“Your place in history awaits”. This is the promise made by Dickins & Hawkes when you book a stay with them in one of the many fabulous period properties in their address book. So it was with great excitement that I embarked on a unique adventure to experience life as it used to be in Dowton Abbey times.
Our first day starts at a leisurely pace with a visit to two traditional British establishments in Mayfair. Firstly, a visit to Holland & Holland, a hidden gem in the middle of London which has been a traditional field sports enthusiast paradise for over a hundred years. But it was not only the gun room we had come to see; Holland & Holland are also purveyors of beautiful country wear and accessories. We are greeted by their artistic director and under his critical eye, we are provided with a marvelous wardrobe for our forthcoming visit to the Yorkshire countryside. Whilst we are enjoying our visit to the historic gun room other members of our group are enjoying the magnificent Boodles jewellery store in Bond Street. One of the oldest fine jewellers in London, their collection of coloured diamonds is among the best in the world. One of my friends seriously considers spending the entire weekend there!. Having satisfied our need for retail therapy, we are chauffeured from Mayfair to Kings Cross and then by train up to Yorkshire. As we leave the hustle and bustle of London and head North through the British countryside, we begin to feel the pace of life beginning to slow.
We are met by our hosts – Jo Scrase Dickins and Ric Hawkes, at the quaint. They take us on a magical steam train journey in our own private carriage with afternoon tea and lashings of champagne across the bewitching Yorkshire Dales. Finally, we arrive in our final destination, an imposing stately home in the middle of Bronte Country by vintage Rolls Royce, and are greeted by our host, the 32nd heir to the Estate, with an unbroken lineage which goes back over 900 years.
He treats us to a fascinating introduction to the history of his family, its heraldry and its standing within the aristocracy of England. A short tour of the house and we are shown to our rooms, each with its own superbly appointed bathroom and stunning views over the gardens, the river and the majestic hills beyond. To our delight, we discovered that Dickins & Hawkes had taken the time to choose period costumes for us for both nights which were laid out on our beds. We choose informal for that night’s supper and keep the more formalwear for the next night’s theatrical gala dinner. After a 3 courses supper (all ingredients locally sourced) and drinks in the library by a roaring fire, we are more than ready to retire to our luxurious four poster beds. We awake rested and refreshed, and while breakfasting in the grand dining room, we witness the arrival of the local hunt in front of the hall. The spectacle of 25 horses and the huntsmen and women in their red hunting ‘pink’ jackets and the hounds awaiting the commands of the Master of the Hunt will remain with me forever.
With nips of whiskey from flasks to fend off the early morning chill, we are driven by Range Rover through the Dales to visit birds of prey sanctuary nearby. To have an eagle owl fly onto your arm from distance is quite a thrill (and very Harry Potter). Meanwhile back at the Hall, preparations were being put in place for our gala dinner. We arrive back to find the house bedecked with flowers, our formal attire laid out by our maids and hot baths awaiting us. Period hair and makeup services are provided for the ladies. We all reconvene in one of the drawing rooms for pre-dinner champagne, where the gentlemen were waiting for us clad in either period military attire or white tie. We are joined by a number of other period guests, who mingle with us and are all happy to share stories of the Estate, the family, and historic events.
As the scrumptious dinner progresses we grow into our parts and become aware that the proceedings were being recorded by a discreet film crew. A loose plot is revealed and much to the consternation of the Lord we discover that his son no longer wishes to remain on the Estate and is not only leaving to run a tea plantation in India but is also taking one of the maids with him!
As a post-scriptum to the 5-course dinner and the shocking events of the evening, we go for a whiskey tasting and an introduction to the joys of Scottish country dancing. If you have never tried this, I cannot recommend it enough. None of the group had done this before but between the encouragement of the band leader calling out the steps and the warm glow of the whiskey to spur us on, we all end up having a jolly good time and go to bed with big smiles on our faces. A fitting finale to a most memorable weekend. We truly felt as though we had taken part in history, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. I can’t wait to go back