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Luxury Lodging: Swinton Park in the Yorkshire Dales

Across the expanse of emerald colored parklands, a castle stands solid and noble against the onslaught of time. Its ivy-covered towers seem to impart a history that is alluring yet elusive, in the evening's fading light. It is here in the Yorkshire Dales that the enchanting Swinton Park beckons visitors to want to live that lifestyle.

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England's northern Yorkshire Dales are one of the most outstanding scenic areas in the country with wild, rugged moors, forests, lakes and lush countryside. Swinton Park lies within this bucolic paradise and is located in Masham, (pronounced Massam) in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire. This magnificent castle's original construction began in 1695 with subsequent alterations by the Danby and Cunliffe-Lister families, combining both Regency and Victorian Gothic-style architecture. In the Victorian era, turrets were added and the entire building was castellated. Today, Swinton Park is a beautiful, luxury castle hotel with an estate consisting of 20,000 acres with about 200 acres of landscaped parkland, located on the immediate grounds surrounding the ancestral edifice.

The Cunliffe-Lister family owns Swinton Park with Mark and Felicity Cunliffe-Lister (Lord and Lady Masham) and Mark's mother, Susan (Countess Cunliffe-Lister), running the estate, which is one of the largest in England. Titles aside, the Cunliffe-Listers are truly the nicest and most interesting people you will meet. In addition to the absorbing family history of the castle, it is an amazing destination to visit. Upon entering Swinton Park through the intricately carved stone and wrought iron gates, it is a breathtaking moment. The exquisite and sprawling landscaped grounds and splendid castle are straight out of a superb BBC period movie. In fact, the famous BBC TV series Downton Abbey is based on the Yorkshire Dales with Thirsk and Rippon mentioned in the shows, as well as road signs used with those monikers. However, the castle used in Downton Abbey is actually located in England's southern region; visitors are not allowed to stay at the castle or take inside photographs, unlike Swinton Park.

Inside Swinton Park

Swinton Park offers guests 31 spacious and lovely bedrooms (five of them suites with large sitting rooms). From the crown molding and leather furniture, to the rich, six-paneled doors, each room reflects individual adornment and gorgeous decor. Of course, there are all of the modern amenities one would expect in the hotel's bedrooms, such as a flat screen TV, internet, phone, coffee and tea facilities etc., but all are tastefully incorporated and don't mar the character of the classic designs. After a full day of activities on the estate, it is heavenly to slip into a relaxing tub or take a refreshing shower in the room's chic and well-appointed bathroom. For the day's final encore, sink into a blissfully comfortable bed in a cloud of sumptuous linens, as a fresh country breeze lulls you into peaceful sleep.

Between activities or during some relaxing leisure time, stroll about the castle and explore the hallways and landings. These remarkable areas feature intriguing, historical family portraits, lovely paintings, period furniture and architectural embellishments. The public rooms, such as the sitting room, dining room, library and drawing room, located on the ground floor, are a pleasure to walk through and admire. The large dining room is especially alluring with its gilt-accented ceilings set in a rectangular, vaulted design. Moreover, the grand atmosphere of the drawing room, with its crystal chandelier, impressive stature and large, bay windows that overlook the deer park, is perfect for relaxing. Guests also find the drawing room ideal for enjoying a delightful afternoon tea while seated in smart winged-back chairs. For a cozy respite with a good book and warming fire, retire to the sitting room that boasts enormous, Georgian windows that overlook the terrace and lake.

Ahhh - Spa, bars and food

A fabulous place to enjoy a drink and chat, or eat a light meal is Swinton Park's bar. The bar was once a museum and then a family chapel. Today, the bar's motif features two lavish Greek-style wall murals in a semi-circular room with black leather settees, intimate tables and some of the best local ales in the county. However, for fine dining, guests are in for marvelous cuisine at Samuel's Restaurant (located in the dining room). Awards, such as the membership of the esteemed Chaine de Rotisseurs association and the membership of the Tea Guild, mark the hotel's three AA Rosette Restaurant's reputation for excellent cuisine. Swinton Park grows their own organic produce in their four-acre walled garden with a selection of meat and game from the 20,000-acre estate; the estate venison and Masham pork & wild herb sausages are luscious.

