Review: The Wensleydale Heifer
For a stop-over with a difference, spend a night at the shoot-friendly Wensleydale Heifer, the Yorkshire Dales’ first boutique hotel
From outward appearances, the Wensleydale Heifer in West Witton, North Yorkshire, is every inch the traditional village pub; a 17th century black and white coaching inn, with a cartoon cow on the sign above the door. From the name alone, one might expect to find a Labrador warming its paws before a roaring fire, with their owner perched at the bar with a pint of the local ale – and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
The fire is very much a-roar, dogs are welcome and my personal favourite tipple, Black Sheep, is on tap, with the brewery at Masham just down the road. But step through the doors and you’ll soon find the Heifer is a hotel with far more to offer than just the traditional fare.
Nestled away in the stunning Yorkshire Dales’ National Park, the Heifer is managed by father and son team Lewis and David Moss and proudly described as the ‘Yorkshire Dales’ first boutique hotel.’ Every room has a theme and every theme is an experience in itself.
A visiting shooting party may be interested in the ‘Shooters Room,’ a strongly stag-themed room, with antlers mounted above the bed, trophies on the wall, a rifle display and, tantalisingly, a complimentary shot of malt whisky. The hotel caters to Shooters very well, with a gun safe on site and a licence for keeping firearms in the building. It plays host to two regular shoot breakfasts a week and up to 30 parties a year. Dogs are also allowed to stay in the rooms, which is an obvious must for any visiting party. There is a wide choice of clayshooting available nearby, with Warren Gill Shooting Ground near Ripon, Erik Aaron Shooting at Bedale and the North Yorkshire Shooting School near Thirsk just for starters. The stunning Bolton Estate at nearby Leyburn offers both game shooting and fishing, so it’s no surprise that the Heifer is popular with country sportsmen.
If you’re looking for something a little quirky, however, there are many accommodation options on offer. We stayed in the ‘A Night at the Movies’ room, which came complete with a 46in 3D television and blu-ray player, a generous library of films to select from and more complimentary popcorn than we could ever hope to get through in one sitting. Decked out in movie memorabilia, with Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn adorning the walls, no silver screen aficionado could ask for more.
Other room themes include Chocolate Heaven, James Herriot, Middleham Racing, Champagne and James Bond, each with their own particular style and complimentary gift. Repeat bookings are definitely encouraged to experience all the Heifer has to offer. In-fact, there are even coffee house-style stamp cards available, with offers for returning customers.
The location may be a little way off the national rail routes – the closest mainline station is at Northallerton, a good 20 plus miles away – but those coming by road will have a pleasant drive along the A684. If, like us, you come from the direction of York, you can take in Thirsk and Bedale along the way.
Food, glorious food
The Wensleydale Heifer isn’t just known for its inventive accommodation, however, it also boasts an award-winning fish bar and is renowned for its seafood. The hotel team once held the Guinness World Record for the largest serving of fish and chips, at a staggering 101lb. While I didn’t plan to set any records myself, I didn’t dare leave without sampling some of their acclaimed seafood from the resident’s menu.
Opening with salmon canapés, I was then treated to a generous ‘Seventies-style’ prawn cocktail, followed by a melt-in-the-mouth herb crusted hake fillet atop a bed of wild mushroom, parmesan and tarragon risotto. My partner had the roast chicken breast in Café de Paris butter with pancetta, wild mushroom and cabbage sauté, herb mash and red wine sauce.
But what wine to accompany two such varied dishes? We couldn’t decide, but no matter, restaurant manager Vince Bako was happy to recommend a refreshing Pinot Grigio, which turned out to be an ideal accompaniment to both our meals.
By this point, I was practically fit to burst, but managed to find room for dessert; a hot chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and Kirsch cherries. Sweet-toothed heaven.
After dinner, we headed to the bar and whisky lounge, where I found a digestif of Aberlour a’Bunadh (the single malt selection is spectacular) and a seat in front of the coffee table-cum-aquarium and wood-burning stove. The bar and lounge might double as a reception area, but we were as relaxed as though we were in someone’s living room, with an unintrusive and pleasant mix of swing and golden oldies playing just at the edge of hearing. Perhaps this relaxed atmosphere accounts for the numerous awards on the wall. As well as their Guinness World Record, the Heifer has also won TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, the AA Inspector’s Guide, the White Rose Award and the Michelin Guide’s seal of approval.
Certainly, if there is a friendlier hotel than the Wensleydale Heifer, then I certainly haven’t been there. The staff is uniformly pleasant and happy to chat with the guests, who in turn were all relaxed enough to talk to the other residents.
We spent the night chatting to the other guests, with the intimate lounge helping to complete the illusion of a group of friends in a front room, rather than strangers who had just met that night. We were aided in our introductions by Alfie the Labrador; a Heifer VIP, he’s been coming for seven years and his owners now book their room under his name. I might have been living in London for too long; when a mishap led to a broken glass, I was expecting a sarcastic cheer, not a quick, fret-free clean-up and the offer of a replacement drink. Maybe, I just need to pay another visit…
- There’s ample parking at the back of the hotel, though keep an eye out for the narrow entrance, between the Heifer’s two black and white buildings.
- As well as showing us to our room on arrival and our table at dinner, restaurant manager Julie Marklow also tended bar and was happy to answer any questions we had – she must be tireless. We found the staff uniformly welcoming and helpful.
- The Wensleydale Heifer produces some charming gifts for purchase, we came away with a lovely bear that now has place of pride on the bookshelf at home.
Cost: Rooms start from £120 per night, but can go much higher depending on the theme, day of the week and any optional extras you choose.
Contact: Tel 01969 622322 or visit www.wensleydaleheifer.co.uk