Northampton, the charming owner of Castle Ashby, who stands on the bank. The couple (who introduce themselves as Spenny and Tracy and whose coworkers address themselves as Lord and Lady N) recently opened The Falcon Hotel in a 16th century pub on the 10,500 acre estate.
Like its owners, it’s not great at all. The beautiful little retreat has 22 rooms starting at £ 140 a night. This price also allows access to the quaint property with its lakes, arboretum, formal Italian gardens, and a meerkat-filled menagerie.
Palatial: The imposing formal grounds of the Castle Ashby estate on which The Falcon is located
However, this place offers more than beautifully designed rooms, meals made from farm produce, as well as yomps and bike tours through the idyllic landscape. Health and wellness enthusiasts, Spenny (whose fascination with mysticism earned him the nickname Mystic Marquess) and Tracy (yoga teacher and psychotherapist from Plymouth) designed The Falcon to reflect their core values.
“It is dedicated to our experiences of the things that we consider most important in our lives,” says Spenny. “It’s a reflection of us.”
They went through their little black contact book and brought in experts in their fields, from massage to meditation. “All of the people we’ve brought with us are our dear friends,” says Tracy.
The charming owner of Castle Ashby is the 7th Marquess of Northampton, also known as Spenny
Which means that, like me, you will find the owners in the studio taking an excellent yoga class with Lara Stapleton or enjoying a sound therapy session where we lay on the floor while Kanti Freeman creates a cacophony of cymbals, gongs and crystal dishes and She “plays” a bowl filled with water with a violin bow. It’s an impressive and soothing symphony.
The standard of everything here is superb and the outdoors is included wherever possible. I enjoy a guided meditation in the grounds of Castle Ashby. My mind is already calming down as we walk to the sound of rain falling on the leaves and then settle down under the huge canopy of an old weeping beech tree. There are also art classes in the gardens (a local pottery shop has already been recruited where you can throw a pot or two), as well as horse riding and nature walks if you can take advantage of the Hunter Wellington boots in the shoe room.
There will be more this year: whirlpools by the lake to warm up after a wild swim, a number of retreats, and a wellness center in the old dairy. These 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. It is clear that no expense is spared in the search for good performance.
Right now, you can enjoy massages in one of The Falcon’s cottage rooms. Like the ones in the main building, these are all reassuringly chic, in shades of green, ocher, and sienna, designed by Northamptons’ friend Jackie Blakey to let the outdoors in. Some are cozy, others are spacious affairs with beams and slipper baths. Everyone is spoiled, with divine La Eva impurities in the bathroom and a QR code on the bed that is linked to guided meditations.
There is an abundance of wood, leather and stone throughout the hotel, from the lounge with its modern chairs and parquet floors to the light-flooded east wing with its arched beamed ceiling, plaster casts of nature and the elegant modern bar (there is also a cozy cellar bar)
There is an abundance of wood, leather and stone throughout the hotel, from the lounge with its modern chairs and parquet floors to the light-flooded east wing with its vaulted beam ceiling, plaster casts of nature and the elegant modern bar (there is also a cozy cellar bar).
In the stripped-down restaurant, guests enjoy a menu with products from the estate, from the amuse bouche with mushroom mousse to delicious venison. If the whole setup has a slight flaw, this is the case. Some dishes are still being tweaked and prices are expensive compared to the rooms – expect £ 50 for two courses.
For a rural escape with the added bonus of a little rest and renewal, you can’t go wrong at The Falcon. And if you have grander designs, in the future you may find yourself staying at Castle Ashby itself, which has been with Spenny’s family since Henry VIII.
It’s currently closed (Lord and Lady N live in their smaller 84-room home in Compton Wynyates, a little over an hour away), but it had a previous life as a 26-suite hotel. “If The Falcon is a success, we’ll open it again,” says Spenny. Well that would really write it down.
B&B stays start at £ 140 per night, a 75 minute yoga class is £ 25, while wild swimming with a wetsuit is £ 70 per person (thefalcon-castleashby.com).
