Understated Opulence: Rockliffe Hall, County Durham – Hotel Review

By Siobhan Grogan

8 months ago

A country estate with considerable Northern charm

Three miles from Darlington, Rockliffe Hall is a rural getaway in its own right. With extensive parklands, a vast golf course, three restaurants, an award-winning spa and friendly, attentive service, relaxation is guaranteed, says Siobhan Grogan.

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Hotel Review: Rockliffe Hall, County Durham

Rockliffe Hall Grounds


Built in the early 19th century, Rockliffe Hall’s original red brick mansion house previously served as a hospital, a private house, a community centre and even as a backdrop for the Michael Caine film Get Carter before it was bought by Middlesbrough Football Club in 1996. The club’s owner Steve Gibson built the team’s training ground on the land, before renovating the estate’s derelict house to create the hotel. Now, the grand Old Hall is connected to a new wing by a glass corridor, there are 375 acres of woodlands and pristine lawns to wander, and there’s even an 18-hole championship golf course for restless guests. Thankfully, the original building still retains all of its traditional grandeur with its sweeping mahogany staircase, chandeliers, stained glass windows and elegant drawing room which has deep red sofas, a pile of board games and an open fire.

Backhouse Suite Old Hall

Backhouse Suite, Old Hall

Rooms are enormous in both buildings, but I stayed in the spacious new wing, where the restful contemporary décor includes piles of soft cushions, a velvet sofa, and a deep soaking tub with its own TV and selection of Molton Brown products. Glass doors open onto a private terrace overlooking the grounds, where 35,000 new trees have been planted in the last two years. Despite its long history, Rockliffe Hall is resolutely forward-thinking and sustainability is a priority at the hotel. This goes far beyond the expected – extensive recycling, low energy lights throughout – to include using recycled rain water to keep the golf course immaculate and even building a rope course with feeding stations for squirrels in the grounds. I also loved the hotel’s community focus: it supports one local charity each year and prioritises recruitment locally, with several staff on placement from nearby colleges.

Bathroom, Old Hall

Bathroom, Old Hall


With its open fires and cosy corners, Rockliffe Hall is made for hunkering down and doing nothing but ordering another drink. However, resort maps are provided if you fancy a stroll, and there are walking and jogging routes around the grounds. I turned right out of the front door and headed towards the walled garden for the best view of the original mansion in all its splendour, continuing on through a wildflower meadow and shaded woodland.

The hotel also offers free bikes to borrow, golf, tennis, falconry experiences, croquet, mini golf, fishing on the River Tees and even Nordic Walking classes. Further afield, there’s white water rafting at the Tees Barrage or hiking in the North Yorkshire Moors, while the castle, cathedral and museums of Durham are 40 minutes away.

Spa Garden

Spa Garden

The hotel’s spa is a must-do, though. A serene space spanning 50,000 square feet, it includes a Roman sauna, 15 metre hydro pool and one of the largest and most beautiful swimming pools I’ve ever seen in a hotel spa, lit by a wall of colourful stained glass. There’s also an all-day spa restaurant with egg swing chairs on the balcony overlooking the grounds. Use of the spa is included with every stay, but I upgraded my visit to include access to the spa garden (which costs £25 for 90 minutes). This allowed me to drift between the glass-fronted sauna, warming tepidarium beds and infinity edge hydrotherapy pool overlooking the estate, where I ordered a chilled glass of Veuve Cliquot to sip among the bubbles.

Spa swimming pool

Spa swimming pool


You won’t go hungry at Rockliffe Hall. There are three restaurants including Nu Sana in the spa, which serves Asian-inspired dishes including Buddha bowls and Pad Thai on Friday and Saturday evenings after the robe-clad diners have departed. On the golf course, The Clubhouse is more casual for breakfast, burgers and Sunday roasts. For fine dining under a vaulted glass ceiling, head to The Orangery, which was recently added to the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland. Go for the tasting menu, which changes regularly but included a Lincolnshire poacher cheese scone, salt aged Northallerton lamb with turnip and Granny Smith apple feuilletine when I visited in summer. Breakfast is also served here each morning, but don’t expect an average hotel buffet of congealed scrambled eggs and lukewarm bacon. Hot dishes are cooked fresh to order and my poached eggs on crushed avocado were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

The Orangery

The Orangery

Wherever you dine, local, seasonal produce is on the menu in every restaurant; the hotel strives to avoid buying food from abroad and has recently switched all olive oil used in the kitchens to locally sourced rapeseed oil. Herbs, fruits and vegetables come from their own walled garden, which was awarded the Eco Excellence Award at the North East Hotels Association awards late last year. There are also 10 beehives across the estate so the hotel can produce its own honey on site.


Rockliffe Hall feels more like a luxe private country retreat than a hotel. The expansive grounds, peaceful spa and indulgent dining are all worth checking in for, but it’s the welcoming, down-to-earth staff that will make you want to return.

Walled Garden at Rockliffe Hall

Walled Garden


Rooms at Rockliffe Hall start from £296 per night in a New Hall Double including breakfast. rockliffehall.com

Find out more about the hotel’s sustainability initiatives here