Rockliffe Hall is a five-star Pride of Britain hotel in Darlington, on the northern reaches of North Yorkshire or the southern edge of County Durham, depending on where you’re standing.
We tagged a one-night stay to the end of a short break at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest, which is about an hour’s drive away in Penrith. Between the two, we found the perfect pit-stop for lunch: the Tan Hill Inn. Britain’s highest pub is in an isolated spot that peers down over the vast, empty Yorkshire Dales below – the long, lonesome drive up was like a mission to the moon.
We arrived at Rockliffe Hall mid-afternoon to a soundtrack of ooos and aaahhs from the back of the car – the striking redbrick mansion is wrapped in 375 acres of pristine greenery, and certainly makes a grand first impression. Built in the 1800s and designed by English architect Alfred Waterhouse – the brains behind London’s Natural History Museum – it’s now owned by Steve Gibson, owner and chairman of Middlesborough Football Club, which has its training facilities on the estate.
The original property has been given a glossy, modern extension, and rooms are now split across the New Hall and Old Hall. We arrived at reception and were shown to our room in the New Hall – a Junior Double Suite, which had a double bed plus two single sofa beds made up for the children.
Outside, our ground-floor room opened out straight onto the hotel gardens, with a little table and chairs to bask in some unexpected February sun.
Inside, the décor was more modern and muted than the rest of the hotel – which is all opulent chandeliers and kaleidoscopic stained-glass – but there was plenty of space for all four of us. A separate toilet and bathroom were tucked away behind a screen and there was a flat-screen TV in the bath that was met with wide eyes and requests for The Simpsons.
We were booked in to the spa at 3:30PM, so the kids trotted off with the hotel’s childminder, Marsha, and we made a dash in the other direction. We’ve never used hotel childcare before, so I wasn’t sure how happy my two – who are four and six – would be about this arrangement. Thankfully, Rockliffe Hall isn’t your average hotel when it comes to children’s facilities. Hidden away in the grounds is an amazing Alice In Wonderland-themed children’s play area, Mischmasch (the name of a magazine Lewis Carroll once wrote and an absolute nightmare to spell) that’s an attraction in its own right.
Mischmasch features a giant adventure playground, a splash park that’s open in summer and an amazing collection of Wonderland-themed wooden cabins. Inside, each one has different activities – there’s a craft ‘pod’, a cinema, one with a pool table and another with soft play bits and bobs.
They’re free for guests to book, and you can order food and drink to be delivered to the door. Plus, they’re put to good use during special children’s and family events during school holidays – including lots of events planned for this Easter.
As the kids played, we savoured a glass of white wine in the Spa Garden – an extension of the main, free spa. You can book a two-hour session in the Spa Garden for £30 each and it’s worth the extra spend. As the name suggests, this area opens out onto an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi overlooking hotel’s vast garden. The huge bi-fold doors dividing the two areas were closed when we visited, but they’re open in the summer months to create in indoor-outdoor space.
We sat for a few minutes in the glass-fronted sauna, then braved the 20-second walk to the infinity-edge pool outside. It’s small and fairly shallow, but plenty big and hot enough to wallow in while making the most of the widescreen views and waterside waiter service.
We emerged two hours later to collect the children, and headed off to the Brasserie for dinner, bypassing The Orangery – the hotel’s flagship 4AA Rosette restaurant – for something a little more low-key to suit the kids. The friendly staff chatted to the children, who ordered from the kids’ menu, and we plumped for a perfectly-cooked steak and a bottle of red.
We ate breakfast in The Orangery the next morning and, after far too many American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, we took the kids to the main swimming pool – a lovely big space with an adjoining shallow pool for younger children – before one last wander around the hotel’s grounds.
The 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and Mischmasch play area barely make a dent on this supersized blanket of greenery, which stretches down to the River Tees and is as peaceful as it gets. Rockliffe Hall is a rare gem that caters to children without sacrificing on grown-up luxury, and proof that you really can enjoy a relaxing spa retreat as part of a fun, family break.
Thank you to Rockliffe Hall for hosting us in return for this review, which also appears in OVL magazine.
Rockliffe Hall is a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels collection, which is limited to 50 hotels to guarantee quality and exclusivity. The hotel has 61 guest bedrooms and an overnight stay costs from £220 per room including a full English breakfast and use of the indoor spa. This price is based on a family of four sharing – children under 13 stay free on school holiday packages, and a supplement of £25 per child (ages 4-12) is payable at other times. To book, call Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 or visit www.prideofbritainhotels.com.