“Just make yourself at home,” said owner John as we were shown to our English garden-themed rooms at Lartington Hall.
The rolling 75 acres of lush parkland outside have helped inspire my room for the night, with its rose petal eiderdown and butterfly artworks, while a Parisian-style dressing table adds a French boudoir vibe.
Outside, all there is to see is greenery dusted with frost and the sound of sheep bleating nearby on the pastures – little to suggest you’re only two miles from the bustle of Barnard Castle.
Though the attention to detail in the 12 bedrooms at this Grade II-listed country house is at a level you’d expect from a five star hotel, this is indeed a home – albeit an incredibly-sumptuous one.
A real labour of love for owners John and Shona Harper-Wilkes, they spent five years in planning and painstakingly restoring this country pile, with her missing ceilings and period features shrouded in plasterboard, back to her former splendour, with spectacular results.
While the original manor house was built in 1635, Georgian and Victorian additions, such as a ballroom and reception rooms and even a chapel, were added over the years, making the hall more than adept at entertaining.
And such is the previous owners’ affection for this charming house, the Harper-Wilkes are only the sixth family to have ever called Lartington Hall home.
When they received the keys, John and Shona had a vision, one which saw past the damp and chipboard. They decided to give the Hall some much-needed TLC, breathing new life into Lartington and today she’s a house that’s also available for hire and private events.
The romantic Greek temple-inspired entrance, complete with monochrome Venetian marble flooring, and ballroom with its gleaming white columns, make it an obvious choice for weddings and, despite minimal advertising and social media presence, Lartington’s become a hot property in the wedding market with weekends booked up years in advance.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be invited to an event or wedding here, you’re unlikely to see inside this whimsical white building, which is only to be found off-roading through the pastures and its inquisitive flock of sheep.
But that’s all changing this year with a series of pop-up restaurant nights.
The diary is chock-a-block with private events here, but for a handful of nights it will be opening its palatial doors for fine dining nights which are available to the public. (Keep your eyes peeled on its social media pages for exact themes and dates).
With in-house chef Richard Picard-Edwards and his Michelin star background heading up the kitchen to cater for all the weddings and other events, hosting these nights when the diary permits seems a natural fit for the house and the new chapter in its history.
For this six-course tasting supper, the Hall teamed up with Durham Distillery for a gin flight. The more traditional wine flight was available for those who aren’t a fan of Mother’s Ruin, but the versatility of this on-trend tipple meant it worked well as a pairing to Richard’s culinary creations.
The evening kicked off in style with arrival drinks in the lounge which, complete with chandelier, plush seating and ornate mirrors, echoes the subtle French feel which flows through the rest of the house.
We were seated in the Grand Ballroom – once used as a museum for geological specimens by one of its previous eccentric owners – amidst its Greek columns and Georgian architectural lines which make it arguably one of the finest dining rooms in the North East. It manages to be impossibly elegant without being stuffy, which is no mean feat.
It’s an unpretentious wow factor which was echoed in the menu which began with a light and zingy citrus and juniper-cured salon with apple and cauliflower that was served with a French 75 cocktail of Durham Gin, lemon and champagne.
Inspired by the locality, the next course was a meatier offering of pressing of poached guinea fowl with Jerusalem artichokes, thyme and roasted leek.
A punchy number arrived next of pink gin and tonic sorbet, served in vintage-style Champagne glasses.
Palates fully cleansed, we tucked into a beautifully-buttery roasted loin of venison which was complemented by a star anise, damson, blackberry and ginger Durham Gin liqueur sauce. If that wasn’t quite enough gin it came with a heavier gin drink, a spiced negroni which nearly blew our socks off.
Sweet tooths were in for a treat with not one, but two, puddings – a light fromage frais and ginger cheesecake served with rhubarb gin puree, honeycomb and sorbet and a devilishly rich dark chocolate tart with confit orange with cherry and pistachio, served with a Durham bourbon cask aged gin which befitted the depth of flavour in the pudding.
Night caps, gin-based of course, were then served but it was far from the end of the night.
In a house practically born for entertaining, guests filtered off to the snooker room, or the snug and the various other reception rooms to continue the party. It may look like a manor house sprung from the pages of a romantic novel, but this is definitely a place to kick your shoes off and relax.
l For more information on Lartington Hall in Barnard Castle, Teesdale, visit www.lartingtonhall.co.uk