Driving from London is easy -- just keep heading up the Great North Road for about four hours and when the people on radio sound like bit players in Billy Elliot you're just about there.
On the long laneway to the ruined Carthusian priory you have to give way to ducks and geese and a notice warns that the geese can get nasty. And indeed they looked like tough customers to me, but what would I know? I'd been alarmed by one of the cutest creatures in creation.
The priory is a massive, widespread affair, sheltering behind a large Jacobean country house built from plundered stones. They were pinched when Henry V111 ordered an end to all religious orders that didn't agree with his methods of getting rid of wives -- thus changing the landscape of England for ever.
Prior's Lodge is to the side of the property, between the mansion and the cloisters. The cottage was added to the main house around 1750 and is built of rocks looking suspiciously like bits of old priory. Inside it's all pale timbers, handcrafted furniture and mullioned windows with views of the ruins, the wide Vale of York and the distant Pennines.
It's a long, rambling structure -- I estimated more than 30 metres from kitchen to second bedroom -- with three short flights of stairs, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge living room and a laundry. Everything is newly furnished with rescued timbers; in fact the oldest thing around was the 2004 Languedoc cabernet sauvignon snuggled up to local cheese and bread in a welcome hamper.
The honeyed stones were kissed by the early morning sun as we padded across the lawns between the cloisters; our feet leaving tracks in the dew, our clumsy footsteps startling the dozens of rabbits which evidently kept the turf so short.
There were still three hours before the day trippers would descend on Mount Grace; ample time to explore the old buildings and return to our idyllic cottage to cook breakfast before setting out for the day. When we returned the crowds would be gone; a very fair way of sharing the lovely place, I thought.
We had booked the cottage for four days and given ourselves an itinerary based on the compass -- first day east, then north, west and south.
East was the sprawling national park of the North Yorkshire Moors, which run from the boundaries of the priory to the sea at Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay and Scarborough. To the north is the revitalised industrial area around Gateshead and Newcastle and the towering, amazingly incongruous roadside statue known as Angel of the North. Turn left around here and you'll wind up in the wilds of the northern Pennines, which reach their summit at Cross Fell. Drive a bit farther and you're in Scotland.
West is the ravishing country of the Yorkshire Dales; all hills and valleys dotted with pubs, castles and market squares. And south are the ancient towns of Ripon and Thirsk -- All Creatures Great and Small Country -- the elegant Victorian spa city of Harrogate with its ever-so-proper Betty's Tea Rooms and the incomparable glories of York, one of the world's great tourist cities.
Hundreds more ancient holiday homes are administered by organisations such as Landmark, Vivat, National Trust and specialist commercial companies including Rural Retreats and Stately Holiday Homes. Many of them are in sleepy villages lost in the country and operate as self catering, B&B -- even full blown pubs.