It’s dubbed ‘the loveliest place you’ve never heard of’. Well, now I have. Markenfield Hall is a (mostly) 14th-century farmhouse just south of Ripon that’s one of the oldest buildings in Britain still inhabited as a family home. The utility room claims to be the country’s only one with both Norman-era double-vaulting and plumbing for a dishwasher, for example.
Plus it has a moat, and the downstairs toilet is in a dungeon. When they apply for home insurance online, I doubt the drop-down for ‘year constructed’ goes back to 1380.
And if a mortgage company asks to see the paperwork for the original house build, I’d like to see their response when they’re told: ‘Unfortunately, the deeds from 1230 were lost in 1569. And anyway they’d be in Norman French.’
The Hall is just off the A61, the busy road connecting Ripon and Harrogate. But I got there a much more leisurely and rural way: combining the ongoing £2 flat-fare scheme with my folding bike, on the 22 bus that lurches from York to Ripon.
Fortified by a pork pie from Appleton’s in Ripon market square – so fresh the jelly was still hot and gelling – and an apple turnover from Thomas the Baker, I cycled the handful of miles south from the centre along farm lanes and bridleways to the Hall, to meet up with the 2pm tour taking place today.
The owners of the Hall through the centuries (currently the Grantley dynasty) have been farmer-toffs involved in various historical intrigue, such as failed uprisings against the government, which I can sympathise with. All this and more was detailed by our guide as we ambled through the splendid rooms: the grand hall, four-poster bedroom, medieval kitchen, and chapel with its rare double-piscina.
(I’d hoped the double-piscina would be a kind of twin-tub swimming pool, but it’s a church item of ritually ablutive significance.)
We were treated to tea and cake after the tour of house and grounds, and it was pleasant to chat and swop travel stories with my fellow tourists. The minutes flew by… so much so that I missed my last bus back to York (the last one leaves Ripon at a frankly impractical four o’clock).
Still, one advantage of a folding bike is that it fits in a car boot. The tour guide generously offered me a lift to Harrogate, from where I could take the train back home…