The castle with a hidden secret

IMG_3113 IMG_3095 IMG_3115I have it on good authority that the most exciting place to stay for a night is a castle. Definitely a castle. Followed closely by the great outdoors. Third, according to my two sons (age 11 and 6), would either be Oliver’s or Will’s house (depending on who you talk to). Luckily, I have two out of three boxes ticked for a family weekend away. Oliver and Will’s house would have to wait for another time.

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We’re on our way to Swinton Park in Masham, North Yorkshire. It describes itself as a castle, and much to the boys’ delight it does have an impressive ivy-clad turret, but really it’s a grand country house (just don’t tell the kids that). Set in an incredibly huge 20,000-acre estate on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, the oldest part of Swinton Park dates back to 1695. It has been owned by the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s and is the ancestral seat of the Earl of Swinton.

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Creaking floors, four poster beds and picturesque lakes, complete with swans, add to the ‘castle’ effect (it was ‘castellated’ in the 1880s in keeping with the fashion at the time). As you’d expect, the 31 bedrooms are traditional in character, ranging from ‘Knights’ – comfortable doubles – to ultra plush suites. This is not a place for minimalists – our grand Wensleydale Suite had all of the following: blue and white toile de jouy wallpaper and matching curtains, bedspread and bed canopy, blue striped wallpaper, deep pile carpet, an adjoining dining room, open bar with crystal decanters and even teddy bears on the bed which were ‘available’ for adoption. Overwhelmed yet? Indeed, for some, it could feel a tad fussy but, actually, this all felt perfectly right and just so in its impressive setting. Comfort is the focus here while the modern bathroom and serene views over landscaped grounds are the highlight.

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The boys, though, were in their element outside – trying their hand at falconry at the Bird of Prey Centre, playing croquet on the lawn and getting muddy on the nature trails. If time allows, there’s a seemingly endless list of country pursuits on offer – from fishing to shooting, riding to kite flying – all of which my boys were desperate to try. Indoor activities, which include flower arranging and cookery lessons, were greeted with a less enthusiastic “no way”. Needless to say the games room was given an “awesome” verdict.


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Come evening time the Georgian drawing room – for pre-dinner drinks – and Victorian dining room come into their own and are seriously impressive. Dining here matches the elaborate surroundings – with chef Simon Crannage having earned three AA Rosettes for his menu at Samuel’s. Grand it may be but the welcome at Swinton is authentically a Yorkshire one – genuine and warm.

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After a night spent in splendour in one of the cosiest beds I’ve ever slept in, it was with some trepidation to drive the 10 minutes deep into the estate to Swinton’s best-kept secret, The Bivouac. Set in idyllic meadows and enchanting woodland this is Swinton’s new off-grid addition. A choice of yurts, woodland shacks and a bunk barn are the alternative accommodation to the castle and just as charming.


Our yurt was filled with up-cycled furniture, charming nick-nacks and pretty rugs while the wood-burner kept us all snug and warm. With no electricity, no Wi-Fi or TV, the children experienced a true old-fashioned adventure and loved the novelty of using torches and candles to go to bed. Well-thought out touches include the handy little store, which stocked essentials and quirky gifts, and the oh-so-pretty café-restaurant with its candy-coloured chairs, chandelier of mismatched bulbs, home-baked cakes and hearty grub.

This is adventure by design. A Swiss Family Robinson experience done with oodles of style. I’m told that Oliver and Will would like it here.

A version of my stay at Swinton Park also appears on bahighlife.

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