Did you know that the magnificent castle of Middleham has the largest castle keep in the north of England and a royal heritage that once earned it the title of ‘Windsor of the north’?
Middleham also claims to be the smallest town in Yorkshire but it is a giant in the world of horse racing, with no less than 15 professional stables. Horse racing has been associated with the town since the 1730s. We stayed at The Wensleydale Hotel, which is Situated on the market place opposite the racing welfare office. The Merchie family took up the reins in 2019 and have sympathetically renovated this charming grade ll listed building over the lockdowns. It was Charles Merchie’s passion for food and hospitality that initially drove them to take on this hotel and restaurant, which has become a true family business. His wife Fiona warmly welcomed us on arrival, their son Monty is very much a prominent figure front of house, with their other son Hugo hard at work producing delicious fare in the kitchen of The Tack Room restaurant. This is open Wednesday to Sunday and welcomes all diners as well as those staying at the hotel. It has two AA rosettes for culinary excellence and was certainly one of the highlights of our stay.
The hotel reception leads through to a cosy bar complete with many original features including a large inglenook stone fireplace and exposed beams, which feature throughout the hotel.
The restaurant is tastefully decorated with racing paraphernalia; silks and saddles hang on the walls, while hats and boots fill windowsills. The menu is reasonably priced for the superior quality of food here which is presented as beautifully as it tastes. After all, you eat with your eyes first.
Fiona keeps rare breed pigs and sheep at her farm near Boroughbridge. So of course I had to start with ‘Our Rare Breed Country Ham and Cantaloupe Melon’ which was just divine. Followed by her own reared Lamp Rump, with green beans, sand carrots and dauphinois potato while Phil devoured the Pork Chop. The wine list is extensive and well curated and it’s definitely worth finding room for a dessert. We recommend the Tarte Tatin with their own home-made vanilla ice cream. I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek in a few of the rooms, all of which are individually decorated, and the homage to horse racing continues tastefully throughout the hotel which dates back to the 18th century. Some rooms have feature fireplaces, and many have a view of the castle. They also have some dog friendly rooms, and a few suites with sofa beds, which would be perfect if you were staying as a family. Just let them know your requirements upon booking.
Our light and airy room was spotlessly clean, (which was good as I have OCD about hotel rooms), original shutters framed the windows, with an oak beam running above the bed. We had a newly renovated bathroom with Temple Spa accessories, and the crisp white Egyptian cotton bedlinen was a dream to sink into. Tea and coffee making facilities were left next to a flat screen TV and horse racing images adorned the walls. I recommend asking for a room overlooking the market square so you can wake up to the wonderful sound of horses hooves trotting past on their way up to Middleham moor for their morning exercise. I absolutely loved this. If that’s not your thing, I imagine the rooms at the back of the hotel will be quieter.
Breakfast was served in the charming bar area and was faultless. We both opted for a full cooked breakfast and the coffee was spot on. Both coffee snobs, this can make or break a breakfast for us. I just can’t believe I have never visited this gem of a town before. We will be back to take the kids around the castle before stopping at The Tack Room restaurant for a cream tea or spot of lunch very soon.
The Wensleydale Hotel
Market Place, Middleham DL8 4PE.
Tel. 01969 622093