After we’d got home from our honeymoon with the travel bug firmly cemented, we originally spoke about marking our first wedding anniversary with another big trip and our pipe dream was to head to Tokyo for the occasion. It’s a place that’s been high on both of our travel lists for so long and we excitedly hoped that maybe an anniversary was the time to tick it off.
We decided we wouldn’t go on any other holidays over summer and instead set about saving for the Tokyo adventure. As it happened though – life got in the way. By June, I was pregnant. By September GB was freelance. By October, we were moving house. And by the time our anniversary did roll around, GB was abroad for a three week work project which only saw him get back the day before our special date and I was 28 weeks pregnant and so a long haul trip just wouldn’t have worked.
In the end, we weren’t even disappointed though. We’ll get there someday (we’re now thinking about saving to go for the 2020 Olympics instead) and it had been such a crazy year up until that point that we knew it just wasn’t the right time for an equally crazy trip. With it being a bit touch and go whether GB would even make it home in time, we set our sights on just spending some much needed time together and enjoying our anniversary here in the UK instead. I think often we’re all guilty of assuming the only possibility for a break and a good time comes with a holiday abroad, but actually over the last couple of years some of my favourite breaks have been UK based, and there’s so many wonderful places to explore here on the Motherland.
We decided on the North East and a trip to the lovely historic town of Durham as it’s an area neither of us had spent much time in before and it felt far enough away from London and the south to ensure a holiday vibe. Of course we should know by now that November weather can never be relied on and when it came to it, a crazy storm interrupted any plans for exploration of the area.
What this did mean though, was that we had the perfect excuse to sit back, relax and whole up in our hotel for the weekend, enjoying all the delights that a hotel stay can offer with none of the guilt. And seeing as our abode was luxury 5 star hotel and spa – Seaham Hall – we had an incredibly relaxing time doing just that.
Seaham Hall is located just outside of Durham city centre (it took around 20 minutes in a taxi from the station) and is situated amongst 37 acres of landscaped gardens in a striking cliff top location overlooking the Seaham coastline. So, if you do happen to visit during summer, you’re in for a treat. In winter though, you might be more interested in the cosy indoors which plays homage to the historic heritage of the building beautifully (it was originally built in 1791, became home to Lord and Lady Byron before being transformed and re-used as everything from a hospital during the war, a secret bottling house for Scotch whisky and eventually a private hotel) and has been kept classic and inviting while still offering modern elements.
The main house is home to an array of beautifully designed suites, ranging from the junior suite, executive (which we stayed in) and penthouse, as well as the hotel’s main restaurant – Byron’s. Then, walk through a gorgeous pink lit tunnel and you’ll find yourself in the Serenity Spa, a huge space complete with pool, treatment rooms, outdoor hot tubs, gym and roof terrace.
After a long train journey and with the wind and rain already picking up outside we were more than happy to be ushered in to the shelter of the hotel with a friendly welcome from the staff. Our bags were collected from the taxi for us and brought to our room, hot drinks were offered and we didn’t need to lift a finger from the minute we stepped into the reception – fine by us!
With me weary and pregnant, and GB weary and jetlagged, we both just looked at each other in glee when we first saw our abode. The suite was as big as our London flat and complete with a sizeable bedroom and massive king size bed as well as a separate lounge area with comfy sofa, giant TV and a few anniversary goodies left for us by the staff. In the middle of the two rooms was a large bathroom with both shower and bath and his and hers sinks (a personal favourite of mine).
While GB immediately flopped on the sofa, I was in my fluffy robe quicker than he could make himself a coffee and lounging on the comfy bed while admiring the giant printed headboard and laying my head on the endless pit of feather cushions – heaven.
I’d booked myself in for a pregnancy massage that afternoon, so after a little nap I left GB to enjoy his comfy surroundings while I made my way to the Serenity Spa for the first time…
I have to admit that spa hotels are a bit of a new revelation for me, but one that now I’m fully on board with. There is something so lovely about staying away from home and knowing that you can head off for a swim in the morning or relax all afternoon in the sauna, so the last few hotel stays we’ve done have been combined with spa time too. With me being pregnant this time though, my use of the spa facilities was a little limited and I did feel a bit disappointed that I couldn’t make use of all the amazing pools, hot tubs, jacuzzis and steam rooms that the Serenity Spa had. So instead I figured I’d opt for a treatment and let myself be pampered.
I have friends who have sworn by regular massages in pregnancy but up until this point I hadn’t had any and was a little wary about how it would feel when I was at quite a heavy and uncomfortable stage where I wasn’t feeling my best.
My therapist was lovely though and took it all really slowly, only doing what I was comfortable with. Instead of being on your front like a normal massage, I lay to the side with her concentrating mostly on my lower back where the most pressure was with added bump. She then moved onto legs and feet as well as neck and shoulders and I was given the option of whether I’d like her to go over the bump (some women don’t like the feeling of their bump being touched but it didn’t bother me and there is no pressure applied so it’s basically like getting your bump rubbed with some lovely oils which helps with the dry and tight feeling you get as you get bigger). All of the products used were especially safe during pregnancy and before the massage started we had a chat about any problems or worries I had and any areas in particular that were affecting me, so the whole experience felt very much tailored to my needs. I was pretty much asleep by the time it came to an end as it was so relaxing and was pretty disappointed to have to get up again and carry that bump around on my own again.
