The Historic Heart of England

Peter Morrell and his wife enjoy the comforts of Ye Olde Bell Hotel and explore the cultural attractions of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire

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With the excitement of Christmas over and a late Easter in 2017 my wife and decided that we needed a break. Someone suggested that the historic AA four star rated Ye Olde Bell Hotel at Barnby Moor in Nottinghamshire was a good place to stay. So having decided that this would be the base for our overnight accommodation we started to look at the attractions to visit in the surrounding area and soon discover that we were spoilt for choice.

Our first stop on the way was the Civil War Centre in Newark, the town was a Royalist stronghold in the wars (there were actually three). The exhibition about the wars has been extremely well put together and we were rather shamefaced that we didn’t know more about these major event in British history. It’s fun for all the family, you can try on helmets and armour and read about the personalities involved. A series of films are available which re-enact key points in the conflicts including the arrival of Charles II’s cousin, the swashbuckling Prince Rupert of the Rhine who relieve a siege of the town.

It was then on to Lincoln to discover a city which has a long heritage. The cathedral is a magnificent Gothic masterpiece and well worth a visit. The cobbled streets around the cathedral are lined with quaint shops reminiscent of a bygone age. A few steps away is the well preserved Lincoln Castle which holds one of the four surviving original Magna Cartas, sealed by King John after his meeting with the Barons at Runnymede in 1215.

With our very fulfilling day of English culture at an end we headed for Ye Olde Bell only to discover that the heritage experience would continue. Ye Olde Bell has more than four centuries of history embedded within its walls, it’s been a farm, private house, soldiers billet but in the main has provided hospitality for weary travellers on their journeys.

Ye Olde Bell is situated in the village of Barnby Moor near Retford and was on the original Great North Road which ran between London and Edinburgh. Today the village is a peaceful oasis since the construction of the A1, a few miles to the west.

The hotel was a popular stagecoach stop in the past but there is nothing remotely old about it. Ye Olde Bell has been lovingly restored by current owners Hilary and Paul Levack. Its amenities are bang up to date but tempered with the homely feel of period pictures, rich fabrics and objet d’art both in the public areas and the bedrooms.

The location of the hotel and its luxurious refurbishment make it ideal for the leisure or business traveller, and as a venue for conferences and weddings it’s ideal. There are two large function suites, the Wiseton, featuring an ornate ceiling rescued when nearby Wiseton Hall was demolished. The other suite, the Bradgate has oak panelling from another stately home, Bradgate House.

Bradgate was the birthplace of the Nine Day Queen, Lady Jane Grey and as another nod to the past our own bedroom was named the Lady Jane Suite. This was a very large, superbly appointed room, double aspect windows overlooked the landscaped gardens. It was tastefully decorated with antique furniture, luxury curtains, an impressive crystal chandelier and it had an enormous bed. The bathroom featured a marble washstand and sink, and a roll top bath.

This is one of 59 rooms at the hotel and each one has been thoughtfully and uniquely decorated by the owners. There are 53 single, classic and superior rooms, four suites and two, two storey lodges.

The same high standard extends to the public rooms, on the ground floor is a comfortable lounge area and there are two bar/restaurant options. The first option is the St Leger bar and bistro where you can drink and dine in a casual environment and sample local ales. It draws its name from the horse race which is run annually at Doncaster racecourse a short drive away

The other dining option is the Restaurant Bar 1650, this is an elegant dining space with wood panelled walls and a stylish art deco bar. The menu is the same for both the bistro and the restaurant and as the food has been awarded the coveted AA Four Rosette rating you are guaranteed a good meal.

We ate in the more formal Restaurant Bar 1650, Head Chef Tim Stamp and his team have devised an inventive menu made with local, seasonal ingredients. The dishes are a range of traditional and more adventurous fare and they have some clever twists. My wife’s starter was salmon with beetroot, crackling, garlic and endive. Salmon and beetroot are always a winning combination and this was no exception, it was delicate with textural interest being added by the crackling.

My choice, from the ‘Chef recommends’ section, was pigeon with sherry jus, oyster mushroom and black pudding. Both the meat and the black pudding had great depth of taste and together they made an impressive start. Alongside the first course was the most delicious warm, home-made bread flavoured with honey and almond, and sun dried tomatoes.

Our mains were equally as satisfying, my wife’s beef fillet with maple cured ham, goat’s cheese and baby roast vegetables was well cook and presented and my pork fillet with fondant potato, turnips, apple crumble, mustard was highly enjoyable.

The wine list is quite compact and offers established favourites like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Our wine pairing was the Finca Valero tempranillo/garnacha 2014 from Spain. There was good dark stone fruit in the bouquet and this was joined by peppery notes on the palate. The finish was fruity and persistent.

We are not regular pudding eaters but the dessert section of the menu was just too tempting. My wife indulged in a decadent apple and walnut cheesecake with apple gel, apple tuille and apple ice cream while I had the five scoop palette of ice cream with surprise flavours like Drambuie and Eton mess.

Throughout the meal the service was impeccable as it was during our entire stay. The staff are very friendly and efficient.

The next morning we were up bright and early to savour the full English breakfast, which for us was a rare treat.

Before leaving we took a look around the exterior of the hotel. The long car park at the front of the property was the site of the only UK checkpoint for the Monte Carlo Rally held in January 2017. After taking a look at the Mediterranean style outdoor bar we spotted Ye Olde Bell’s exciting new spa building which opens later in 2017.

This state-of-the-art luxury facility will be one of the top spas in the UK with an impressive indoor to outdoor vitality pool, a unique ‘Snowstorm’ experience plus Sabbia Med Sunlight Therapy. In total it will feature 10 spa experiences and 6 treatment rooms.

Back on the road we headed south to Cresswell Crags. This is a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves. Stone tools and remains of animals found in the caves by archaeologists provide a fascinating story of life of the most northerly dwelling people during the last Ice Age. There is a well appointed and informative visitor centre and its a fascinating place for both adults and children.

Just a few miles away is the Welbeck Estate, owned by the Duke of Portland. There is a state room tour of Welbeck Abbey available but I had brought my wife to see the Portland Gallery. This new building contains the art collection of the Portland family and it has numerous exquisite works. These include family portraits, fine silverware and Michelangelo’s Madonna del Silenzio.

Next door is the Harley Gallery which hosts a number of temporary exhibitions a year and across the courtyard is an impressive farm shops selling meat and the incomparable unpasteurised Stichelton cheese.

It was time to go home but what a great two days it had been, the area is steeped in history and our luxurious stay at Ye Olde Bell was the icing on a very rich cake.

Useful Information

For more information and latest rates for Ye Olde Bell go to

Attraction information can be found at
Civil War Centre –
Lincoln Cathedral –
Cresswell Crags –
The Welbeck Estate –

Information about Nottinghamshire is at