My summer trip to the Coniston Hotel, Country Estate and Spa had been delayed so many times, for various reasons, that it was mid-December before I pulled into its namesake Yorkshire village, and already getting dark ahead of my 3pm check-in.
I had already spent some time in Skipton, the closest large town, and been charmed by the ways my rather stereotypical expectations for the region had been met: plenty of crooked limestone terraces, unbelievably old pubs and springer spaniels wearing Christmas jumpers.
Dotted between that town and the famously picturesque village of Settle are several charming, old settlements of just a few hundred people – including Coniston Cold itself, population around 250.
From this angle, the 1,400-acre estate with its 150 employees (180 before the 2020 coronavirus lockdown) has a considerable presence in the area, one that has been carefully built over the decades since the Bannister family took it over in 1969.
Even across that 50-year timeline, 2020 was turbulent for the Coniston Hotel, with the paralysing uncertainty of the pandemic being a huge blow.
But the national crisis was promptly turned into an opportunity by management, who refurbished the reception area, the lounge and the aptly named restaurant The View, with its large windows overlooking the estate.
Then in August, it was the destination for NHS fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore’s first post-lockdown holiday. This is clearly a source of pride for the hotel, which has pictures of the late veteran on several of its walls and even stocks a Captain Tom memorial gin behind its bar.
My travel partner and I spent our first afternoon exploring our Deluxe room and trying to work out how to get the lights to turn on. (You need to jiggle the key a little after putting it in the slot, it seems.)
Happily, it was a tremendous room, with a bathroom the size of my bedroom at home, a flatscreen television and a view over the lake outside that had a chilly beauty in the bleak December.
Soon it was time for our dinner at The View: a three-course spectacular, including a butternut squash risotto starter that my partner complimented after every bite, and a steak cooked exquisitely. All accompanied by local musician Paul Greenwood at the piano. We left stuffed.
The following morning we had our first of two Yorkshire breakfasts at the restaurant, though on this occasion the view outside was a large expanse of dense winter mist which threatened to derail a planned day of looking at landscapes. At least the eggs royale was there to improve the mood.
As it was a Tuesday, we took the opportunity to visit Settle’s weekly market – first held back in the swinging 13th Century – before travelling over to see Malham Cove through the lifting cloud.
There was no time to climb to the limestone pavement on top though, as we had an appointment at the spa.
The Nadarra Spa – the name means “natural” in Gaelic – opened in November 2015 as “more of a leisure centre”, according to Coniston Hotel owner Nick Bannister. It has since been reinvented as an exclusive destination, capped at just 320 members. (By contrast, the estate’s clay pigeon shoot has 800 members.)
Before heading in, we were asked to fill out a small form with our preferences for the day: our preferred post-spa meal, and what tea we would like for our private outdoor bath garden experience. Decisions made, we headed in.
Awaiting us were three separate saunas, each offering slightly different forms of relaxation. One had two walls made of Himalayan salt bricks, and birdsong played through speakers. While we sat in one of four hot tubs – two of the outdoor ones are infinity pools – we were offered drinks by a member of staff. I had a beer and my partner took a cider. We agreed this was rather fancy for us. It was going to get fancier.
After a pleasant afternoon tea, we went back into our changing rooms and moved outside for our bath garden experience. I had picked the delicious-sounding crème brulee tea on our form earlier, and there were indeed three crème brulee teabags steeping in each of the two standalone baths on the patio.
It took a significant effort to act as if this was exactly what I had been expecting in front of the woman who had led us out. Where I had been expecting a little cup of tea, we each had a glass of prosecco and a small mousse.
But unperturbed, we climbed in. And after a few minutes, with the chilly air hitting my face as my body soaked in the warm, sweet-smelling tea, I decided December was maybe the perfect month to come to Coniston Cold after all.
Checking out the following morning, it took several days for the effect of the spa experience to wear off. Perhaps I’ll give it a few months before I come back again, and gift myself another Yorkshire recharge.
Coniston Hotel Country Estate and Spa, Coniston Cold, Skipton BD23 4EA
Call: 01756 748080
There are a number of deals which can be found online at www.theconistonhotel.com/offers