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Treat in Tees Valley
November 19, 2010

For more information about visiting Tees Valley take a look at the official visitors website at www.visitteesvalley.co.uk

Rockliffe Hall

Rockliffe Hall is set amidst 375 acres of beautiful Tees Valley countryside, with its own championship golf course and luxurious spa (more of those later!). The original hall dates back to 1863 and has had a variety of uses/owners over the years - from private residence to hospital and community centre until it fell into disrepair and was purchased by Middlesborough Football Club in the 1990's to establish a new training centre befitting of the Premiership. The Hall underwent extensive restoration and extension and the 5 star hotel, spa and golf resort opened in 2009.

Attention to detail is what makes Rockliffe Hall stand out. From the control panels around the room enabling you to alter the lighting at a touch through to the little bottle of fresh milk in your room fridge for that lovely cup of tea! Attentive and friendly service from all the staff who clearly enjoy and are proud to be part of the Rockliffe Hall team. We later found out that staff all have the opportunity to be a guest for 24 hours and experience the Rockliffe service which goes some way to explaining the genuine enthusiasm of the staff - they know what the Rockliffe experience feels like!



During the restoration many of the original features have been retained such as the carved stone pillars, oak balustrades and magnificent stained glass windows. The new wing blends in sympathetically and is very much in keeping with the elegance and sophistication of the original Hall. The superior rooms are all located in the Old Hall but the quality runs seamlessly from old to new and the feeling of space and elegance is everywhere.

Each room has its own individual colour scheme and style but all with very stylish and comfortable furnishings with plenty of space for relaxing in. Every room offers a seating area, work desk with high speed internet connection, elegant bathroom (complete with a TV positioned at the end of the bath, ideal for a long soak!) Fluffy bathrobes, heated towel rail and a fridge which is restocked with fresh milk and water add to the comfort. After a long drive from the South of England broken up with a 26 mile marathon run around Rutland Water, it was a very welcome place to recuperate and recover!

The public areas are beautifully furnished but the whole place has an air of welcome and relaxation, not a hint of stuffy pretentiousness that other 5* establishments sometimes show. The Morning Room is a pretty space with welcoming sofa's for morning coffee or afternoon tea, whilst the dark dramatic colours of the Cocktail lounge make the perfect spot for pre and after dinner drinks. There is a choice of 3 dining areas to suit your mood - we opted for the Clubhouse which offered great British comfort food in a relaxed setting - perfect for post run refuelling - but we could have eaten in Michelin star Kenny Atkinson's Orangery or the bright and buzzy Waterhouse Bistro. The Clubhouse is located just a short walk away from the Hotel though guests are offered a ride there in the hotel's Jaguar - very welcome in the rain and with post marathon stiffness setting in!

After a good night's sleep we enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the Orangery with beautiful views over the golf course. Guests have full use of the spa during their stay and whilst the golfers are out on the course, non-golfers can relax and rejuvenate in the spa. In addition to a 20 metre pool, state of the art gym and exercise classes the jewel in the crown has to be the thermal bathing suite with its tepidarium, caldarium, tropicarium, ice fountain and giant hydropool where aches and tension can be soothed away.

The attention to detail meant spa butlers are on hand to keep you refreshed with champagne and freshly squeezed juices, and plentiful fluffy towels. The Spa offers a wide range of facials, wraps and massages through to more specialist anti-ageing and detoxing treatments. It was a tough decision but we chose a lux candle massage - a blissful hour of warm soothing massage which melted away any residual post run aches and left our skin feeling soft and hydrated. After the treatment we were taken to the Sleep Retreat with its sound wave therapy beds giving a gentle massaging vibration and where we were wrapped in warm fleece blankets and welcomed to stay as long as we liked to prolong the blissful state of relaxation the treatment had taken us to!



If you could manage to tear yourself away from the hotel there are many walks in and around the estate, with Durham City, the dramatic north-east coastline and rugged beauty of the North York Moors just a few miles away to explore. The Tees Valley looked far away from Kent on the map but with improvements being made to the A1, taking off I'd estimate a good 30 minutes driving of few years ago, it was rather quicker than we thought and the estate is just a few minutes away from the A1. Trains from London take 2.5hrs and Edinburgh just 2 hours, and Durham Tees Valley airport is also close by.

On our last day we chatted about what could be done to improve the Rockliffe experience and we struggled to come up with anything that wasn't remotely terribly picky! The words in the brochure '...genuine warmth, genuine hospitality, our guests genuinely are 'our guests'' sums up the Rockliffe experience perfectly - a place you want to return to time and time again.

Golf at Rockliffe

Rockliffe is a beast of a course, well, it could be off the back gold tees, at 7897 yards it would be a true test for the very best. Fortunately for mere mortals there are four forward teeing areas to make things slightly more manageable!

Opened in 2009 the first impression is that it's a fairly flat course, a few water features, some mature trees and lots of planting (over 30,000 trees have been planted) however its only really when you get out on the course that you get to appreciate the subtleties and thought that have gone in to the design.

First thing I noticed was the condition of the faiways and greens, even with a lot of November rain of them they were in excellent shape. Second thing is that the course is set up in a "stadium" type design, all the tee shots are open and inviting, there is subtle banking down the sides of most fairways which adds to the "quiet" feeling of the course. I was playing a little way behind a two ball and barely saw them play a shot as they were usually hidden. Thirdly its a classic "risk and reward" type layout, lots of trouble, but with large true greens good scoring is possible for the bold and accurate.