Or how about raising the aristocratic ladder with a stay at the refined Granary Lodge B&B on the site of Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s summer vacation near the Caithness coast.
A room in the Granary Lodge in the Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother’s summer resort near the Caithness coast and now owned by Prince Charles
In these parts, its current owner is known as the Earl of Rothesay, but he is usually called Prince Charles. One of the ten bedrooms has a floral corona over the bed, just like one in the castle. Decorated by the Prince’s ex-valet, they have antique furniture, wallpapered bathrooms and views of either the castle or Orkney.
Currently the drawing room and dining room are closed, but you can still view photos of the Queen Mother in the corridors. Guests have unmatched access to the castle and the walled garden full of delphiniums and the Queen Mother’s Albertine roses. A private tour costs £ 50pp.
Breakfast baskets can be delivered to your doorstep, and dinner platters are also available. B&B from £ 155 per night (Castleofmey.org.uk).
The Devonshire Arms on the 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey estate in Yorkshire offers many antiques, works of art and elegant furniture selected 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 back to 1610 when it was an inn. Otherwise, book a room in the modern extension. Outside there are landscaped gardens and a formal Italian garden as well as all of the delights of the Yorkshire Dales.
The barn converted spa is currently limited to just two different groups – though that means you and a friend staying in a different room could have it to yourself. Under a wood-beamed ceiling is a pool, Arab-inspired rasul mud chamber, sauna, steam room, whirlpool, and four treatment rooms where therapists use Temple Spa products. B&B costs from £ 199 a night (thedevonshirearms.co.uk).
The ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire is Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, which offers a handful of accommodations. The fanciest of them is this Cavendish Hotel in the Baslow, a short walk across the fields from Chatsworth House. It is decorated with many pieces from the mansion itself, and Chatsworth artwork is on display in the Gallery restaurant.
The good life: a roll top bath at the Cavendish Hotel, a short walk across the fields from Chatsworth House in Derbyshire
Book a picnic lunch at the hotel and take them to explore the 105-acre Chatsworth Gardens with a cascade, pools and Victorian rock garden.
The 28 rooms are furnished in a country house style and are most decadent in the Coach House. Double rooms for room only cost from £ 170 per night or £ 210 for B&B.
For a more affordable stay, the property also has two pubs, both of which are known as “pubs” Devonshire Armsin the villages of Pilsley and Beeley (devonshirehotels.co.uk).
Even in Derbyshire, on the nearby Haddon Estate, is The peacock in Rowsley, a boutique hotel owned by Lord and Lady Edward Manners of Haddon Hall.
The Devonshire Arms in the village of Pilsley. The pub is part of the Chatsworth Estate
The bar at the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley. A wonderful place for a libation after locking
The Peacock at Rowsley, a boutique hotel full of ancestral portraits, antiques, and four-poster beds
The peacock in Rowsley belongs to Lord and Lady Edward Manners of Haddon Hall
The converted 17th-century mansion is filled with ancestral portraits, antiques, and four-poster beds. However, the 15 rooms have been designed in a contemporary way thanks to strong colors and modern furnishings.
Enjoy a local dinner at Mouseman’s oak tables in the dining room, or eat less formal in the bar.
The beauty of the Peak District National Park is on your doorstep. You can fish on the property and have less access to Haddon Hall. Don’t miss the beautiful 8 miles loop walk to Chatsworth House with the River Derwent and a pit stop at the Red Lion in Bakewell. B&B costs from £ 215 a night (thepeacockatrowsley.co.uk).
In one of the most picturesque corners of 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’s her daughter Isabella who runs the 19-room hotel, adorned with family heirlooms and portraits, and many of the modern rooms with lake views.
Lady Macdonald is a food writer, so it’s no surprise to find excellent cuisine here, created by Chef Marcello Tully. He also holds workshops.
You can look for a ghillie in the forest or on the lakeshore, fish for salmon or sea trout, or hunt deer in the Cuillin Mountains. B&B costs from £ 280 a night (kinloch-lodge.co.uk).