Looking up from the beach in Scarborough's South Bay you are faced with layers of buildings, starting with the amusement arcades and discount shops at the beach front and rising through B&B and hotel signs up to the town itself.
My childhood memories of the town are very much limited to the beachfront, with a vague hint of riding the funicular tramway.
So, with an invitation to come and review a hotel near Scarborough, I didn't really know what to expect from the experience in the world beyond the main town.
We came into Scarborough via the road through Thirsk and Pickering, towns I also remember vaguely from days out with my family, though we tended more towards the Dales than the Moors as a general rule.
Thankfully before hitting the centre of town our route took us left and left again, before turning up Queen Edith's Drive. The drive to the hotel takes you along a small country road (beware the local drivers!), past a fishing pond, some woods, a field and just when you think you must have taken a wrong turn you come across the sign beside the side of the road and the driveway leading you to the hotel. It's really only a few minutes down the road, but it's a different world from the busy seaside town.
So there we were in the last light of an October day arriving at the Ox Pasture Hall hotel after our trip down from Scotland. Give or take the roadworks on the A1 our journey was calm and uneventful. The hotel's car park was spacious and calm at this time of year on a weekday, so we walked along the short path through the gardens and in at the hotel's front door. The high reception desk and narrow hallway on entering the hotel were very much the traditional olde worlde country hotel, the welcome warm and efficient and we were guided through two courtyard, one a cloistered garden with a fountain and the other a simpler stone courtyard, to our room, a suite in the more modern block of the hotel.
The suite is bigger than some flats I've lived in. An ample living area furnished tastefully included a sofa, desk, dresser and wardrobe as well as a coffee table. The bedroom is through an arch and was also spacious and comfortable. The bathroom's only faults were some loud pipes as the shower did its work and a small spider sheltering from the cold in the bath. The view out of our window was across fields and down the valley, with cows being lead to milking just as we arrived, appropriately enough. These suites are plenty big enough for a bridal party preparing for the big event or for bride and groom to unwind and escape their guests. It's even a home away from home if you wanted a honeymoon here at the edge of the moors and beside the seaside. Each doorway around the courtyard leads to 1-3 rooms, providing privacy or a chance for small groups to gather in a block together.
Other rooms around the old courtyard have four poster beds and other touches, for brides looking for a more fairytale type of room, so the hotel can cater to different tastes.
One other comment about the view though, there is a lane outside that leads to the back of the hotel and is in use, so remember to close your curtains when you need to if you're down on the ground floor!
We walked back round to the front of the hotel and entered the gardens again through a side arch. The original farm building on the left of the hotel blends seamlessly into the hotel extension to the right. The gardens themselves have sufficient hedges and trees to obscure the carpark and just leave views of the lawn and driveway rising behind. The autumn colours were wonderful to see in the trees and hedges and I am sure Spring and Summer would be a breath of colour and life in the front garden with stone benches for romantic seclusion or a patio outside the restaurant for an evening contemplating the world.
We also returned to the cloistered courtyard on our walk to dinner, it is busy with plants and the fountain, with rooms around the outside and the restaurant overlooking it from one side. The roofed edges provide shelter from rain and the courtyard itself is quite sheltered from the elements. It seemed to catch quite a lot of the evening light so was surprisingly bright. With the plants and narrow entrances to the fountain, a bride would need to take care not to get caught up in rose thorns though.
We didn't find the back garden until the next morning, but found a tastefully landscaped area with flagstoned paths, trees and a pond. More arbours had been set up along some of the paths and will no doubt flourish as the vines and flowers grow up over them.
A broad vista also lies beyond the grounds for those guests with views out this side of the hotel. These large gardens would provide a good spot for the larger group shots or even for some nice romantic shots with bride and groom walking around. There are a few well crafted gazebos as well to the side of the hotel for those warm summer nights (yes even Yorkshire has those!).
Many weddings are likely to take place down in the Dovecote Suite. Separate from the main hotel building with its own bar and other facilities, this spacious hall provides a blank canvas for brides to bring their own touches to their wedding. An outside patio can lead into the gardens or simply provide a space for folk to grab some air. The bar at the hotel is more bijou, offering couches and corners and a warm stove fire. The courtyard restaurant offers a smaller space with views back to the courtyard or out to the front gardens.
During our stay we ate from the A la Carte menu with food presented cordon blue style but in more than adequate portions. We retired to the warm and cosy bar area to make our menu choices, toasted in front of the stove.
We received a little appetiser of smoked salmon in a florette with leaves and capers. Starters were complimented by a bread platter, featuring plain, chive and fruit bread slices to add further titillation to the tastebuds.
My starter was a chef's twist on ham, eggs and pieces with a small piece of perfect ham hock sitting on a bed of pea mousse and other ingredients and accompanied by two crispy quail's eggs. My wife had a rich wild mushroom soup.
My main was a pork dish, featuring pork belly, terrine and black pudding, it was rich in flavours and textures. My wife went for the duck leg, served up on bed of mash.
After mains and starter she baulked at the thought of dessert, though my selection of a caribbean cocktail soon brought her spoon into play. This mango rice pudding, coconut pana cotta and Piña colada dessert gave a fresh and light mixture of textures and tastes again and was heaven to eat. My only regret was that we were only staying the one night and would not have a chance to indulge in other items from the menu on another night.
The staff at dinner were attentive, though unobtrusive and as other diners settled down to their meals, the mood was relaxed and refined.
We broke our fast in the courtyard restaurant again. A light buffet setting for the cereals, juices etc. and an excellent cooked breakfast with locally sourced sausages and bacon.
So there are a number of ways I could summarise my hotel experience:
As a guest it is a beautiful location for a romantic getaway in the lap of luxury, close to stunning countryside, seaside treats and out of the way enough to provide a peaceful escape from the world.
As a diner, the food is exceptional, the service perfect and discrete and the location gives lovely views when you can bear to look away from your food.
As a wedding photographer:- The grounds and courtyards provide an endless choice of options in fine weather, the cloistered courtyard provides a little respite from inclement weather for couple shots, but there are limited options in case of rain if you want a big group picture, but such is the way with most venues.
The Dovecote suite with it's open space and ceiling beams is a great location for the party and dancing and I'm sure it would dress well for a ceremony too. The suites provide a great amount of space for dressing the bride and for those getting ready pictures. With the new block providing clusters of 3 rooms, it's more than feasible to have bride and bridesmaids within easy reach of each other, without the need for mad dashes across the courtyard. Weddings at the hotel should be a great success and if the wedding menu is to the same high standards as the a la carte menu, many of the guests may propose to the chef by the end of the night! You can find more about their wedding services at www.oxpasturehallhotel.com/weddings.
The pictures below were kindly provided by the hotel and show the restaurant, Dovecote Suite and some of the other rooms.