Water and reed beds are a source of much of the trouble, but plentiful bunkering and some potentially devillish pin positions all add to the challenge. The signature hole is the 5th, a 181 yard par 3 to an island green, 31 yards deep, looks half that from the tee! I nailed a 5 iron from the black tees, pin high to about 10 feet, I'm glad though that the water behind the green isn't very visible as otherwise I may have opted for a 6 iron and gotten wet. Phew!

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my round here, despite a bit of rain and wind. I may be slightly biased though as I played as well as I have for a long time here. Though as three tee shots were within a yard of ending in water, had the golfing gods not been smiling on me, I could easily have added ten shots to my score.

What perhaps surprised me most though was what good value the golf here is, its open to all, and their "Sunday Drive" offer at the moment of two rounds of golf, a nights accommodation and dinner and breakfast for £140 seems almost to good to be true! A "must visit" course if you're in the area, there is talk of bringing a professional tour event to the course within the next year or two and Rockliffe is a course we're going to hear more and more about.

www.rockliffehall.com

Crathorne Hall

Crathorne Hall is very much a country home. Built in 1906 overlooking the Leven Valley on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, Crathorne Hall has played host to politicians, courted royalty and delighted socialites, yet its stately grandeur feels homely, welcoming and lived in. There is lots of wood panelling, period furniture and warming open fires, not to mention panoramic views over the manicured lawns and extensive parkland. We ate in the Leven Restaurant where award winning chefs use fresh local ingredients to create a seasonal and inspiring menu. There is a comprehensive wine list and the hosts are only too pleased to help select the perfect wine to accompany your meal.

The service was friendly yet efficient and discreet, and the food beautifully presented and cooked to perfection. Rhubarb is taken seriously in this area and the Rhubarb Cheesecake was a delight! Coffee and petit fours were served in the Drawing room, grand but homely. We were accompanied back to our car by a member of staff carrying an umbrella, much appreciated in the pouring rain!

www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/hotels/crathorne-hall/

Wynyard Golf Club

The second course on the visit was to Wynyard, set in 200 acres of undulating of mature parkland, its 7000 yards off the back tees. Being far more established than Rockliffe the trees initially seemed rather more encrouching than they are in reality (and there have been more planted), though the fairways and rough are quite generous.

I was surprised to read afterwards that there were only 80 bunkers on the course as I must have visited a fair number of them! The golfing gods abandoned me on this round as I seemed to find sand on almost every hole. But despite the time of year and weather the course was in very good condition and wandering around you can see why such events as the Seve Trophy have been hosted here.

Its a real challenge to play, many of the holes wander through a very upmarket housing estate (though set far enough back that only a truly wayward shot would endanger them) with some very pleasant holes. Water features on five of the holes, the 3rd and 12th are partially over water, though anything airborne will be over the 3rd and the 12th has a large bailout area left.

An pro-shop and clubhouse make this course well worth a visit, and like Rockliffe they have a number of very good special offers worth checking out.

Gisborough Hall

Our last night in the Tees Valley was spent in Gisborough Hall located on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National park near Whitby. Gisborough Hall is a Victorian country house, long associated with the Chaloner family, retaining the quality and charm of that period with antiques, original oil paintings, luxurious fabrics and sumptuous sofa's.

We indulged in a spot of afternoon tea in the Library Bar, enjoying a selection of sandwiches, cakes and warm scones - just perfect for the cold wet weather. Tocketts Restaurant has a classic approach to cooking and is regarded as one of the finest in the area.

We, however, chose to eat in the G Bistro - the vibrant twist in Gisborough's charm! On arriving at Gisborough I thought the G Bistro seemed incongruous with its Victorian charm, however in the evening the G Bistro came to life providing a very different feel to the rest of the Hall. Its decor is urban chic with contemporary fixtures and fittings complete with a shimmering silver Buddha and modern metallic chandeliers.

It worked! It was lively and buzzing, with efficient friendly staff and a seasonal bistro menu. The food was well presented and imaginative. The G Bistro gives guests a contemporary dining alternative to the classic elegance of Tocketts Restaurant.

We stayed in the Old Hall in a warm spacious room with beautiful views over the Cleveland Hills. The room was very much in keeping with the Victorian charm of Gisborough but also offered modern comforts in the bathroom, and with high speed internet access.

Breakfast was served in Tocketts Restaurant, a light elegant room overlooking the formal grounds. The breakfast menu offered both locally sourced food and jams especially imported from the Chaloner family estate in South Africa. The jams and chutneys are available to purchase and take home as a gift or lasting memory of Gisborough.

Hunley Golf Course

The last stop we made was at Hunley, right on the coast and has a very different feel to the other courses I played. Perched atop cliffs overlooking the North Sea it boasts some spectacular views of the coastline.

Whilst there are 28 physical holes on the course, split in two by a railway line, they are laid out in such a fashion as to be playable in four routes of 18 holes, the Morgans (6872 yards), Imperial (6543 yards), Millennium (5945 yards) and Jubilee (6289 yards) each offering different challenges.

Aside from the wind, which will likely always be a factor here, there are some impenetrable gorse bushes, plenty of bunkers, undulations, dog legs, raised greens and water present on ten or so of the holes to provide the challenge. The greens aren't overly large and there are certainly some holes that you stand on the tee and think, yes, birdie. The downhill par 4 4th at 300 yards invites a challenge at the green with the tee shot is one that springs immediately to mind.

Certainly well worth a visit, especially if there has been some rain as the course has excellent drainage. Despite there being more than an inch of rain over night the course was still open first thing in the morning.

www.hhgc.co.uk

For more information about visiting Tees Valley take a look at the official visitors website at www.visitteesvalley.co.uk











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