It has a first-class chef and a Michelin star. Now, after a no-expense-spared makeover, the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill has interiors worthy of superlatives. Sharon Dale reports.
Jonathan Turner hasn’t made his fortune by poring over spreadsheets and detailed reports. Like most entrepreneurs, the well-known Yorkshire businessman relies on gut feelings that often lead to snap decisions.
It’s how he ended up with the Yorke Arms, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Ramsgill, near Pateley Bridge.
“I heard it was up for sale and I went up there. I walked in and it was a done deal. It captured my heart and I just could not bear the thought of some national chain of gastropubs or someone from London or Lancashire getting hold of this iconic Yorkshire place, so I bought it,” says Jonathan, who is chief executive of Bayford Group, which specialises in oil distribution and fuel cards, and has a growing portfolio of interesting properties.
The chocolate box, ivy-clad building, which has its roots in the 11th century, is an architectural gem full of character and roaring real fires. Its setting, by a stream and surrounded by glorious Nidderdale countryside, is sublime.
But the interiors were ready for an update and renowned chef-patron Frances Atkins, who had owned the property with her husband, Bill, for 21 years, was planning to leave after selling the business. Jonathan, known as JT, played a blinder by persuading her to stay.
Frances is one of just a few female Michelin star chefs in the UK. “I fully intended to leave but staying has ended up being a very happy arrangement and that is down to Jonathan’s personality, enthusiasm and his plans to create something even more special here.
“He doesn’t tell me how to cook and I don’t tell him how to run the business or how to decorate the rooms,” she says, confessing that retirement is not on her radar. “I won’t give up. I’ll take my last gasp at the stove.”
Her blessing for a major makeover was important to Jonathan, who has a number of successful property projects under his belt. They include the office and events venue Bowcliffe Hall in Bramham, Wetherby, a holiday cottage in Bamburgh, a villa in Spain and, more recently, a ten-bedroom house with holiday cottages in Scotland.
A car enthusiast, he is the driving force of the Bayford Group, but would agree with The Eurythmics: “Behind every great man there had to be a great woman.” His wife and right-hand woman, Karen, has helped transform all the properties and is responsible for the new-look Yorke Arms.
She oversaw a major renovation and designed and sourced everything for the restaurant, bar and 18 bedrooms in just six months. “It took over my life but I wanted it to be right for Frances,” she says.
Frances is delighted with the result. “The rooms are all lovely. Karen put all her energy and enthusiasm into them and I appreciate that. It’s what I do when I am making new dishes,” she says.
Although Karen isn’t formally trained, her working background in fashion helped. “I’m also a Cancerian and a homemaker at heart. The idea was to make the Yorke Arms look as beautiful, relaxed and homely as possible. This is a restaurant with rooms rather than a hotel,” she says.
Rather than take the easy, homogenised option, she decided to theme all the bedrooms and decorate them differently.
She and Jonathan also sourced most of the art and antiques, along with quirky items that make people smile. The restaurant loos are a good example of this. A reconditioned retro radio plays a speech by Margaret Thatcher in the Ladies, while Churchill is guest speaker in the Gents.
“That was another of Jonathan’s crazy, eccentric ideas,” says Karen, who commissioned a Yorke Arms mural for the stairs. It’s by Laura Middleton and her husband, Alex, and if you look carefully you can see Jonathan’s old Bentley.
She and JT were also keen to support manufacturers, tradespeople and retailers from Yorkshire and so there are bespoke tweeds from Abraham Moon and silks from James Hare.
The beds are by Harrison Spinks and the carpets from Calvert’s, while Westgate Frames in Ripon has framed the artwork.
Damian Lawrance, of renowned Harrogate firm Rock and Bone, was the main contractor and Graham Bassett project managed the renovation.
No expense was spared but Karen upcycled where possible and had some of the existing chairs and sofas reupholstered. Old favourites like the Mouseman settle were retained.
More furniture was bought from Hemswell Antiques and Tennants salerooms with what looked like “no-hopers” given new life by Darlington-based restorer Rupert McBain.
Karen and Damian Lawrance also designed bespoke pieces, including discreet mini bars. “Damian is amazing and his workshop can make anything and very quickly,” she says.
The bedrooms are Yorkshire themed and painted in Farrow & Ball. There’s Howzat Bill which pays homage to cricket and to Frances’s husband, Bill, an MCC member.
Brew references Yorkshire tea and Ey Up has a bespoke Yorkshire rose headboard.
Woof is dog-friendly and features Mulberry’s “Hounds” fabric and Studley has William Morris’s striking “Forest” fabric, which reflects the tree-clad hills around the Yorke Arms.
The Rhubarb suite is inspired by Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle. Thread reflects the region’s textile industry and Quill, our literary heritage.
One of the most nerve-wracking tasks was to decorate the main dining room to complement Frances’s food. Karen chose a fabric-backed wallpaper with a hunting scene and plates by John Derian for Astier de Villatte.
The outside area is next on the list for a makeover though the huge kitchen garden needs no extra garnish. It is a beautifully kept work of art. “It is one of my favourite spaces,” says Karen, who has enjoyed the fruits of her own labour. She and Jonathan recently stayed over after entertaining guests at the restaurant.
JT’s verdict: “The Yorke Arms now feels more like a home... with a damn good kitchen and we intend to keep it forever.”
*The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill, www.theyorkearms.co.uk
Rock and Bone, carpentry and project management, www.rockandbone.co.uk
Abraham Moon fabric, www.moons.co.uk
James Hare silks, www.james-hare.com
Harrison Spinks beds, www.harrisonspinks.co.uk
Calverts carpets, www.calverts-carpets.co.uk
Charlton Plumbing, tel: 07825 887054
Newton Electrical Contractors, www.electrician-harrogate.co.uk
Monks Security and Fire, www.monks-security.co.uk
Westgate Fine Art, Ripon, www.westgatefineart.co.uk