Surrounded by the gentle rolling hills of North Yorkshire, gothic Bolton Abbey rises dramatically from a sharp kink in the River Wharfe on a site gifted to the Augustinians in the 12th century. Building work was still going on when King Henry’s violent Dissolution saw the priory abandoned some 400 years later.
What remains of the Abbey – whether ruins or buildings simply unfinished – have for generations inspired the aesthetes of their day. Turner and Landseer painted it, Trollope captured it in prose, Wordsworth in verse, The Cure on an album cover.
The sumptuous Devonshire Arms renders its own homage in exuberant food and drink and superb hospitality. It stands on a sweeping bend just outside the village, a two-storey sprawl of Yorkshire stone surrounded by lush parkland. Its main building has been extended several times; a long bright conservatory and a line of bedrooms now encloses a central garden of exquisitely sculptured privet.
Much of this land has been held by the Dukes of Devonshire for centuries; the family seat may be the grandeur of Chatsworth, but for sheer natural spectacle, Wharfedale is hard to beat.
And to spend time here is to experience just a little of how those privileged classes live – from the moment one is ushered into the high-ceilinged cocktail lounge for canapes and aperitifs beneath oil paintings of brooding Yorkshire scenes in ornate gilt frames. A weighty wine list is proffered – it runs to about 100 pages and is rated among the best in the whole of England.
Tonight the choice is taken out of our hands as we are treating ourselves to the eight-course ‘Taste of the Dales’ menu put together by Paul Leonard, head chef of the Burlington Restaurant. Each dish showcases an element of local produce, whether picked from the hotel’s walled kitchen gardens, reared on the Bolton Abbey estate or surrounding farms or caught off the Yorkshire coast. Each is paired with a wine from that gargantuan list.
A soft and appley Sauvignon Blanc accompanies the seafood, first an amuse of Whitby crab with turnip and sea herbs, then juicy langoustines – creel-caught rather than trawled – and imaginatively served with pork cheek and celeriac and drizzled with a chicken stock to complete a surprising combination of several food groups.
Paul’s passion for local produce is evident throughout this dining experience, not least in the next course where big-tasting heritage carrot from the kitchen garden has been topped with slithers of strong salty eel and a sprinkling of spiced seeds and curds. The minerality of a crisp Australian Riesling draws out the earthy elements of the dish.
For his next course, a slab of turbot, freshly caught off the east coast, has been draped beneath thin curls of black kale, dashed with soft mussels and paired with a sharply acidic, citric Chenin Blanc from South Africa.
The hearty loin of rich-tasting Yorkshire Venison seems like the main course, particularly when it is joined with the first red wine of the night, a bold and luxurious Chateauneuf Du Pape.
Even so, the drama still has several acts to come, not least a selection of cheeses, each expertly described by a waiter whose knowledge and patter are an integral part of the whole evening’s entertainment. From the dizzying variety we are offered we choose the mushroomy Dale End from Whitby, the pungent Stichelton blue, creamy luxuriant British brie Baron Bigod and – very best of all – the slightly sweet and fruity Beenleigh Roquefort.
The stewed apples and Yorkshire skyr yoghurt which follow act as a neat palate-cleanser before our evening concludes with delicate whipped sea buckthorn and strong oily coffees.
Well, almost. After this sustained three-hour assault on the senses, there is literally no way I could drive home – even if I’d turned down the sommelier on each of his visits to the table. So, recharged just sufficiently by the coffees, we amble slowly along the corridors to a beautiful, sumptuous suite where sleep soon overtakes us, and holds us in its loving arms ‘til morning.
For more details about dining and accommodation at the Devonshire Arms, call 01756 710441 or visit www.thedevonshirearms.co.uk