“There’s no place like home” is a lie. There are many places like home or better. I am not one of those who likes to sleep in my own bed. I like sleeping in lots of different beds.
Anyway, you don’t stay in a hotel room. You sleep. Bathe. Change. But you rarely stay put. You might stay and work – the antithesis of a “relaxing stay”. From Bangkok to LA, from Bogota to Cambodia, New Zealand to Canada, I’ve stayed in some of the most lavish suites around. But there were always things to do outside. I wanted to soak up the interior, but I always had to get up and get going.
Two Lockdowns later, Regents Park is as familiar to me as my own face, both of which look like a worn-out courtesan. At the first opportunity I flee, masked by train to York, where, “Thomas Barlow built Middlethorpe Hall so that he could enjoy all the comforts of the 18th century country life.” There are twenty-nine rooms, a spa, gym and a ha-ha awaiting me. That’s what the National Trust brochure said and that’s what I wanted. Although arriving in a plastic-sheeted cab, suave manager Lionel Chatard – French accent undimmed – welcomed me through the hotel’s classical portico into a life-sized Christmas card, complete with a ticking, bonging, grandfather clock, wafts of fresh Christmas pine and coal glowing in a festive fireplace.
Up the main staircase, inside the Duke of York suite: another fire flickering and another real Christmas tree with a full programme of flashing lights. This suite is the crowning spot of the house. High ceilings, substantial curtains, pelmets, tie-backs, kilims and two jib doors make this a room of 18th century mystery, yet playful too. Cheery pineapples – the motif of the Historic House Hotels group – pop up unexpectedly. There’s one built into the chandelier. But this is no Instagram-ready phoney. The Duke of York suite feels like a home, only more elegant and serene, knowing and peaceful.
Apparently, it is also a place for a wake. This is a good thing. If you are born, then you must die
Under a changing sky, I sit on a tapestry window seat and look out over a groomed green field punctuated at its end by a marble urn. Between rows of mature trees, magpies fight with crows. For once, I am not seeing the world through a screen. I am centuries old, basking in a place that is built as a buffer for receiving good news and bad. For celebrating, contemplating, planning and reassessing. I am in that space which echoes thoughts of family, life mistakes and lessons learned. I feel lucky to be and to be here. “Woman stays in hotel room” is not a great headline – not like George Carlin’s “A man has barricaded himself inside his house; however, he is not armed and nobody is paying any attention to him.” But that’s where I am and maybe, with stores and shops fitfully opening and closing, the grounds wet, and the fact I am without wellies and car, this is where I need to be. Nothing but York Minster, the big cathedral, made me even think about leaving the room.
Except for breakfast, tea and dinner, of course. That night, with a silver candlestick, warming fire, grower champagne and an exceptional steak, I thought I needn’t go anywhere at all really. I could just stay here. A good sleep in that enormous bed made me ready for breakfast – two bacons(!), hot milk, homemade bread, two fingers of boned kippers and other items I couldn’t make at home. The adorable Pauline brought extra toast and jokes. She’s Middlethorpe’s own Barbara Windsor.
On my final day, I make myself go out. I take the hotel’s ground map and visit all the gorgeous mature trees. I sit in the ha-ha. I book a massage with Georgina and wish I’d brought my costume for the pool. Then I force myself to go to York, a historic city with Roman walls. It’s only eight minutes away by cab. York Minster is much bigger than I thought. Even walking through it takes hours, what with the organ concert and all the memorials to read. I had to hear about the 14th century window too. There are also York discoveries no less cultural. I wish I’d purchased more of the sweets at John Bull Confectionary on Minster Gates. I’m not a sweet eater, but both the cinder toffee and peanut brittle are distinctively good; crunchy, not too sweet.
Heading past York race course, I also see on the map that there are many landmarks nearby. Outside of conferences, weddings, the popular teas, wine tastings and other events held at Middlethorpe in normal times, one thing sticks in my mind. Apparently, it is also a place for a wake. This is a good thing. If you are born, then you must die. It is good that your loved ones are soothed with the unique solace offered at Middlethorpe, a home so near nature but also at a period remove from what is worldly. Built to impress, it also cossets. The proportions are human, the feeling is genuine. Perhaps a contradiction in terms, Middlethorpe Hall is a cosy manor house. It is like going home without having to explain anything. It’s a place simply to be. C
Middlethorpe Hall, Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 2GB
01904 641241; middlethorpe.com