Rescued and transformed into a luxury country retreat

Dating back to the 18th century, Rockliffe Hall was a private home, hospital and community centre and has survived two fires, neglect and vandalism before being rescued by Middlesbrough Football Club. Now a 61-room hotel, how does it score as a luxury retreat? Tina Banerjee finds out.

First impressions

As the taxi sweeps up the drive to Rockcliffe Hall, we’re greeted with the sight of an elegant, Victorian, red-brick hotel and looming over to the right, a rather incongruous, ugly building – the training academy belonging to the hotel’s football club owners. Aesthetics aside, the club saved the building from dereliction and has helped turn it into an award-winning, 5-star hotel.

A uniformed concierge greets us warmly, whisking away our luggage. We step inside to a small front desk behind which lies a two-storey glass atrium. Flooded with natural light and overlooking the golf course, the lobby is understated but serves to connect the hotel’s Old Hall and new wing. Service at the front desk is delivered with the kind of effervescent charm and friendliness that seems to come naturally to north-easterners.

Ideal for...

The hotel is ideal for couples on a romantic break or groups of friends looking to indulge themselves or celebrate a special occasion.

The room

After being led to our twin room in the new wing and politely declining offers of help to unpack our suitcases, I am immediately struck by the generous size of our boudoir. There’s no chance my pregnant sister and I will be barrelling into one another; there’s ample space for a party.


RoomrockliffeEnjoy oodles of space in the hotel's spacious rooms
Rockliffe Hall


With natural, earthy hues (greens, golds and browns) and spring sunshine streaming in from our small patio terrace overlooking the golf course, the room is warm and inviting. There are two sets of tables and chairs while our king sized beds turn out to be so supremely comfortable that I groan in misery when I have to wake up the next morning. Mood lighting, a separate marble-clad toilet and bathroom featuring sleek silver fixtures and a tile tv above the bath (which I regrettably never have time to use), an enormous walk-in monsoon shower, plus citrus-scented Miller Harris toiletries complete the contemporary luxury decor.

Handily, there’s also a dedicated area for a closet containing fluffy, white bathrobes and slippers and a dressing table discreetly tucked into one corner.

Best room

There are three suites in the Old Hall - all impeccably decorated, expansive sanctuaries. The Backhouse is the largest and is named after the family who owned the property from 1813. Rooms cost from £375 per night, including breakfast and full use of the spa.

Eating and drinking

We breakfast in the hotel’s flagship restaurant, the triple AA Rosette Orangery, which recently underwent a £150,000 refurb. It is the hotels’ crowning jewel: high-glass ceilings, lamps, lanterns, luxurious drapes, soft, grey chairs and a carpeted floor create a refined ambience. The continental breakfast spread, including cereals, cheese, pastries, fresh fruit, pretty pots of homepage yoghurt and even a giant honeycomb slab, looks tempting but I decide to go for a simple but scrumptious hot breakfast of salmon and scrambled eggs, while my sister tucks into a cooked English breakfast.


foodrockliffeEnjoy delicious breakfasts in the Victorian Orangery
Rockliffe Hall


In the evening, we briefly lounge in the sombre Drawing Room, peep inside the elegant Morning Room where afternoon tea is served and enjoy pre-dinner mojitos in the Cocktail Bar, where dark wood is contrasted with pops of colour (blue studded chairs, burnt orange sofas and green splashes on the walls).

Less remarkable in design is The Brasserie located in the new wing where we head for dinner. Pervasive beiges and browns create the ubiquitous, modern but dull palette beloved by countless restaurants - but at least the food and service are more appealing.

Seated in the restaurant’s corner booth, I plump for a deliciously fresh smoked salmon caesar salad for starters but can’t resist a nibble of my sister’s deep fried goat’s cheese, accompanied by beetroot, crunchy walnuts and watercress salad. “Just divine,” she pronounces, and I have to agree. For mains, I choose an 8oz fillet steak, accompanied by peppercorn sauce, carrots and mash delivered in mini copper saucepans, plus crunchy onion rings, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes. The steak is faultless but I find myself struggling to finish the veg - it's just too much. My sister’s parcels of slow roasted lamb rump drizzled in mint hollaindaise sauce are tender but “slightly too salty” but she hoovers it all up, including the potato dauphinoise, asparagus and broccoli. Miraculously, I manage to polish off a silky vanilla panacotta for dessert but my sister says her lemon crème brulee lacks depth and creaminess.


I relish my afternoon in the 4,645sq m (50,000sq ft) spa consisting of a 20m (65ft) pool lined with pretty stained glass rescued from a former chapel, a wonderful hydrotherapy pool with a multitude of massage jets and bubbles and various thermal rooms. I particularly enjoy the wood-lined, intense sweat box of the Tropicarium followed by the ice-cool Igloo.


SparockliffeChill out in the spa
Rockliffe Hall


Spa treatments take place in a first floor, softly lit sanctuary containing 13 treatment rooms – my body relaxes the instant I step across its threshold. Here, I enjoy a 60-minute Aromasoul Elements massage (£80) where hot oil containing ylang ylang, mimosa, jasmine and vanilla is applied and massaged into my skin using a combination of different pressures, from feather-light tickles to vigorous thumps, at varying speeds. Unlike a Swedish massage, the result is rejuvenating rather than soporific and I feel replenished for the first time in weeks. My sister positively glows with well-being following her Mellow Mama massage (£80).

For non-spa lovers, the hotel’s 18-hole golf course set on the meandering banks of the River Tees is considered to be one of the longest in Europe.

Room for improvement

The spa has abundant space which means it didn’t feel crowded on a Sunday afternoon when I visit. Nevertheless, I had to cast enviable glances at the recliners that were all occupied; more loungers, instead of chairs, would make a welcome difference.

Out and about

Fishing, shooting and walks are available around the 375 acre estate. Further afield, the hotel is close to the village of Croft-on-Tees where author Lewis Carroll was born; the cities of Durham and Newcastle; unspoilt coastline as well as the North York Moors.

Rockliffe Hall
Hurworth-on-Tees, Darlington,
County Durham,
DL22 2DU.
Tel: (01325) 729 999.
Prices start from £190 per night for a New Hall Superior twin room, with breakfast. A three course meal in The Brasserie for two, with a bottle of wine, costs around £104.


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