Escape the city and head northwards to sample the seaside delights of Seaham Hall
I’m retrieved from Durham station and driven through the leafy town, cutting a path through the undulating green fields towards Seaham Hall, all the while chatting to my driver, Craig. The car rolls up a sweeping driveway, unveiling a stunning 18th-century house, fronted by an extraordinary whirlpool fountain.
The house, built in 1791, has been used as a stately home for aristocracy (including Lord and Lady Byron), as a secret bottle centre for Scotch whisky during the American prohibition and as a hospital. It now stands as one of the finest hotels in the area, just a stone’s throw away from a beautifully tempestuous beach.
New to Seaham, this is my first venture, and a blustery walk along the seafront makes for the perfect start to my stay in this relatively untapped spot. I mosey back up to the hotel to see my suite – strikingly themed in sand, turquoise and violet, it boasts its own living area complete with writing desk, dining table, luxurious sofa and widescreen television above a modern fireplace. A cabinet that’s fully-stocked with enough Nespresso coffee pods to raise a hibernating bear from its slumber is the icing on the cake – that and the bottle of Champagne left in an ice bucket to welcome me. The pool-like bath tub and the ocean-sized bed are both more than welcome attractions, but one of the most striking things about the place has to be the view out into the well-kempt grounds and brooding woodland beyond.
The pool-like bath tub and the ocean-sized bed are both more than welcome attractions
After a flute of Champagne I potter downstairs to the Byron restaurant to sample their evening offerings, which are sublime and imaginative. Most noteworthy were the appetisers – light shards of artichoke skin with pickled beetroot and goats curd alongside a surprisingly sweet carrot meringue with carrot purée, which dissolves delicately on the tongue post-crunch. I opt for a hearty cut of lamb as my main with fresh greens, roasted spring onions and a side of golden new potatoes.
The real treat of the evening comes in the form of my wine pairings, a series of robust reds brought out by the glass thanks to the use of the Coravin system, a wine needle that perforates the cork, allowing me to sample a single glass of truly extraordinary wines. These all combined so easily with the juices in my main course that I could be convinced that this lucky lamb drank nothing but red wine its whole life. Followed by a baked Alaska topped with passionfruit coulis, I’m beaten by the intoxicating creaminess and kicks of sharpness.
Rotund and content, I all but roll back to my room, where I indulge in a luxurious bath with skyscraper bubbles. I’ve never been more willing to relent to an early night – at just under six foot, I’m surprised to find that even I have a choice of 360°-worth of angles in which to sleep.
Morning beckons, and another banquet awaits me – croissants, toast and condiments to start, followed by a yoghurt, granola and berry compote so delightfully dense I can literally stand my spoon up in it, though admittedly, it’s so tasty this trick doesn’t last long. After a soothing pot of jasmine tea, I head through the hotel, down a spiral staircase, through a pair of novel automatic doors and into a winding tunnel.
The tunnel inspires notions of secret lairs with its pink floor lighting and decked pathway atop a corridor-spanning pool of water. It entertains me so thoroughly that I’m almost disappointed to be met with a vast elephant statue, signalling my arrival at the award-winning Serenity Spa where I am to receive a Ytsara Samunprai treatment. This Thai herbal heat energiser consists of a 90-minute massage using a steamed lemongrass poultice, alongside blue ginger and peppermint essential oils to revitalise and renew the body. My muscles are more knotted than a four-year-old’s first pair of self-tied shoelaces, but this intense treatment has me unravelled.
My muscles are more knotted than a four-year-old’s first pair of self-tied shoelaces, but this intense treatment has me unravelled
Quickly reminding myself how to use my limbs, I briefly retreat into a relaxation room with heated loungers and a gorgeous view out into the grounds before scuttling off to explore the rest of the spa facilities. I dart between the Jacuzzi in the hammam room, the samarium, the sauna with quartz crystal and, my personal favourite, the black granite steam room complete with an amethyst crystal. After all that heat, I trot unthinkingly into the icy plunge pool before leaping out and retiring to the outdoor terrace hot tubs to re-evaluate my temperature choices. To my own amazement I swim a few lengths in the 20-metre pool before trying out the fitness suite, complete with a glorious range of contraptions that make me feel like a child in a playground.
My active morning reaches a peak after a stroll into Seaham, when I return for a spot of afternoon tea in the lounge. I settle down with a three-tier masterpiece of finger sandwiches, scones and cake, blithely watching the world go by outside from an armchair. My final evening led me to the Pan Asian restaurant situated in the spa, Ozone. Its satisfyingly circular layout focuses on a central bar, which I sit alongside with a view to both the open kitchen and to the gardens. I sip on Prosecco and nibble prawn crackers until I’m presented with gargantuan prawn tempura, which are light and crisped to perfection. For my main I opt for the green chicken curry with jasmine rice – each mouthful was awash with creamy coconut milk and a myriad of aromatic flavours that left me mourning my empty dishes far too quickly. I top it all off with a mango cheesecake that convinces me that really, I’m perfectly happy to gain a stone if I could eat this wonder every day from now on.
A game of pool and a Durham Gin and tonic (or two) later and I’m exhausted – my book and bed is all I need to polish off the day. Another wonderfully on-point breakfast followed by a frolic around the spa and I’m back in the suite, packing while dolefully looking at my beautiful surroundings one last time. I’m met again by Craig, who grins knowingly and asks me how my weekend has been.
Thankfully, words can describe my time here, and I spend the journey singing Seaham Hall’s praises – in fact, the singing continues for months afterwards.