Autumn looms, the perfect time for leaf-crunching getaways. Kathryn Armstrong headed to Swaledale to sample retreats funky and gracious. Take your pick

Stylish retreat >>

There’s something really nice about losing your mobile signal. Knowing that some higher being is giving you a bit of  ‘time out’.

The Old Vicarage near Marrick in Swaledale must have been built with Victorian time-out in mind, only its higher being wasn’t a mobile phone transmitter but the man himself.

A priory is few miles away from the vicarage and there are a couple of chapels smattering the hills. But splendid and devoted isolation was clearly the objective of its inhabitant.

Once austere and solitary house, the Old Vicarage today is a place with comfort in mind. It sits at the bottom of a valley which sees the Swale tumbling by at a fulsome rate.

And its reason for being is luxury, peace and companionship. Serious luxury. Owner Julia Carr, also its nearest neighbour, has renovated the property over the past year to a degree of luxury that is probably unrivalled in the region.

And one of its unique selling points is the fabulous pool and games area on site. In the grounds of her own, very stunning property, Julia converted an old dairy to create a state-of-the art pool, gym and sauna/steam suite.

Getting there from the Old Vicarage requires a hearty romp across a field, through the sheep, which is certainly cobweb-blowing as you take in the mighty views of the Swaledale Moors.

The dairy restoration has a ‘no expense spared’ feel to it. The stone-walled pool also has a glass wall and open vaulted ceiling. Plus Julia has thoughtfully provided masses of pool playthings.

Changing rooms are marble-walled and floored and the gym is packed with hi-tech gadgetry. Outside there’s a beautiful lavender-filled rock garden with a tumbling stream and to the other side a tennis court and football pitch. Guests can come and go as they please.

The Old Vicarage ticks every box when it comes to comfort and amenities. It sleeps nine in three double, a twin and single room.

Inside it feels sturdy and secure – as it would need to be to fight those wintery moorland blasts. A fire is laid in the grate of the main sitting room with plentiful comfy furniture. A coffee table is laden with magazines and some family games. Plus the TV has DVD and satellite channels for hole-up movie afternoons. There’s a grand dining room with amazing views and a cute snug with a desk and leather tub chairs, as well as more views.

Gatherings take place in the homely and welcoming country kitchen. A big pine table lures people for prep and chat. Julia greets guests with a welcome hamper that’s filled with locally-produced goodies like biscuits, jam, cheese and chutney. Just lovely.

Outside the landscape is made for sitting and gazing. It is huge; big skies, big hills, big views and starry might skies, definitely a place for gazing. Outside furniture means you can simply sit and enjoy, knowing that the mobile is unlikely to ring.

The pleasure of the Old Vicarage is in its isolation but also its absolute comfort. Five-star stuff in everything from the nice plates, wine glasses and serving dishes right through to the gas barbecue and quality outdoor furniture. In fact all the mums on the jaunt clocked the prevalence of brand spanking new John Lewis everything – towels, linens, soft furnishings.

Bedrooms prove a real comfort zone. Quality Egyptian cotton sheets and duvets, nice throws and tasteful accessories. In the bathrooms real-size Molton Brown treats too. A kind of ‘want for nothing’ vibe going on here.

Have to say that because the place is so well equipped we holed up in the Old Vicarage, making the most of family time spent in the pool, lapping up the views and doing that nice weekend break thing of lingering breakfasts before more eating, drinking and generally catching up without an eye on the clock.

Outdoor challenges of cricket and football on the most picturesque of pitches and wallowing in the views were pastimes in themselves.

A splendid place though for walking with Marrick village a mile or so away or, following the river along, a few miles to the well-loved town of Reeth.

A quintessential dales town that has a stylish touch these days. Here, around its attractive green you’ll find teashops, gourmet delis, galleries and plenty of great pubs offering the essential pint of Theakston’s ale.

It’s the base for all things outdoorsy – bike hire, adventure pursuits, horse and pony-trekking and walking trails for all legs. It’s a fine place to wander and stumble upon places like the Dales Centre with its collective of craftspeople and studios or take a peek at Fat Sheep, a shop selling crafts made across the Dales.

