Editor’s Note: Our favorite British TV show is the architecture and design show Grand Designs where they feature a couple trying to build their dream home every week. A few years ago they featured a couple that turned a ruined castle in Yorkshire into a magnificent home and Bed and Breakfast. Our English friends Jane and Simon who own the fabulous Updown Cottage in Shaftesbury, Dorset had a chance to stay there during half-term and have kindly written up this lovely b&b review for us. It’s certainly on my bucket list to stay at here one day!
Negotiating the back streets of Leeds is to step far away from our normal green worlds of Hertfordshire and Dorset. The narrow streets of tall, red-brick, terraced houses, with their gated front doors and barred windows, look alarmingly like each other but most house students from the universities and colleges of the city. Having deposited No. 2 daughter with No. 1 daughter, a few minutes’ drive brought us to the leafier suburb of Headingley, home of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Leeds Rugby – both league and union sides.
Our destination for the next three days was Hellifield but this was to remain a secret from No. 3 who quizzed us occasionally on exactly what our â€˜B&B’ would be like – whether it had a wireless signal and television seemed to be his primary concernsâ€¦â€¦
The road north-west from Leeds changes quickly from back to back housing to faded refinement to wild moorland and the hour long journey soon passed with panoramic views of snow-capped Ilkley Moor and Wharfedale.
The sun was beginning to set as we arrived at the village of Hellifield but as we drove down the track there was still enough light to see a house nestled in trees at the foot of a hill. As we rounded the corner of the farmhouse (conveniently placed to conceal the surprise until the last second!) a shout went up from the back – Hellifield Peel Castle had been instantly recognised and the look on his face will sustain me for a long time to come!
Architect, Francis Shaw had first set eyes on Hellifield Peel as a teenager when it was in a ruined and perilous state and over the years had become determined to restore it to a family home for himself, his wife, Karen and their two children. The whole story was covered by Channel 4 TV’s Grand Designs and was voted the favourite of 2007. Inevitably when dealing with Scheduled Ancient Monuments (the UK’s most protected status) budgets will be exceeded and this project was no exception. Happily for us, Karen and Francis now open their home to B&B and self catering guests and we jumped at the chance, when I saw on Twitter that they had a cancellation for the Attic apartment.
Karen met us at the front door and it was lovely to finally chat face to face after exchanging tweets!
The 14th century castle is now pristine and magnificent. Every room has something to exclaim over from the extraordinarily large four poster bed in the Square Room to its ensuite wetroom style bathroom secreted in what was once the spiral staircase tower.
Two of the bathrooms have enormous bespoke granite baths which take 30 minutes to fill. Who could resist a guilt-free soak knowing that the water was drawn from the castle’s own bore hole and is heated by a ground source heat pump?!
As we climbed the stairs to our top floor apartment No 3 asked â€˜Isn’t this the place with that glass â€¦â€¦.’ and sure enough as we emerged into 1000sq ft of light-filled space, a wall of glass opened on to a roof terrace with spectacular views down the valley towards Pendle Hill. Furnished with leather sofas and a 42â€ flat screen, the contemporary Attic is a complete contrast to the rest of the castle and ensures that Francis has stamped his mark on his restoration. Equipped with a huge bath and separate shower, a modern 4 poster bed and galley kitchen, the Attic is available for both B&B or self catering breaks. We had booked 3 nights self catering but then couldn’t resist Karen’s cooked breakfasts so ventured down three flights each morning! The home made muesli and beef sausages from the Hellifield Highland cattle are the best we have tasted!
Karen and Francis’ hospitality exudes generosity. Guests are welcomed with wine, mineral water, homemade shortbread, a box of chocolates, all sorts of toiletries, tea, coffee and fresh milk in their rooms and of course high quality fluffy towels, robes and bed linen from The White Company.
Each room is decorated with perfect taste – beautiful wall colours, elegant soft furnishings, quirky touches such as lamps made from porcelain cups and antique furniture collected by Francis in the knowledge that eventually it would find its rightful home.
Karen was always on hand to offer advice regarding meals at the many excellent pub restaurants or local places to visit. We wandered through the moors stopping at Malham to explore the Cove and the geographical phenomenon of the limestone pavement, walked up Snare Hill behind the castle, took photograph after photograph and fell in love with the Grade 11 listed â€˜Brief Encounter’ style Hellifield Station. Trains run regularly to Leeds or Carlisle and in the summer steam trains still run on the line. Our next visit will have to coincide with a steam trip and we may just have to try out that bed in Square!
Further details of the history of Peel Castle and staying as guests of Karen and Francis Shaw can be found on their website here.
The Grand Designs TV programme can be viewed at on the Channel 4 On Demand Website here.