A Short Introduction to Hill House East Country B&B

Hill House East sits on a shoulder in the hill at an elevation of 1,150 feet just above the village of Westgate in Upper Weardale, with outstanding views of the surrounding North Pennines 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'.

Most of the house in its present form dates back over 150 years but we are reliably informed that there has been a house on this site for over 300 years. The hamlet of 'Hill Houses' actually predates the village of Westgate and has been in existence since the Normans first cleared the forest in Weardale in the twelfth century. The 'Prince Bishops of Durham' of those times created a Deer Park for their personal hunting use in the centre of Weardale, surrounded by a deer wall thirteen miles in circumference, into which there were two entrances, an Eastgate and a Westgate - hence the names of the present day villages. There is a plaque beside the road just a few hundred yards from the house showing where the line of the westerly part of the medieval wall ran. The valley behind and south west of the house is called 'Swinhope' – meaning 'Boar Valley' – indicating that not only deer were plentiful for hunting in Weardale in centuries past. There is a Roman altar beside the road in Eastgate on which a hunter gives thanks for a particularly fine boar he had killed in Weardale.

There are – alas or thankfully? – no longer any wild boar around, though roe deer are still to be found in the forested areas of Weardale and we have personally seen wild muntjack deer crossing the Swinhope road. However, we still have our share of interesting wildlife; the fells above the house are home to lapwings, curlews and snipe in the summer months and to a resident population of the rare Black Grouse or 'Moorcock', who have their 'Lekking' ground up Swinhope where the males battle annually for the females. The fells around us are all hill-farmed with mainly Swaledale sheep, which are tough enough to survive the winter elements at elevations up to 2,000 feet. Any stay at Hill House East tends to include an introduction to our resident hens and own small flock of pet sheep.

We purchased Hill House East in 2000 having fallen in love with it at first site because of its situation and views. The house itself and the garden were in need of a lot of attention as it had not been lived in for over two years. John however is a very talented carpenter and handyman and he relished the challenge of returning the house to a comfortable home with a lot of its original character intact. A printer by trade for many years, John had always had the desire to run a small guest establishment but never had the opportunity to do so. I had worked as a cookery teacher for over forty years and had always enjoyed providing hospitality, with ample quantities of home cooking for friends and family. We realised, that with a few careful improvements and alterations Hill House East could offer the ideal place to offer high quality food and accommodation to a limited number of guests, whilst remaining at heart our family home. Because we were both still working at the time it took until nearly 2005 before we felt ready to accept our first guests.