It’s a cold, grey day and I’m only wearing a swimsuit. Snowflakes swirl around me, touching my bare skin. Do I scream and run for cover? Or wake up from a dream? Not at all. At Ye Olde Bell hotel and spa, the snow is all part of the experience.
Ye Olde Bell is in Retford, Nottinghamshire, perfectly placed for mums like me to treat student daughters who happen to be studying in the Midlands — that’s a lot of Jewish mums. She needed a break from essays and cramped digs, I was full of aches and pains from my office-bound life.
We arrived just in time for the spa lunch, opting for the healthy option of vegetable soup, followed by a generous and delicious portion of salmon and couscous — so generous that we couldn’t even think about dessert.
Next, to check in to our room — actually, rather more than a room. Ye Olde Bell itself is a huge black and white building, dating from the 17th century. Its location, on the old Great North Road, made it a popular staging post for generations.
In 1835 the young Queen Victoria stayed there and other famous guests over the years include Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford — and, more recently, One Direction. In 2002 a local couple bought it from a hotel chain and set about renovating it. A new spa is the latest stage of the revamp.
Our room was a lodge, one of the small modern buildings next to the main hotel. With bedroom and bathroom upstairs, comfy sitting room below plus kitchenette, it was furnished Balmoral style, with tartan in heather-tones, and stags everywhere.
Back to the spa, which is all shiny and new, with crushed velvet furniture in metallic tones. A swimming pool takes you outside and in, then four separate heat rooms let you warm up gently, with or without herbs and steam. Our favourite was the hot, dry Alpine sauna, perfect preparation for the snowfall.
Yes, snow is included in the spa experience, and when you are hot enough it’s a delightful feeling. The snow storm walk at Ye Old Bell is the only one of its kind in the country, allowing you to wander through a gentle snowfall (ideal on winter days) or with added gusts of winds and flashes of lightening, which I imagine would be great on a hot summer’s day.
Then while my daughter had a facial, I was treated to quite simply the best massage I’ve ever had. Every single knot was eliminated from my tired back and shoulders, and the essential oils were both relaxing and reviving.
There were two menus on offer for dinner, the restaurant or the Bistro; although without a huge amount of choice for vegetarian or fish eaters, it might be an idea to call ahead and ask if some of the fancier dishes could be shellfish free. But my daughter enjoyed her fish and chips and I had a tasty vegetarian ravioli.
So relaxed were we, and so comfortable were the beds, that we slept too late to have breakfast and instead drove a mile or so to the (well-named) Idle Valley Nature Reserve to eat scrambled eggs and watch frolicking foxes. I left feeling around 15 years younger than when I had arrived at the hotel.