It was 1985 when we were due to start our second cricketing adventure – a cricket tour in the Lake District. For six glorious years we had toured Somerset and Devon with some of the best cricketers I had played with at York and Hull University, hence the name Yorkhull CC. We were getting a little older so had decided on a gentler itinerary and just four matches instead of the six in six days we had played in the south-west. With not long to go we had still not secured anywhere to stay. Our nominated player for securing accommodation kept making positive noises though nowhere was actually mentioned. The success of the tour depended on a reliable, hospitable place to stay, an essential component of any cricket tour but, with young families, it had to be within our then limited means.
As we arrived for this weekend for our last ever visit to The Heaves Hotel, Sedgwick near Kendal we reflected that it would have been unlikely that we would have toured in the area for 11 years and returned on many other occasions had we not discovered the shabby sheik of this wonderful Georgian mansion. Their website describes the hotel thus:
Once the home of the Gandy Family, this fine, Georgian Mansion became a Country House Hotel in 1947. We have a wealth of history here and although modern luxuries have been added, Heaves Mansion still retains the elegant character, which befits a true Country House. It is still owned and run by the same family after nearly 60 years. Heaves has always been noted for a friendly welcome and a sense of peace and quiet. Set in ten acres of formal gardens, woodland and parkland, the hotel has magnificent views of the Pennines, the Kent Estuary and the Lakeland Hills. The Whitelock family look forward to personally welcoming you to their home.
In fact it has been revealed this weekend that it was pure fluke that we landed here. Booked following a desperate conversation with yet another B&B who could not fit us in and it was mentioned just in passing. It sounded within our price range, but pre-internet so no pictures or description but a place to rest near to our chosen cricket grounds. We could always look around for somewhere else if we came back here.
I will never forget that first year, after struggling to find it at all, eventually spotting it and driving up their long tree-lined drive with rolling hills all around and at the top this magnificent, grand and imposing building. How could we afford this? Had our player booked us an expensive place by mistake? But it did not take us long to discover everything about it suited us, it was quiet, had numerous rooms to explore and very old comfy chairs to sink into. It was well within our budgets, breakfast was and still is great, and, before a bar was installed, we were allowed to bring beer and wines into the lounge and enjoy an after match drink or two! We often seemed to take over the house when we came with 13 of us in these grand old rooms oozing history and we created a regard for it which has lasted through time.
Beyond our cricket tours, individuals have had honeymoons here, brought their families, I arranged a 21 year post graduation reunion for 26 ex York university students and their families in 1995. We returned in 2012 at the request of one of our most loyal players and wonderful friend, George. He had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and sadly had only months left to live and would not make our usual summer rendezvous at a cricket ground somewhere in the UK, a tradition we continue to this day. He wanted to come back here and so we did. We rediscovered it as we had left it, just the same, a few more en-suite rooms but the same relaxed comfort and owners, M and C, not looking any older and still running the place with quiet authority and a welcoming smile. George loved the weekend, a poignant memory of great times and we all fell back in love with it and have returned every winter since. Indeed in 2013 we planted a tree in the grounds in memory of George who left us in June 2012.
I brought a group of 12 academics here last year to spend two glorious days working hard to produce a unique volume of work in a journal. They all loved the experience and vowed to return with their partners.
So many memories crowd my mind as I write this piece. It seems almost unbelievable that it won’t ever be the same after the end of January. Even if in the long term it is redeveloped as a hotel it will be so different and the indelible print of the owners of which, M, stands supreme, with his partner C, having lived here or nearby for all of his life, they and thus the Heaves character we know and love, will be sorely missed. Their son, P, we first met as a 5 year old and now head chef here. The games of snooker just a memory now as the tree which devastated the snooker room one year never ever got repaired.
Those who like five star luxury when using a hotel would not have enjoyed the relaxed splendour of this place. But where else would you still get served curly butter pieces for breakfast, a typical quaint touch. As the leader of our group I have always stayed in the Gandy room, see pics below, which has such a splendour about it. Yes it may be cold sometimes, and the antiquity of the furnishings cannot be disputed as you creak into them but in this world of pre-packaged formality, rooms tend to look identical and with no character, the individuality and history of this room and the others stands out. It is a privilege to use it one last time this weekend.
For us as a group it simply fitted like a glove and became the spiritual home of our nomadic cricket team, Yorkhull. When we stopped playing in 1996, with too many arthritic knees, broken backs and failing eyesight, we presented a picture to M and C which still appears in their bar. We enjoyed a meal together then to celebrate the union of our cricketing exploits with the perfect tour venue. It is a comfort blanket which stretches over you as soon as you walk through the door. Both us, the hotel and M and C have grow older together but somehow time seems to stop when we get here. A bubble takes us back to great memories and some we now might, as more mature adults, prefer to forget. But mostly, overwhelmingly, they are good memories and however lucky it appears we were to find it and secure it year on year we will be forever grateful. Talking of bubbles we raised a glass last night at our traditional meal, in our club ties, to the phenomenon that is, and will forever be, The Heaves Country House Hotel.