Within a 20 minute car journey there’s access to all manner of breath-taking landscapes from Buttertubs Pass to the foreboding Arkengarthdale.

There’s something to be said about enjoying the Dales from your own privileged position though and the Old Vicarage is pretty much the perfect place from which to do so. Like being king of the castle, if only for a weekend.

Eco-funky >>

How easy when you’re zooming south along the A1 to forget about turning right. But surely one of the most satisfying aspects of any weekend retreat is being able to get nestled in by suppertime.

Unload, get the gourmet pizzas in the oven, the wine chilling in the fridge and bingo! By 8pm slouchy gear on and, as they say, the weekend starts here.

Destination was Brompton Lakes, a waterside retreat that takes little more than half and hour to get to from the Tees Valley or an hour from Tyne and Wear. Durham closer still.

Off the A1 near Catterick, head in the direction of Richmond and you’re just about there.

Brompton Lakes is an interesting spot indeed and on arrival looks funky, inviting and a little bit different. It calls itself an eco-development, consisting of a cluster of grass-roofed wooden lodges sited around a lake and each with their own balcony.

It looks cool and very, well, eco.

Sustainability was at the heart of the development and is incorporated into the planting in the grounds, materials used in the buildings and the on-going ethos for those staying in the lodges.

We were having Charlie for the weekend and lovely he was too. All the self-catering lodges have their own names and personalities thanks to their unique and eclectic décor.

Step on to your deck overlooking the lake and, as clichéd as it may sound, you’re instantly on retreat – it’s the water that does it, acting as the ‘off’ switch at the end of a long week.

The lodges are single storey and open-plan. The furnishings are modern – the kitchen would be worthy of city loft space.  Floors are wood and the deck area well secured to keep children safe. The lounging area was comfy thanks to a vast wraparound sofa and plenty of chairs for our six folks. A wood-burning stove was an efficient and striking centrepiece of the room.

The place was given a smack of personality with one-off bits of hand-painted furniture in the living area and bedrooms which cleverly stopped the modernity of the space feeling clinical. These from the hand of interior designer Rosie Mennam who, continuing the sustainability theme, loves to re-vamp auction-house furniture finds and use them in her lodge schemes. Touches like bold rugs and vibrant paintings give the rooms bags of personality and the amount of light flooding into the rooms certainly feels like a breath of fresh, green air.

Of course there’s plenty of that outside. The River Swale backs on to the site beyond the lake- both are a paradise for anglers – or just stone-skimmers.

On site there’s a tennis and boules court and since our visit, a family of llamas and a tepee (not in the same place at once) have arrived. The lodges are close to Easby Abbey and Richmond and both are a reasonably easy (though not for pushchairs) walk from the site.

Easby Abbey is a glorious spot to explore and a riverside pathway eventually takes you towards an old railway track – once part of the York-Newcastle line, leading to Richmond and The Old Station.

What a find this is! Gallery, cinema and all-round gourmet heaven. The renovated building is full of character and home to a bevvy of local producers brewing ales, creating stunning patisserie, cheese-making and jam-producing. Then there’s the Archer’s ice-cream parlour.

If like us, you need a bribe to prise the kids away from their home comforts to ‘urgh – go for a walk’  then this is the answer. Start or finish with a home-made sundae and they will be aching to gets their boots on (we have since returned time and again such is its pulling power).

The Old Station has a nice restaurant too and just opposite there’s a swimming pool. Richmond has masses of appeal – the river walk is always awesome with the crashing falls and stepping stones. The imposing Richmond Castle is always a great place for exploring and scrambling – English Heritage has great family events on the go.

Mooching about Richmond itself is easy and relaxing. Nice book and gift shops – and tearooms! Artist McKenzie Thorpe’s gallery is also a nice stop-off to view the most extensive collection of his work.

The Georgian Theatre has recently been restored and is impressive as the country’s most complete playhouse in Britain. A visit to a performance is definitely memorable.

From our lovely eco-base we found loads to do but what was particularly nice was the lazy Saturday morning, sitting on the deck watching the ducks, drinking coffee, catching up and reading the papers with no real agenda other than heading off for a walk along the river. That’s what great weekends are all about. Busy doing nothing.

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