After the English countryside found itself back in the spotlight with the first few stages of the Tour de France, TOM MORTON visits one of the nation’s best-kept secrets.
This summer’s Tour de France shone a bike light on Yorkshire – the Dales, the rolling countryside around Harrogate and Sheffield’s stunning Pennine surroundings.
Millions of people around the world – and, by all accounts, millions even in this country – sat up in front of their telly and wondered both at the beauty of the area and at why they hadn’t thought about visiting there.
Yorkshire will see a huge boost from the event over the coming years, there’s no doubt of that. But if there’s one thing the Tour could do for the country as a whole it would be to encourage tourists to, as the old GWR ad slogan for Cornwall went, ‘see your own country first’.
If I’m honest, I’d never heard of an area known as the Dukeries – a district in the north of Nottinghamshire nestled betwen Derbyshire to the east and Yorkshire to the north. As befitting its aristocratic heritage – it gets its name from the fact there were five ducal families in the area – it contains quintessentially English countryside and is a hidden gem.
I stayed at Ye Olde Bell Hotel, in Barnby Moor, near Retford. It’s got centuries of hospitality behind it – it used to be a coaching inn on the old Great North Road between London and Edinburgh (the current A1 is less than a mile away). In more recent years it was bought by a local couple, Paul and Hilary Levack, who renovated it and have done a hell of a job: it’s well-deserving of its four-star status and proclaims itself ‘one of the finest hotels in the UK’. You won’t find me arguing.
The rooms are individual, yet complement each other. Everything is set up to feel luxurious yet homely and welcoming. There’s a friendly bar and bistro which serves food and a more formal restaurant with a stylish art deco bar – both are relaxing and the quality of food and service is superb.
There’s plenty to explore in the area. Lincoln, with its imposing ornate cathedral, cobbled streets and medieval buildings, is 25 miles away to the south east. Sheffield is about the same distance in the other direction.
I set out to follow my nose and stumbled across a National Trust-owned workhouse at Southwell which has been restored to its 1840s state, and provides a fascinating, if grimly sobering insight into what life was like for the destitute in Victorian Britain. Southwell itself, the home of the all-year all-weather racecourse, is a beautiful town with a Minster, and well deserves its reputation as one of the more desirable places to live in Nottinghamshire.
Also within a few miles of Ye Olde Bell are several country parks. Rufford Abbey contains the ruins of a Cistercian settlement, which was later transformed into a manor house, but fell into neglect midway through the last century and was largely demolished in the 1950s. The country park has several restaurants as well as open countryside and the ruins.
Up the road is Clumber Park, a huge park which is a great place to go cycling and walking. One of the former ducal grounds, at approaching 4,000 acres it was a treat to walk in and lose myself.
As I said, I’d never been to that part of the country, but feel sure I’ll return. It’s on the border of Yorkshire, but it would be a shame if it needed a Tour de France to give it a higher profile; it well deserves one without outside help. And Ye Olde Bell is the perfect place to explore it from.
Ye Olde Bell, is in Barnby Moor, Retford, Nottinghamshire DN22 8QS
Tel: 01777 705121
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