Luckily my therapist gave me some quick advice on the products I should be using for the remainder of my pregnancy to ease my aches and pains before showing me to the relaxation space – a room just made for lounging in harmony where you are brought cooling fruit drinks and tasty sorbet on tap. It was probably one of my favourite rooms of the spa in the end and I was so reluctant to leave, I almost made us late for dinner that evening.
The next day with the storm getting slightly out of control outside, GB and I both retreated to the spa for the afternoon and were able to explore it in more depth. The entrance in to the spa really is as magical as it looks – from the wooden walkway which floats over water and makes you feel like you’re in the Caribbean, to the soft pink mood lighting guiding the way and of course the giant elephant statue at the other end that lets you know you’ve arrived in tranquillity.
The spa itself is huge and has everything you could possibly want – even a fitness centre (if you like working out on holiday, I definitely don’t) and a pan Asian restaurant where you can enjoy lunch in between your swim and sauna. We headed straight for the pool (swimming when pregnant is great as your weight is instantly lifted and you feel eased of the heaviness immediately) and while I did a few lengths, GB tried out the sauna and steam room and attempted the ice cold plunge pool before deciding that, no, it was just too cold (I dipped a toe in and that was enough!). The pool also has water massage stations, a bubble area and cold jets if you so fancy, but I kept away from the bubbles and relaxed in the water, which was a lovely warm temperature.
Due to the storm brewing, the outdoor hot tubs weren’t quite as appealing as they might have been otherwise so we decided against braving the cold but I can imagine that once in, having the cold and wind around you would probably make the experience even better.
The great thing was that there was plenty of seats around the pool to relax in and every so often waiters would make their way around with canapes and little treats for us.
On our first evening at the hotel (on the eve of our anniversary) we booked in to the main Byron Restaurant which was a real treat – fine dining and an elegant setting – and meant we could get dressed up for the occasion and celebrate (well as much as you can celebrate with non alcoholic wine!). I was pretty taken with the look of the restaurant – it was like something out of an old Hollywood movie. Glass chandeliers hung impressively from the high ceilings, the bar was housed in front of a tall glass drinks cabinet with every tipple you could imagine displayed, the lights were low and cosy, candles adorned the tables and the staff were dressed formally (yet couldn’t have been friendlier).
The menu itself was small but the food was high quality and fresh. Nothing greasy or heavy here – just stylish meals beautifully presented. We both went for three courses (of course) with me opting for a chicken dish for main (with buckwheat rice, creamy potatoes and an array of veg, while GB went for the duck. We finished off with a delciously rich chocolate torte (me) and an impressive mini baked Alaska (GB).
The space was so relaxed we happily sat chatting and drinking after we’d scoffed our meals and our little corner booth felt really romantic.
The next morning we headed down to the same space for breakfast, with it looking completely different in daylight and delighted ourselves again with baskets full of pastries and toast, fruit plates, yogurt and granola, full English and pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. Perfect to set us up for a day of… doing absolutely nothing in the spa LOL.
We didn’t get a chance to try the hotel’s second restaurant, the Ozone, but did peek a look while exploring the spa and it looked just as swish as the first. This restaurant is more of a casual affair, where you can visit in your robes during your spa break and offers more laid back meals from the Asian menu should you want a change from the fine dining experience. You can also enjoy afternoon tea and bar meals in the lounge area as well.
Before heading home on the Sunday, we did attempt a little wander around the grounds before the rain really came down on us and had it been a little better weather we might have ventured down to the beach or on one of the walks in the woods nearby but alas, next time. We hopped in a taxi back to Durham city centre that day in the hopes of exploring the area and visiting the castle, but honestly the weather was UNREAL by the time we got there, so much so that we could barely see our hands in front of our face for the rain and fog and got drenched before we’d even made it up the cobbles to the castle.
Instead we retreated into The Fat Hippo, a burger joint we saw recommended on a quick google search and stayed there for the majority of the afternoon – the food was delicious (hello Mac’n Cheese balls) and the staff were great too, even giving us chocolate brownies for the train home after finding out it was our wedding anniversary.
By the time we made it back to the train station in time for our journey home (if you’ve never been to Durham before, the station is actually quite far out of town and up at the top of a hill so is quite a trek) we were soaked to the skin, the ‘paper’ presents we’d bought each other for anniversary gifts were suitably ruined and we’d succeeded in seeing very little of Durham but we both concluded we’d had the perfect anniversary all the same. All I could think was ‘thank goodness the weather wasn’t THIS bad on this day last year!’.
Is it too early to start planning something for our two year anniversary??
*We were guests at Seaham Hall and given a complimentary night stay in return for this review, but as always the opinions are my own!*