A walk in the park with Cambridge House
The Cambridge House is a luxury five-star gold B&B the village of Reeth in the heart of Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Reeth has an impressive array of craft shops, a folk museum and historic inns.
The B&B itself, which has been run for five years by Sheila and Robert Mitchell is roughly half-way along the Coast to Coat walk, an unofficial and mostly unsignposted long-distance footpath that passes through three national parks including the Yorshire Dales, the Lake District and the north York Moors.
Sheila had been a secondary science teacher until July 2013 and husband Robert a director of construction for a property development company and a chartered engineer. The couple previously lived on a small holding in North Staffordshire, just outside the Peak District National Park.
Sheila tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast magazine: “We decided we wanted a change and to try running a B&B. So to see if we’d enjoy doing so, we decided to let two rooms, which then made us start to look for a viable business so we could work together. We investigated the Lake District, Cornwall and the Yorkshire Dales.”
Both she and Robert are from Yorkshire originally. On their first viewing, they were both blown away by the stunning Swaledale scenery. “It was only when we were stood in the garden that we realised that many years ago we’d stayed at Grinton YHA,” she recalls.
guests are free to use the garden itself, which is equipped with a range of garden furniture and there are places where guests can sit. “We have a water feature, and in summer it is very popular for people to take afternoon teas out in the garden. During the long hot summer last year, it was used an awful lot!”
As well as the stunning garden, Cambridge House itself ticked all the boxes, which were location, four or five bedrooms to be viable but not too big, the owners own private accommodation, and the ability to move in and take over immediately. On this last point Sheila says: “This was a bit ambitious, as we had just a 12-hour handover and the first morning cooking breakfast for nine guests while the removal men finished unloading, which included bringing our piano in through the kitchen!”
The property also had potential to improve, she says. “Cambridge House was awarded Visit England five-star, but it was at the lower end of the grade, and our aim was to improve the quality of the guest experience as a whole. This ranged from such things as the quality of linen, in-room hospitality and toiletries, to making the beds and the breakfast a celebration of Yorkshire produce.”
The couple set about redecorating throughout, replacing curtains and the bedding, replacing the wool blankets with duvets within their first week, as well as beds and some items of furniture, crockery, rugs etc.
“We celebrate our fantastic county of Yorkshire even including Yorkshire rhubarb in the toiletries.
Year-on-year Visit England recognised our improvements, and we achieved Five-Star Gold in June 2017. Cambridge House was already a Visit England Welcome Walkers and Welcome Cyclists, which we’ve continued,” she says.
Despite being situated on a dramatic walking trail, the B&B does not have what it would term a typical guest. But Sheila says: “Our location in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk and Herriot Way means that we get a lot of walkers and cyclists.
“When we took over Cambridge House, the majority of guests were staying single nights on organised walking holidays, the Coast to Coast walk and Herriot Way, but we’ve worked hard to develop the B&B as a destination, somewhere to stay for a few nights and be more than an overnight stop. We now have guests staying for a week or even a fortnight and we have returning guests, some we welcome back more as friends than guests!”
Cycling is becoming more important, she says, especially after the Tour de France in 2014, the annual Tour De Yorkshire and this year the UCI World Road Bike Championships in September not to mention the annual ArdRock Mountain Bike Festival in August which brings in over 3000 MTB enthusiasts to Reeth.
Built in 1914, Cambridge House was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War and was used as the officers’ mess as Reeth Battle School (see website) which did the reconnaissance core training for the people who went behind enemy lines. It was home to a Major John Parry who brought his pack of beagles from Kent by train through London by taxi before buying each dog a ticket when he put them on a train up to Darlington. “The dogs lived in the corner of the garden at Cambridge House for the duration of the war,” says Sheila.
“It’s a very traditional house that was fully furnished with antique furniture in keeping with the period when we took it on, and we have kept it that way. For example it has a fantastic fireplace in the lounge, and the dining room suite is arts & crafts, so breakfast is around the big table rather than individual tables for each guest room. That’s what guests really enjoy because a lot of British guests enjoy meeting the guests, who come here from all over the world.”
Sheila and Robert have added a number of pieces of furniture themselves since taking over five years ago. “We brought our own leather sofas for the lounge,” she says. “We replaced the conservatory furniture replacing it with antique furniture we bought from Tennant’s Auction House in nearby Leyburn. We also bought antique rugs from Tennants,” she adds.
The owners were introduced to the high-end brand of toiletries they now use by one of the tourist body inspectors. Sheila says: “Noble Isle is the old name for the British Isles. The products are organic. Our shower gel incorporates Yorkshire rhubarb from the Yorkshire Rhubarb triangle. The shampoo incorporates vintage pears form the Gloucestershire Orchards. It is very high-end. They can be bought from stores such as Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols. It’s a company that I am told was set up by former members of staff at bath and body connoisseur Molton Brown. The products are not tested on animals.
“As a brand Noble Isle therefore really ticked the boxes. They don’t overstretch themselves by spreading themselves out everywhere, so it is a bit of a USP for us. They are a luxury, high-end brand,” she says.
