Yesterday my husband and I drove to the Newmillerdam Country Park near Wakefield and, from there, walked to Waterton Park Hotel via old railways and canal towpaths. We were accompanied by our son and daughter-in-law, who were married at the hotel almost two years ago. It’s a favourite place for weddings, because the building, a Palladian mansion house, is situated on an island in a lake, which makes it extremely photogenic. The house was built by Charles Waterton, the famous early nineteenth century naturalist, who was Yorkshire’s answer to Audubon. Ahead of Walter Potter, he was also a celebrated taxidermist, although, as far as I know, he didn’t indulge in creating the sentimental yet ghoulish animal tableaux that made Potter famous. Waterton was a serious naturalist at a time when naturalism was only just emerging from the status of appropriate hobby for benighted clergymen who had taken up their livings in rural areas to becoming recognised as a ‘proper’ science. I’ve just looked Waterton up and now discover that, unusually for Yorkshire gentry of the period, his family was Catholic. Waterton himself claimed an impressive ancestry that stretches credibility – among other famous luminaries from the distant past, he claimed descent from Ailric, King’s Thane to Edward the Confessor, Vladimir the Great and Sir Thomas More. (Interestingly, George Moore, whom I wrote about last week, also annexed Sir Thomas. Perhaps he represented a kind of badge of honour to nineteenth century Catholic gentlemen, much as some modern Americans may believe they can have no better pedigree than their family’s having arrived on the Mayflower, or Australians than being able to boast descent from convicts.)
Back to the present. There was a wedding taking place at Waterton Park Hotel yesterday. The bride and groom had taken their vows and were strolling with their guests on the lawns prior to adjourning for their wedding breakfast. I was much impressed by the hotel staff, who were as attentive to them as they were to my son and daughter-in-law two years ago. As I’ve written before, I’m fascinated by those whose jobs consist of providing a service to others, whether they are booksellers, restaurateurs or hoteliers. The best of them make every customer and every guest feel special, day in and day out. It is quite a feat.
As the hotel is not so very far from home, I’ve never had reason to stay there, although I’ve eaten there on many occasions. Passing through the foyer to the bar on my way to buy drinks, I noticed that the hotel offers a murder mystery weekend later in the year. I’ve wondered several times about trying out one of these events, but in the end I’ve always been deterred by the risk that I might be bored. In such a setting as Waterton Park, though, I might be tempted to try it. I wonder if any readers of this blog have indulged in one of these contrived adventures? If so, I should love to hear some anecdotes from your experiences, to help in my decision to give Waterton mystery a try.