Perhaps a spa treatment or a soak in a hot tub is calling you; visit the hotel's conservatory for an exclusive use of the cozy cedar hot tub, surrounded by green foliage, warm wood accents and a soothing atmosphere. The sauna is also available for guests, along with a relaxation and exercise room. If you prefer other activities, the hotel offers a Snooker room, a games room and a private cinema as well.

On Swinton Park's Grounds: Bivouac, Raptors on the Estate Park, and even a Cooking School

Swinton Park offers an amazing selection of outdoor activities, as well as a highly acclaimed cookery school, located adjacent to the castle in the converted Georgian stables. Whether you wish to focus on Patisserie, butchery or filleting, the school offers a variety of courses, from half-day to multiple days and the courses cater to guests of all ages and abilities.

Further, the fabulous outdoor activities on the estate range from riding, pony trekking, hiking, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, hunting, archery, golf, bird watching, bicycling, falconry, walking and more. One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Swinton Park is walking through the estate parkland.

Well-groomed footpaths lead guests past the hotel's side entrance to rolling greens fields where deer and bunnies are grazing by a winding creek and bird song fills the air. The walking trail continues with every step a picture of paradise, especially in spring and summer with bright daffodils, abundant forget-me-nots and fragrant blue bells lining the paths. Keep on the path and the trail leads to a chain of five scenic lakes that were landscaped during the 17th century. The estate's lakes are spectacular and an oasis of tranquil reprieve; and, it is within these places of serene nature that most of us look for a moment, a perfect moment that is ours alone, balanced and in harmony.

Have you ever wished to see an owl, a falcon or a hawk up close? The aviary at Swinton Park is situated behind the castle in the parklands and houses several species of owls, hawks, an eagle and falcons. Guests of the hotel are afforded the rare opportunity of participating in the Birds of Prey programs. These programs range from; Meet the Birds, Hawk Walk, Family Falconry, Eagle Encounter, Flying demonstrations, Hunting Day to Owl Experience. Swinton Park Falconer, Sophie Abbot, is an engaging and friendly individual who is devoted to the estate's birds. With her expertise, she has created an absolute magical experience with her birds so that guests are able to see, learn, interact and appreciate the marvelous birds of prey in a safe and fun environment. One of the thrilling programs, Owl Experience, includes guests wearing a falconer's glove and a magnificent European Eagle Owl (Ellie) flying from a standing perch about 30-feet away and landing on your gloved hand, as you feed it tidbits. These birds are fascinating and enchanting and the programs are a fantastic introduction into falconry. Make sure to bring your camera, as Sophie will happily take your photo with the largest specie of owls on the planet as it flies to your hand!

In addition to Swinton Park's luxury castle hotel and parklands, the Cunliffe-Listers have created Bivouac, a sustainable and eco-friendly meadow yurt camping and cabin site, located on the estate in the beautiful, rugged moors and forest. This fantastic glamping (glamorous camping) provides guests comfortable yurts or lovely, rustic cabins in an unspoiled location with the opportunity to explore the heather-covered moors and estate forests. Bivouac also houses a bunk barn hostel, a cafe and small shop for necessities, as well as facilities with showers etc. If you go, make sure to visit the moss-covered Druid Temple located in the adjacent forest. It is smaller but reminiscent of Stone Henge is and its history and origins are a bit of a mystery. For additional information, visit www.thebivouac.co.uk.

Swinton Park is not merely a grand estate with a stunning castle but a rare, experiential destination. The Cunliffe-Lister family takes the legacy of the estate seriously and they have achieved over a dozen excellence awards in hotel, dining, travel and green tourism. They have restored the castle and grounds and have added to the history of this noble estate. If you visit, Swinton Park will provide you with memories to last a lifetime and a holiday that will enchant, edify and delight you. For additional information, visit www.swintonpark.com.

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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Photos courtesy of Patrice Raplee.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 26th, 2013

Updated: August 23, 2016



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