Trip in a nutshell
A mid-priced weekend away for a group of friends with a toddler in tow, staying at self-catering eco-lodges bordering the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.
Karen Burley, 34, fiancé Adam, 36, and son, Alec, 18 months, as well as Alec’s godparents, Laura, 33, and Gavin, 36.
Natural Retreats is ideal for a group getaway. All of the 19 lodges have three bedrooms leading off a fantastic open-plan living area and can accommodate up to six adults. The lodges are bungalow-style and cater for babies and toddlers, although they’re better suited to ages 3 years and up.
When to go
The access road to Natural Retreats can be tricky to negotiate in snowy conditions, so it’s best to avoid during wintery weather unless you’ve got a 4WD. There are three pricing bands for low, mid and high season, with school holidays falling into the most expensive band.
Essential travel info
The Natural Retreats site is set among 54 acres of countryside in Swaledale, a mile from Richmond (off the A1 at Scotch Corner) and around 13 miles from Darlington.
The lodges come equipped with a microwave, washing machine and dishwasher. The master bedroom is suitable for a travel cot, and one bedroom has adjoining zip and link mattresses that can be made up as a twin for older children. Cots, highchairs, sterilisers and fireguards are available.
Babysitting by a fully qualified and CRB-checked nanny can be arranged for £13 per hour, for a minimum of four hours. Dogs are also welcome in some lodges – perfect if you can’t leave Fido behind!
Laura and Gavin don’t have children but love spending time with Alec, so we were all really looking forward to a weekend together. We chose Natural Retreats as the lodges looked stylish and had all the mod-cons that you need with a toddler, and they’re surrounded by gorgeous countryside. The site has attained zero carbon status and encourages recycling, so these eco-credentials appealed to us too.
With floor-to-ceiling windows, an open-plan kitchen-dining-living room and a wood-burning stove, the lodge was spacious, yet cosy. With Alec toddling about, we were worried about the stove so we asked for a fireguard and the estate manager, Conor, dropped one off soon after. There was a welcome hamper with all the essentials to get us started, such as organic milk, butter, eggs and even a bottle of wine, which was a nice touch.
Adam and I took the ensuite bedroom so we could put the travel cot in with us, while Laura and Gavin wisely chose a bedroom at the opposite end. There was a separate bathroom with a full-sized bath and a well-equipped kitchen. It was lovely to catch-up over dinner and laugh at Alec’s antics, and then relax with a glass of wine by the fire once he was tucked up in bed.
We woke to blue skies and sunshine so we headed out for a walk. Natural Retreats has a complimentary concierge service and had recommended a leisurely route that took us along the River Swale and into the historic market town of Richmond. It was a fairly easy walk, although we were glad that we’d followed the concierge’s advice and popped Alec on his dad’s shoulders rather than take the buggy.
That evening we headed out for some grown-up fun in Richmond, as my mum lives nearby and jumped at the chance to look after Alec. We splashed out at The Frenchgate restaurant, which prides itself on sourcing local ingredients. It was expensive but a wonderful treat, as we rarely have a night out these days!
The next morning, Laura and Gavin were more than happy to entertain Alec for an hour while Adam and I had a bit of lie-in. We then cooked up a big English breakfast and made the most of our time together, before a slightly hurried check-out at 10am. We absolutely loved our mini-break and all the staff on the estate were really friendly and helpful. Laura’s already making plans for the next one at Natural Retreats.
The climb to the top of the well-preserved Richmond Castle keep is worth it for the amazing views of the surrounding Yorkshire Dales.
Pop into The Station in Richmond. The town’s disused railway station has been transformed into a small entertainment hub with a cafe, two-screen cinema, and regular family events.
Climb aboard the Wensleydale Railway for a scenic 17-mile trip from Leeming Bar to Redmire, passing lovely towns and villages. Steam-hauled trains operate on selected dates.
Older children will love Go Ape in nearby Dalby Forest. The high-wire obstacle course uses ladders, walkways, Tarzan swings and zip wires to get you from start to finish.
Watch out for
There are hanging blind cords within easy reach of a toddler and the kitchen drawers aren’t fitted with safety latches (so make sure you move the cleaning products under the sink out of reach). There are no fences, so ask for a lodge on flat ground. You’ll also need to keep an eye on the kids around the small wildlife ponds.