Last month I stayed at Thicket Priory, a former nunnery in North Yorkshire that’s been fully restored and opened as one of the UK’s finest private houses available to rent for weddings and special events…
As if on cue, there’s a break in the clouds as we turn off the main road and up a narrow lane towards Thicket Priory, a country house nestled in the Yorkshire countryside, and our destination for the night.
My friend and I have spent two hours on a train from King’s Cross to York, jumped in a taxi at the station and craned our necks as the city’s sights sped past the windows in a blur of crumbling walls and spiky cathedral peaks. Fifteen minutes later, after a few missed turns from the taxi driver (this place is as elusive as it’s exclusive) the Sat Nav loudly announces we’ve reached our destination.
Sunlight streams through the trees just as Thicket Priory comes into view, bathing the red-brick property in early-evening sun like a hazy Instagram filter. Framed by bright green lawns and paintbox-yellow rapeseed fields, this Victorian mansion is a stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of place. The long approach gives you ample time to take in the full scale of the place, which in our case meant at least a minute of open-mouthed silence.
Thicket Priory: from country house to fairytale wedding venue
Built in the 1840s on the site of a Benedictine nunnery, Thicket Priory was designed by Edward Blore – best-known for his work on Buckingham Palace. It was still occupied by nuns until a decade ago, when they moved to a separate property on the estate, which remains a working Carmelite monastery.
That’s when Thicket Priory began its transformation from a cut-off country house, to an exclusive events and weddings venue. And after a ten-year restoration project led by its hands-on new owner, Bruce Corrie, it opened at the tail-end of 2018 as one of the UK’s finest private homes for hire.
General manager, Anna Winkworth, meets us at the door and whisks us straight off to the bar – a decadent mix of wood paneling, velvet furnishings and oversized chandeliers. The bar itself spills out from a marble mantelpiece covered in glittering bottles of artisan gin – it’s pleasingly ad-hoc: less stuffy hotel, more bohemian home-from-home. If you happen to live in an impeccably decorated Grade-II listed mansion, that is.
As relationship manager Serena takes us on a tour of the property, it becomes clear that Thicket Priory is not your average wedding venue. We snake through Victorian passageways and climb narrow staircases to find 35 individually decorated bedrooms, each with incredibly elegant interiors and sparkling en-suites.
They don’t have TVs, telephones, mini-bars or kettles. Instead, guests are encouraged to chat as they make a fresh brew in one of four traditional pantries dotted around the house.
A sophisticated house with a simple charm
Grandeur aside, these humble pantries are easily my favourite feature of Thicket Priory. Gone are the plastic-wrapped hotel cookies and thimbles of UHT milk in favour of freshly baked cakes and biscuits, hot chocolate, proper coffee and dried herbs to make flavoured teas. Guests can help themselves to whatever they fancy, 24/7. I spied retro Viscount biscuits and Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, and was glad of a cool glass of water in the middle of the night that wasn’t lukewarm from the bathroom tap and drunk from the glass my toothbrush was in.
Later, once we’d gasped at the sheer size and splendor of the bridal suite, we poked around the rest of the house – from its secret passageways and tiny observation tower with a telescope, to its private chapel complete with kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows.
That evening, we sat down to an extraordinary three-course meal in the ballroom, prepared by luxury local caterers Baba Ganoush. Set up for a wedding or special event, this huge space is as elegant as it gets, and can seat up to 250 people.
The next morning, we had some time to kill before a day at York Races, so we set off for a wander through the grounds. With neat lawns that slope gently down to a lake scattered with lily pads and criss-crossed by bridges, it’s like stepping straight into a Monet painting. If there’s a more romantic setting for a wedding, I’d love to see it. Because Thicket Priory was picture-book perfect.
Katie was hosted by Thicket Priory in return for this review, which also appears in Ouse Valley Living magazine. Thicket Priory is at Thorganby, York YO19 6DE and is available to hire for weddings, functions and corporate events. Visit www.thicketpriory.co.uk, call 01904 230600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. And for more Yorkshire travel inspiration, take a look at these posts.