Yorkshire readers, and quite probably others from further afield, will be well familiar with the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey.
They’ll have driven past the famous old hotel and restaurant on route for a cultured amble around the ruins, perhaps, or spotted a monied guest descending from helicopter to helipad for a weekend of high-end R&R. Maybe they’ll have pushed the boat out for treaty tea at the Burlington, which held a Michelin spangly until a decade ago and is currently on a mission to win it back.
Either way, The Devonshire is part of the local fabric of the Dales.
Yorkshire folk may not know, however, that the same family also owns Chatsworth – the big house in the Peak District that we all visited on school trips – and, within its grounds, the Cavendish Hotel. In a fitting but formulaic bit of copy, let’s call this elegant old inn the sister hotel to the Devonshire. I’m sure I won’t be the first to do so.
It’s a plush but unfussy countryside spot, comfortable in its own skin rather than ostentatiously glam or glitzy. Sure, The Kids might find it a bit Downton, but I made peace with my inner Bertie Wooster many moons ago and am unashamedly partial to a well-polished parquet floor and the occasional Grandfather clock knocking about.
A scenic yomp from the carpark leads, via some stunning grounds, directly to the ever-bustling Chatsworth House, tickets for which are available from reception. You’ll find the main thoroughfare from Cavendish to Chatsworth flanked by herds of handsome deer. If you’re very lucky, these may also feature on the menu back at your digs.
Our Superior room (B&B £330, with options to add dinner) is an old-school peach, sturdily stylish, with far-reaching views over the verdant Derbyshire landscape. Eschewing anything that could be classed as new-fangled, the décor reflects the hotel’s double-headed themes of classic and comfortable. It’s like visiting the loaded part of the extended family that we all wish we had.
The Gallery restaurant is the hotel’s swankier space in which to eat yer tea, served by a kitchen headed up by Adam Harper. Menus will have been updated since this visit, when a top-notch mushroom velouté -rich and murky – and a slab of potato bread got tea off to a first-rate start, but I imagine Destination Diners who make the trip today will be in for the same sort of thing: laser-sharp cooking, classic flavours, and hefty dollop of culinary ambition. They really want that star.
Seabass, firm-fleshed and crisp-skinned, came with a generous scattering of spiced chickpeas and one of those appealing split sauces I keep seeing people do on Great British Menu.
I have no idea from where or from who the beef was sourced but somebody made a good choice when selecting a supplier. As we keep getting told, the best ingredients speak for themselves, but it still takes skill and restraint in the kitchen to ensure that they shine. Here, both a wodge of buttery fillet and the contrasting mound of slow-cooked cheek had been equally well tended.
All fantastic, sure, though on a future visit my simple needs could just as easily be met via the laid-back menu of the Garden Room. Baggsy the roast guinea fowl. Or the blue cheese ravioli. Or, given the quality of that beef, the steak and chips with café de Paris butter.
Sleep comes swiftly to me in these stately old gaffs, which I put down to a good dose of country air, a robust four-poster, and absolutely not the post-prandial double-measure nightcap.