Grays Court, York. A Review.
I’m immediately drawn to hotels with an interesting back story. Fascinating history? Ghosts? Spectacular location? A Tale of Triumph over Tragedy? Any of these qualities would pique my interest, but not without a guarantee of comfort, style, location and service.
I wasn’t aware of the Gray’s Court story when I booked two nights in January, but knew the hotel had the makings for a fantastic stay…small hotel (only 7 rooms), spectacularly located down a little, cobbled street in the shadow of York’s Minster, loads of atmosphere and history…
Photo via Grays Court
King James I knighted eight men in the Long Gallery one evening after dinner (a plaque hangs to commemorate the names of the newly knighted and the event). Excellent.
Two men fought a duel in the courtyard over the honour of a young lady. The victor was pardoned, but the defeated man bled to death in the Long Gallery and buried in the Minster. Intriguing.
Grays Court holds 900 years worth of stories and secrets. Illustrious owners and visitors through the ages. Dukes, kings and archbishops. Weddings, duels and death. Who wouldn’t want to stay?
Gray’s Court classifies itself as a “country house in the city,” a description that fits perfectly. Its comfortable vibe and relaxed atmosphere create a hidden oasis of calm in the middle of bustling York.
We arrived on the early train and much too early for check-in, but were warmly welcomed by the front desk staff. They stored our luggage and gave us a quick tour of the hotel and offered us a cup of tea before we left to explore York.
photo via Grays Court
via Gray’s Court
When we returned to Gray’s Court, we were escorted to the Williams room overlooking the courtyard. The room (and hotel) decor is a comfortable mix of collected antiques and modern amenities. Our room had a comfortable double bed and a small sitting area with 2 chairs and a small table. The bed was dressed in a crisp white duvet and extra feather pillows. The bathroom itself was a tad small, but the rain shower was large and had great water pressure and seemingly limitless hot water. The fluffy robes and towels and Clarins toiletries were a nice touch.
As tempting as it was to stay tucked up in the room on a rainy afternoon, a better option was to head downstairs to take advantage of the overstuffed chairs and sofas near the fire or find a spot in a window seat for a relaxing afternoon tea.
A full afternoon tea is available to guests and visitors, but we were usually out and about during “tea hours.” We did take advantage of the full breakfast every morning, served in the lovely breakfast room overlooking the garden. We managed to sample both the cold buffet and full cooked breakfast. Service was a bit slow at times, especially when the breakfast room was full, but the food was excellent.
Things to Know About Staying At Grays Court
General/Booking Information: grayscourtyork.com (01904 612613 )
Location: Brilliant. Grays Court is a few minutes walk from the Minster and the city center.
Cost: Our double room with full breakfast cost £171.00 per night for two.
Details: Wifi was available and free, although spotty. Parking is available at extra charge. Bar service is available. Breakfast is served on site, but the hotel restaurant, Duel, was closed. Phone ahead for detailed dining options.
Recommended for: Couples, families, friends, independent travelers.
Things to know: Grays Inn lies somewhere between bed and breakfast and boutique hotel when it comes to service. The desk is not staffed 24/7, but guests can ring a bell to summon help…something to consider if you need/want constant staff support and attention. If you are looking for a warm, comfortable, relaxed environment in a country house atmosphere, this is a perfect choice.
Would I stay again? Absolutely. I would also recommend it to friends and family.
The rest of the story:
Helen Heraty and her partner, John Edwards sold their sizable portfolios in 2007 to purchase Grays Court from the Dean and Chapter of York Minster. The couple, along with their 7 children, moved into the somewhat neglected, 72 room building with a grand vision of turning it into a stylish retreat for York visitors. The task was so monumental, it captured the attention of filmmaker Kim Hopkins, who documented the Grays Court transformation for 6 years in the film, Folie-a-Deux.
“All did not go well with the project. Despite John’s expertise as an English Heritage architect and Helen’s fierce intellect and determination, the banking collapse in 2008 pushed the project and family to the brink of complete ruin. The film follows Helen, John and her family as they struggle to keep the project afloat…phone calls begging banks to fulfill financing obligations, Helen’s worry about the impact of the strain on her children and husband, the desperate frustration with overt and underhanded harassment by the National Trust and neighbors during renovation. It’s agonizing to watch Helen searching the bottom of her handbag for milk money and finding none, painful to watch Helen’s repeated confrontations with neighbors and desperately sad to watch the family dreams unravel. The family is already on its knees when John’s long-standing and reputable architecture firm goes under.”
There are moments of hope along the way. Helen mans the shovel in the gardens, her children pitch in to unwrap silverware and carry boxes for the tea room that “just might keep Grays Court going.” You find yourself rooting for the unsinkable Helen Heraty and her family and angry at the incompetency and inconsistencies of banks and planning commissions that pull the carpet out from under the family again and again.
The stress is crushing.
John has a heart attack after a contentious York planning meeting and dies at Grays Court. Helen is left to continue the renovation on her own with 7 children.
Helen’s battles continue, but Grays Court is a phenomenal success and fine tribute to the vision and hard work of Helen, John and their children.
Special thanks to Rachel and Madeline, an integral part of the A Passport Affair family for their work during our epic York weekend