Driving around the UK can sometimes be more tiring than you might expect, so on longer trips – London to Edinburgh for example – I like to plan some comfortable breaks. It’s a good old-fashioned tip.
Centuries ago, the little hamlet of Greta Bridge in County Durham was an overnight stop for the London mail coach. It’s the road that Charles Dickens took in 1839 when he came to the area to do research for Nicholas Nickleby. Today, on that old coaching road, travelers can stop at the Morritt Hotel. Right alongside you’ll find its eco-friendly spa, The Garage. Together, they provide more varied ways to relax and refresh than those old mail coach passengers ever imagined.
Inside the Morritt Hotel
It’s easy to imagine a horse drawn coach pulling up outside the 17th century stone front of the Morritt Hotel, but there is the much busier A66 road not far away, so the lightest sleepers may not want a front bedroom. Inside, there is the welcoming feel of a much-loved, privately owned hotel. There’s no lift in this old building and you may find that light from the corridor spills under your bedroom door. But there is antique furniture in the rooms and character you would never find in a chain hotel.
I had an old four poster bed with sumptuous drapes and linens. The bed was magnificent without being large, so taller or wider guests should check out alternatives. There was a full length, free-standing mirror for a quick check before going down to dinner. Although I didn’t have a use for it, my room also contained a wooden gentleman's dressing stand with tiny drawers for cuffs links and collar studs.
Imaginative Dining in Gilroy’s Restaurant
Dinner in the hotel restaurant turned out to be a surprising highlight of the trip. Why surprising? It’s too easy for a hotel restaurant with resident diners and no nearby competition to do just enough to get by. That’s not the way that Lee Stainthorpe, established chef at Gilroy’s, does things. Fresh ingredients are locally sourced, fish and seafood come from the coast every day. Care and imagination were evident in every dish but, importantly, here’s a chef who is respectful of the food. Everything I ordered (and a few morsels stolen from fellow diners) retained clear and distinctive tastes. Stay at The Morritt for two nights and you might spend the whole of the second day looking forward to dinner.
Recharge Your Batteries in the Eco-friendly Garage Spa
When the horse-drawn coaches gave way to automobiles, the old stone building next to The Morritt Hotel became a refuelling and repairing point for some of those first private vehicles. So when it was completely renovated in 2012 to create a state-of-the-art spa, it was named The Garage.
The theme carries through, with treatments such as the Oil Change Facial. The country-chic spa reception is called the Forecourt and so on. I’m not a great fan of novelty names, but what’s on offer here has been well thought through. The spa itself is quite small, but with lots and lots of water - three tubs indoors, still and sparkling, and one outside. You can shower between tubs, choosing warm sprays, cold rainfall or a tip a full bucket of cold water over yourself if you’ve got the nerve.
I did rush (this being February) across the grass to sample the UK’s first Shepherd’s Hut Sauna. But my personal vote goes to the steam room - a place to stretch out, open the pores and think big thoughts.
For a north of England location, there’s a surprising amount of outdoor relaxation space (though there are lots of warm rugs to snuggle in). The designers have considered the environment and green energy, including air source heat pumps, supplies the comfort. Natural materials are much in evidence, including local Teesdale stone and mellow red cedar timber.
In common with some of the UK’s better spas, The Garage also uses and sells its own brand of skin and bodycare products. These have been formulated with local honey and herbs and without parabens or synthetic colours. If you want a gentle reminder of a relaxing stopover or an enjoyable treatment, pop a couple in your travel bag.
- WhereThe Morritt Hotel, Greta Bridge, County Durham, DL12 9SE
- Contact Tel: 01833 627232
- Hotel website
- Spa website
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary visit for the purpose of reviewing this facility. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.