When the opportunity arose to travel up north to County Durham and visit and review Rockcliffe Hall once more we jumped at it, we fell in love with Rockcliffe Hall 2 years ago and we were eager to see if it would still be just as good.
As the date drew nearer the excitement increased, though along with it a slight nagging doubt of 'will it really be the same, will we come away disappointed because it's actually not like we remembered it to be'.
Fears were initially cast aside as we turned into the tree lined drive down to the Hall, where we were met by the head concierge who spotted us parking and came out to assist with our luggage. A warm welcome from the team at reception and those doubts were ebbing away further. The defining moment came when, once settled in our lovely room, Clayton Swan, I discovered the bottle of fresh milk in the mini fridge! Perfection - fresh milk to have in my cup of tea along with the rather delicious cookies. Clayton Swan is one of the superior rooms in the Old Hall at Rockcliffe - decorated in warm reds mixed with golden and ivory tones, it has a king size bed, a sitting and dining area with 2 large sofas and a fire place. It also has views over the gardens and woodland beyond. The large marble-clad bathroom has a large walk in shower, double sinks and a bath with a tile TV. All the usual hotel amenities that you would expect, including lovely fluffy bathrobes and slippers, and a suggestion that we wear those to wander down to the spa! Golf was booked for the following morning, dinner was booked for 7pm, cup of tea and biscuits consumed with a flick through the array of glossy magazines, what else to do than visit the spa!
The spa has been voted 5 bubbles by the Good Spa guide and is worth every bubble! It boasts a 20 metre swimming pool, a thermal bathing suite, treatment rooms, a 50 station gym and studios for classes. It is spacious and beautifully lit with natural daylight streaming through stained glass windows creating a rather hypnotic effect on the water in the pool. The thermal bathing suite is my favourite spot in the spa with a central thermal hydrotherapy pool with a variety of pressure jets to ease away any aches. Around this central pool are thermal rooms including a tepidarium with soothing, warm tiled beds, a caldarium, a nicely hot steam room, tropicarium, a high-humidity sauna and an ice igloo for the brave!
Spa butlers are on hand serving zingy ginger punch, fresh towels or bathrobes as required. It is easy to lose yourself for an hour or two just experiencing all the different thermal rooms, pools and chill out areas, without going anywhere near the gym or the treatment rooms! The thermal bathing suite is for adults only so definitely a chilling out place for friends or couples.
Having already eaten in The Orangery and down at the Golf Clubhouse on our previous stay, we chose to eat in the Brasserie by Atkinson, a new addition to the dining options at Rockcliffe Hall since our visit in 2010. The Brasserie is a more informal dining experience to the three AA rosettes of Kenny Atkinson at the Orangery, but nonetheless still a la carte dining at its best. Being a dark winter evening we couldn't indulge in the view from our window table but took a sneak look the following morning at the stunning view we had missed over the golf course and parkland. In the summer the terrace is open for al fresco
An early morning stroll down to the Golf course on a crisp frosty morning was enough to work up an appetite for a hearty breakfast served in the Orangery, with its gorgeous views over the 375 acres of parkland. A buffet table heaving under the weight of a vast array of choice, along with an a la carte menu for hot items. We would not be needing lunch!
I can't quite put my finger on what makes Rockcliffe so special - is it its understated 5* luxury, its history, its relaxed homely feel, its beautiful furnishings or perhaps the friendly, enthusiastic yet unobtrusive staff who make you feel so welcome in this place they are so clearly proud of. Whatever the combination of these factors they all come together to make Rockcliffe something really special. I can't wait to visit again!