When the couple first took on Cambridge House, they ditched all the existing sheets and blankets within the first week. “When we came to look at bedding and we contracted this out for the first year while we found our feet,” she says. However, in order to ensure they had the quality control right for a high-end five-star gold B&B they ended up buying our own bedding.
Sheila explains: “We found that much of the contracted bedding that was being supplied simply did not meet the standards that we required. Some of it was polyester cotton when they said it was Egyptian cotton, and we stipulated we need Oxford pillow cases but kept getting housewife pillow cases. In order to be sure we that what we were actually putting in the beds was guaranteed top end, and the only way we could guarantee we were providing the highest quality bedding was by buying our own.”
They bought their bedding from Out of Eden, she says. “They’ve got fantastic service and they are just 23 miles away in Kirkby Stephen, so we are supporting a relatively local company.”
Similarly in terms of meeting their eco-friendly ambitions they use a little company in Reeth called Holiday Home Yorkshire to undertake all the laundry for the bedding. “Again, it was important to us to keep this local,” says Shelia. “We support a small family business of mum, dad and daughter based in Reeth and we don’t go with the big laundry companies.”
Cambridge House attained a premises alcohol license for the first time last year and the B&B now has a small bar with a limited selection of local beers from places including Black Sheep Brewery, Wensleydale Brewery, as well as a red wine, a rosé, a white wine and some prosecco. Sheila says: “In summer the bar was very popular, especially with our international walkers from such places as Australia and America. They’d arrive after walking all day, it was hot and wed offer them a chilled lager, which really ticked the boxes for them.
Rather than committing to running the bar they operate an honesty bar system. “Guests help themselves then write a little slip, leave it and we sort it in the morning. We trust people to be honest and they are,” she says.
But the bar is not just a summer facility. “From the autumn when the nights started to draw in, we were able to light sa log fire in the lounge and guests really appreciated being able to sit back, read a book, put their feet up and have a glass of wine,” she says.
She adds that they had to get the license even to serve complimentary drinks to their guests on arrival. “Many people don’t realise that if you are not licensed and you offer a free glass of alcohol to guests when they arrive you are doing so illegally because it is deemed to be part of the price of the room, and the authorities therefore deem you to be selling alcohol. Many people still do it, but we just wanted to be open and to be able to really offer guests a lager or a beer if they want one.”
Cambridge House has a picnic menu, which is very popular both with walkers and cyclists. “We provide a choice of three different types of bread including white, malted brown and gluten-free, and we provide a menu of egg, home cooked ham, local cheese, humous, corned beef which is very popular with American guests, tuna, homemade chutneys, local eggs and butter, Swaledale cheese and Yorkshire Seabrook Crisps, and a selection of other ingredients such as lettuce.
“The guests build their sandwich to order, and I make it fresh in the morning as they specify, such as ham, lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise and mustard on brown bread that is what they get.
“I don’t bake my own bread purely because when we are busy, I just can’t keep up with it, so I use local bread from Thomas the Bakery.” This is a good quality and fresh bread that she buys in Leyburn, she says. “If people want something that isn’t on the menu they just ask. Sometimes I get asked for jam sandwiches, for example,” she adds.
The B&B also has group bookings when the whole house is booked out for a birthday celebration or friends’ reunion, and some groups make it an annual ‘get-together’. “We don’t generally take bookings for hen or stag parties,” Sheila says.
As members of Visit England Welcome Walkers and Welcome Cyclists scheme the property is fully equipped to cater for muddy and wet walkers or cyclists having a wet entrance which has toilets, boot or cycle cleaning, boot dryer and proofing and a drying room. Guests can then walk through into reception and the conservatory in the dry, she says.
Sheila and Robert are both passionate about environmental impact and aim to follow the ‘Reduce, Re-use, Recycle’ motto wherever they can. Their property includes eco-friendly cleaning products, toilet paper, solar panels to heat the water, and has LED or low energy light bulbs throughout.
“We minimise single-use plastics, so we no longer supply single-use plastic bottled water and we don’t use cling film, and we avoid buying fresh produce in plastic,” she says.
She says she most enjoys meeting people from all over the world and backgrounds. “We’ve had guests from the US, Canada, Australia including Tasmania and Lord Howe Island, New Zealand, Brazil, South Korea, India, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy, Netherlands, France as well as the U.K!
“We’ve welcomed a NASA astronaut who described her experiences of staying several times on the international space station, while around the same breakfast table there was a couple from Alaska describing the effect of global warming on life in Alaska!
“We now receive Christmas cards from around the world.”
Cambridge House has won a number of awards, all of which were mystery shopped, including Welcome to Yorkshire White Rose Awards ‘Guest Accommodation of the Year 2018’, Deliciously Yorkshire Taste Awards ‘Best Yorkshire Breakfast’ 2016 & 2017, and they were finalists in the White Rose awards, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Sheila says: “Vintage cars is Robert’s passion, but we still have my first car a 1952 Series MM Morris Minor called Mini Motor with a split windscreen, which I have had since 1980. We have owned a 1971 Porsche, but we decided to sell it for we just couldn’t run it on the roads around here. We had our heart in our mouth every time we took it out on the r
oad, and it needed to be where it could be used and looked after.”
