Head to Headlam Hall
ASTEAMY sauna started a conversation that sparked our burning desire to explore Teesdale – and the adventurous getaway melted our hearts.
Whenever you go on holiday, you're sure to bump into someone from your hometown – and we met a lady who had relocated to the North East from Brigg.
She fell in love with the landscape and her little herd of Alpacas and so did we – having taken up her invite to visit them one morning.
At the centre of our break was the four-star, 17th century Hedlam Hall Hotel, located in the hamlet of Hedlam, 11 miles from Darlington. The hotel boasts 40 en-suite bedrooms located in either the main hall, coach house, mews or spa.
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The whole Teesdale area is relatively untouched when it comes to tourists but it offers spectacular scenery, friendly locals and the perfect "escape".
Our journey started navigating through the snow-covered countryside where we stumbled upon Bowes Museum – a home showcasing a collection of European fine and decorative art. It is the home of the only surviving 18th century mechanical silver swan, which at 2pm comes to life with music and movement, as the swan bends down to gulp the fish from the flowing silver "river".
Our next stop was High Falls, at the top of the Teesdale valley and the neighbouring village of Middleton.
Pulling up to Hedlam Hall, the grounds glistened in the sunset, as steam spilled out of the outside hot tub. Our suite was located above the spa – making it perfect for nipping to the pool, sauna and steam room in our robes – with the bedroom and lounge spacious but softly furnished and a chunky bath in the bathroom.
Our evening meal started in the main hall's lounge where we were served olives while we perused the wine list and menu. Food ordered, we were shown to our table.
The restaurant is divided into three areas – we ate in the orangery, which has an adjoining private dining room, while the more traditional panelled room with open fire was where we dined at breakfast.
For our meal, a butternut squash soup pre-starter with home-made bread got our appetites going. I ordered a haddock fish cake which came with a curry dressing, while my friend chose chicken and wood pigeon terrene. To cleanse our palate we enjoyed sorbet before tucking into mains of rib-eye beef, with haggis mash and seasonal vegetables, and belly of pork. Hazelnut cake with ice cream and passion fruit cheesecake followed for dessert.
Our second day started with a brisk walk through Hamsterley Forest – the largest in County Durham with mountain bike centre, forest walks and wildlife watching.
We headed on to Bradley Burn Farm shop and café at Wolsingham near Bishop Auckland for an afternoon bite before hunting down a sledge in the shops to hit the slopes of Hedlam's village green.
That evening, with snowman standing tall, we retreated inside to unwrap our warm layers and slip on our swimwear for a dip in the hot tub under the stars. And as snow fell, with sub-zero temperatures in the air, we dunked our shoulders under waters of 37 degrees to keep warm.
Alternative places to visit in Teesdale include the National Railway Museum, Darlington and Barnard Castle, while historic Durham is on the doorstep.
A summer revisit is definitely on the cards – when the impressive Raby Castle, complete with its very own deer park, will have opened its doors to the public.
Until March 15, Headlam Hall is offering a Winter Warmers Break, which includes two nights' bed and breakfast, three- course meal each night, afternoon tea and full use of the spa (including 10 per cent off treatments), Sunday to Friday night, for £178 per person. Call 01325 730238 or visit www.headlamhall.co.uk