WE PULL up earlier than our check-in time to Parcevall Hall. Enticed by the idea of lunch in the tea room at Parcevall Hall Gardens and a root around the hall’s 24-acre estate, we decant from the car — crumpled and unsuitably shod Londoners marching past the fleece jackets and walking-boots brigade, in search of sandwiches.
A lady pokes her head out of the kitchen to tell us that they are out of soup and sandwiches, and selling only cake. And so it is that we end up at the Craven Arms, in the village of Appletreewick near by, rated “one of the best pubs on the planet” on TripAdvisor, and top of the Daily Telegraph’s list of “Best Beer Gardens with Views”.
We sit at a picnic table at the front, and a rump steak and a haddock chowder go down nicely, as do the glorious views of the Dales valley of Wharfedale. When it’s time to check in, we tear ourselves away, but soon discover that Parcevall Hall more than makes up for the loss: besides its gorgeous gardens, the house offers drink-in views of Wharfedale valley on every side.
Once home to monks from Bolton Priory, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries the estate passed through a succession of families. In 1927, it was bought by Sir William Milner, 8th Baronet, of Nun Appleton, and a godson of Queen Mary. Sir William, an architect, horticulturist, and plantsman, was also a founder member of the Northern Horticultural Society, and its second honorary director. He restored and extended Parcevall, and created its beautiful cruciform terraced garden.
A devout Anglo-Catholic, he bequeathed the estate to the Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on his death in 1960. They still manage the estate and gardens (the only RHS and English Heritage-registered gardens open to the public in the Yorkshire Dales National Park), but lease the retreat house to the diocese of Leeds, on whose behalf an eight-strong core team of staff open the house year-round to retreat guests.
Lesley Rigby, RainhillParcevall Hall and a section of its terraced garden
WE ARE taken by Sonia to what was Sir William’s bedroom, complete with a gigantic bath (he was 6 foot 7 inches tall), to dump our bags, then down a winding stone staircase to meet the other guests, all of whom are on a literature-appreciation retreat and are tucking into home-made tray-bake and cups of tea. Smiley and welcoming, they seem not a bit put-out to see a family muscling in on their time away.
Roughly 80 per cent of all who stay at Parcevall are on holidays or retreats organised by outside groups — such as patchwork-quilt workers, bead workers, musical groups, and yoga groups, Parcevall’s warden, Jo Craven, tells me the next day. About ten per cent book one of Parcevall’s own retreats.
Then there are internal diocesan bookings, church retreats, some individual bookings, and families who book the whole house for a special occasion. “Not often”, Ms Craven says, do people bring their children (in our case, seven-year-old Olivia and almost-three-year-old Imogen). But they are interested in having more families to stay.
People badly need retreat houses. Parents badly need retreat houses. If my friends are anything to go by, we feel run ragged by the pace of life, by work deadlines, by church responsibilities, by endless domestic chores, and by the energy-sapping reality of looking after children.
Children need retreat houses, too; many have safe grounds for them to explore; and it’s good to associate spirituality with fun.
Olivia and Imogen revel in the freedom of running around Parcevall’s estate. Olivia is amused by the fact that she can stand on the same spot outside the house as Queen Mary did (as revealed by a photo in the lounge). We are shrouded in mist, and there is rain much of the time. At home, we would head for museums or soft-play centres, but here we tog up in our wet-weather gear and go out and explore the stream-side woodland trails, the formal ponds and terraces, and Parcevall’s natural limestone rock garden.
One evening, we take a night walk to hear the owls and other nocturnal creatures. One morning, we walk a section of the Stations of the Cross, experiencing the Passion story together. One afternoon, we fly kites on the lawn, then walk up the hillside, up steep steps that take us to the edge of the estate, and a viewpoint that has Olivia pronouncing: “This was definitely worth it.”
Venture out of the grounds, and the Dales feature a patchwork of ancient drystone walls, whose pastures contain sheep with newborn lambs when we visit. The stunning ruins of Bolton Abbey are a short drive away, as are plenty of picturesque pubs and villages. At Hesketh Farm Park, at Bolton Abbey, we spend a day snuggling guinea pigs and chicks, feeding orphaned lambs with bottles, and charging about in its fantastic indoor and outdoor play spaces.
Christine MilesSir William’s bedroom
THERE are no TVs or radios at Parcevall, and only odd spots where a mobile-phone signal is available. This is a great aid to a spiritual retreat, or even just a rest. Parcevall’s bookshelves stock Sophie Kinsella alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and there are several meeting rooms with space to read and study, or sit and chat to Parcevall’s chaplain, Canon Graham Bettridge.
We meet Canon Bettridge at the weekly 10.15 a.m. communion service. Imogen and Olivia mostly occupy themselves on the floor, playing with the stones that make up the pathway in the Easter Garden that someone has made, but no one frowns. We feel welcome.
One of the ladies tells me, on the way out, that she had a disabled daughter, and found it hard to get any space for herself, spiritually. It was suggested that she come to Parcevall Hall every week for communion, which she found to be a lifeline. Her daughter died six years ago, but she still comes “because it is quiet”.
Currently, those who stay are mainly 50 and upwards. Parcevall is not alone in that dynamic: parents with young children rarely think that retreat houses are for them. But the Retreat Association’s publication Retreats lists many retreat houses that categorise themselves as “family-friendly”.
I find it easy at Parcevall to rest and recharge. Although I don’t get much time away from the children (I see Canon Bettridge one morning, but he is busy during the rest of my stay), the fresh air and spiritual heritage help us all to sleep well; and the break from chores, as breaks are usually half-board or fully catered, leaves real time for family togetherness.
Lesley Rigby, RainhillSteep steps to the edge of the estate lead to a rewarding viewpoint
BECAUSE it is a retreat house, it is homely, the staff are personable, and the other guests make time to chat to all of us before, during, and after mealtimes. We eat delicious home-made comfort food, too. Evening meals include cottage pie, followed by brownies and ice cream; lasagne and salad, with ginger cake and ice cream for pudding; fish pie with cabbage and peas followed by mini cheesecakes; and pork chops, dauphinoise potatoes, and savoy cabbage, followed by trifle. The chef is open to making alternatives for the children.
“We want to reach the highest standards we can without becoming corporate in any way,” Ms Craven says. “We like to think we serve good food that’s home-made on the premises; we change our menus regularly; and we can cater for any dietary requirement at all.
“In the early days, I think people just came and enjoyed it for what it was. We used to ask people to take the sheets off their bed at the end of their stay, for example, but we don’t do that any more. Little steps have made it more comfortable for people, but, in essence, Parcevall is still what it always has been: peaceful and welcoming, a place where people go away feeling refreshed and can come back to themselves.”
Parceval Hall is at Skyreholme, near Appletreewick, in North Yorkshire. There are 17 rooms (with no single supplement), four of which are en-suite (including one wheelchair-friendly wet-room downstairs). FB £87.60 pppn; HB £74.40; B&B £58.80 (all inclusive of VAT, although VAT is not charged on educational or religious retreats). Child discount: under three, free; three to ten, half price. The Friends of Parcevall award some bursaries to facilitate stays here. To view Parcevall’s programme of retreats, visit www.parcevallhall.org.uk.