Seaham Hall once bottled Scotch; now guests can bathe in Scottish seaweed — a change for the better
Seaham Hall, a sprawling Georgian manor house near Durham in northeast England, has enjoyed several incarnations in its 227-year history; family home to nobles (the poet, Lord Byron, married the original owner’s daughter here in 1815), military hospital and sanatorium. For a spell in the 1920s, it was, rather ignobly, a secret bottling hub for Scotch whisky destined for prohibition-era America.
A fine dram can still be had at Seaham Hall but relax, the authorities aren’t likely to come knocking. Since the turn of the century, this historic property has been a five-star hotel and one of Britain’s finest spa destinations.
Pampering is big business these days and there’s a bewildering array of luxury retreats offering an antidote to the stresses of modern life. But it can be an expensive affair, so choosing where to spend your hard-earned pounds is paramount. Seaham Hall prides itself on its attention to detail and promises to “capture the hearts and imaginations” of its guests, but how does it really shape up?
The first test presents itself upon arrival. The car park closest to the hotel is full, so it looks like a game of find-a-space is on the cards. Not one of my favourite pastimes, and less so after a three-hour journey from Glasgow. I’m grumbling about it as we pull up at the hotel entrance to offload the luggage when a member of staff, all smiles, emerges. “Leave the car,” she says, “we’ll park it, no problem.”
It’s a good start.
Check-in is swift, then it’s up to our room via a sweeping staircase.
Seaham Hall boasts 20 suites, ranging from “junior” — don’t be fooled, the entry-level accommodation is stylish and very well appointed — to a collection of signature luxury suites, some with arresting seascape views.
Ours is an executive suite, eclectically designed with sea-themed wallpaper and boasting comfort mod cons such as electronically controlled mood lighting and air conditioning. An enormous bed beneath a giant blue headboard on a raised platform looks fit for a king. There’s also a separate lounge, where champagne on ice and a fresh fruit platter awaits. I’m warming to this place by the second.
One of Seaham Hall’s big draws is its Asian-themed “serenity spa”, an oasis of calm that’s open to hotel guests and day visitors. The spa is in a separate building but can be reached by hotel guests via an enclosed wood-panelled walkway that “floats” on water. Soft lighting, Buddha statuettes and water features accentuate the relaxed vibe — then it’s time to immerse myself in the spa’s 20-metre swimming pool, with hydro stations (button-activated jets of water), saunas, plunge pools and outdoor hot tubs, before heading to the massage parlour.
All manner of treatments are on offer, from facials and full-body massages to more exotic treatments such as a body exfoliation and walnut body polish and a bath in pure Scottish seaweed. My treatment is an Ishga massage with seaweed body oil that lasts for a blissful hour, then it’s into the Zen Lounge to relax on a full-length recliner with a complimentary sorbet.
Not surprisingly, it’s tempting to remain cocooned in Seaham Hall’s dreamy bubble for the duration of your stay but on the hotel’s doorstep is Durham Heritage Coast, a celebration of the region’s vibrant ecology and natural beauty that stretches 34 miles from Hartlepool in Co Durham to Sunderland in Tyne and Wear. The coastal footpath is a stone’s throw from the hotel, so there’s no excuse not to get out and sample the sea views up close or at least take a walk around the hotel’s 37-acre grounds. The stroll is worthwhile if only to work up an appetite for lunch or dinner in the hotel’s Byron restaurant, a rich, art deco affair with elaborate plasterwork and grand chandeliers.
The time to depart comes around all too quickly but I’m determined to return before long. True, Scotland isn’t short of luxury spas but — rather like the service at Seaham Hall — going the extra mile is most definitely worth it.
Getting there from Glasgow and Edinburgh takes about three hours by car. If going by train, the hotel will collect guests from nearby Seaham station. Junior suite doubles cost from £195, B&B; Package from £435 including breakfast, a three-course dinner at Byron’s restaurant and a spa treatment; seaham-hall.co.uk