Tucked away in the idyllic countryside of North East England is a piece of Victorian architectural magic. Christened Pilmore Hall, it was designed at the height of the Industrial Revolution by Alfred Waterhouse, the Manchester architect who built London’s Natural History Museum. Today, it’s taken on a new incarnation as Rockliffe Hall, the region’s most-renowned five-star luxury escape, spa and golf club.
The history of Rockliffe Hall and its surrounding area would fill a hundred books… ones we’d love to get our noses into to learn much more about this beautiful part of England, on the banks of the river Tees.
But for those looking for a precis, the splendour of the area is actually well encapsulated by this stunning old property and its sizeable grounds. And we use ‘old’ because that’s what has caught our attention most about this property – quirky Victorian embellishments throughout, an arresting stained-glass window and a majestic century-old oak tree that catches the rays at sunset and casts beautiful shadows on the red Gothic Revival brickwork.
The name of our accommodation, the Old Hall Suite, played further into the fantasy, but, on opening the door, we were greeted by quite the opposite – a contemporary-style bedroom with a huge bathroom and centrepiece tub. In our humble opinion, the beige decor accented with gold could have been a little more imaginative and the suite rather more homely, but we figured that the interior designer had probably wanted not to detract from the opulent period features on display in the communal spaces downstairs.
The new wing of the Rockliffe complex is quite the opposite, lavish, loud and flashy and contains most of the property’s rooms and suites. Its focus is around an ultramodern spa, where we partook in a pampering Himalayan Salt Ritual and enjoyed time in the designer hydrotherapy spa (look out for the contemporary stained glass installation by the pool) and garden.
Experiential accolades aside, what made the entire stay for us was Rockliffe’s superlative team, who were effortlessly friendly, charming and ready to go out of their way to help. There are many properties that hold themselves in higher esteem who could learn a few lessons from the staff here.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
The icing on the Rockliffe cake was dinner at its Orangery restaurant, where, in an industrial-age conservatory with cast-iron columns, we were served a perfectly cooked, inventive and unpretentious British tasting menu by chef Gary Duffy (at time of visit). Many of the ingredients were foraged or grown on the estate’s grounds. The sommelier’s pairing of New World wines, including some from England, was a discovery, too, and matched each delicious mouthful perfectly. It’s well worth a visit for the food alone, and certainly would be a top contender for the region’s top culinary destination.