When people see the Morris parked outside it causes many guests reminisce, she says.
“Guests can see our Morris Minor, but also they bring their own classic cars. Last year two couples from Belgium came to stay with their TR4s, and previously we’ve had Morgans and MGs to stay. We have a secure off-road gated car park.”
Cambridge House is situated in James Herriot country, and it welcomes guests from all over the world to visit Herriot Country. The property can be seen in the closing scenes of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, and the opening scenes were filmed just up the road, with Robert Hardy and Christopher Timothy laughing driving over the bridge in Langthwaite and driving through the water splash on Surrender Moor, she says.
“We also promote ‘Dark Skies’ as we are in a dark sky area, and Tan Hill Dark Sky site is a short drive up Arkengarthdale. This is an increasingly popular hobby and for the past two years we’ve organised a Stargazing evening with Yorkshire astronomer, Richard Darn, as part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Stargazing Festival,” she adds.
Highs and lows
Sheila says she really does not have any particular bad guest experiences to relate, but she says she is not pleased by walkers who fail to follow safety rules and arrive late or are very tired and grumpy. “Our check-in time is between 3.30 and 6.00pm, so walkers should arrive before 6.00 unless previously arranged, and if they are not here later than about 7.00 we have to start ringing round. We don’t want to call out Swaledale mountain rescue unnecessarily. On one such occasion a local game keeper found two women on the moors at 9.30 pm,” she says.
“The lowest points have been when you get a grumpy guest,” she says. “They arrive very tired perhaps having done the coast to coast walk and in doing so have bitten off more than they can chew. We are just over half way and we are the first-point recipient of all their frustrations and flak. A lot of the international guests underestimate how difficult the walk is. Sometimes if you have a husband and wife you pick up on the fact that one of them really wanted to do it and the other clearly did not. We are a soft target. You just have to grit your teeth and smile. Hopefully after a cup of tea and a slice of cake or a lager they feel a little happier.”
By contrast the highest point was winning the UK’s biggest regional tourism guests accommodation awards White Rose award last November. “This gave us recognition for what we had tried to achieve in the five years that we have been running Cambridge House. We were absolutely over the moon,” she says.
“We aim to give our guests an amazing guest experience and one which they want to come back to. Our breakfasts celebrate Yorkshire and Yorkshire produce; homemade bread, jams, curds and award-winning marmalades. Breakfast is served round a large communal table which guests really enjoy as they can exchange experiences and stories and meet people from around the world,” she concludes.
Cambridge House Breakfast Menu
All breakfasts are freshly cooked using fresh, local produce.
To start, please help yourself to fruit juice, Yockenthwaite muesli* or Not so sweet Nutty Spelt Granola; Longley Farm Yorkshire yogurt; semi-skimmed Dales milk and a selection of fruits and compotes.
Traditional Yockenthwaite Porridge or gluten free porridge
(Pre-ordered the night before):
Help yourself to brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, jam or cinnamon.
Cambridge House breakfast
Grilled dry cured bacon, sausage*, black pudding, vine tomato and field mushroom; Heinz baked beans and a poached, scrambled or fried Wensleydale egg.
Choose all or some of the above; a small full is also available
Cambridge House vegetarian breakfast
Grilled vegetarian sausages or Yorkshire Squeaky cheese, field mushroom, vine tomato; Heinz baked beans and poached, scrambled or fried Wensleydale egg.
Crumpets dipped in egg then griddled until golden brown served with a grilled vine tomato and field mushroom.
Scrambled, poached or boiled Wensleydale eggs
One or two eggs served with homemade, white or wholemeal toast*.
Yorkshire Kilnsey Trout Fillet
A trout fillet in herb & wholemeal flour crust, griddled and served with scrambled eggs.
A grilled whole Seahouses kipper
With a poached Wensleydale egg and wholemeal bread and butter.
Smoked haddock poached in milk with two poached Wensleydale eggs.
The poached eggs are optional but make this breakfast special!
Swaledale cheese on homemade, wholemeal toast with a dash of mustard served with a grilled vine tomato & field mushroom.
Add a poached Wensleydale egg for Buck Rarebit!
Two Scotch pancakes made using wholemeal flour, banana, cinnamon and berries served with a dollop of Longley Farm yogurt, mixed seeds and a drizzle of honey.
Homemade white or wholemeal toast*
A selection of homemade, award winning marmalades:
Silver Medal World Original Marmalade Awards, jams and lemon curd.
Yorkshire honey, peanut butter and Marmite are also available.
Our tea and coffee menu:
Yorkshire Tea, Earl Grey, peppermint, rhubarb and cream tea; green tea or green tea with lemon or jasmine.
York Coffee Emporium medium roast South American blend or rich, full bodied Mocha Java blend coffee.
Decaffeinated tea and coffee are available.
Our teas and coffees are from Taylors of Harrogate or York Coffee Emporium.
*Gluten free options available