Born to re-wild: families will love this wild weekend at Broughton Sanctuary

Last updated 19th May 2024

Broughton Sanctuary is transforming 1000s of acres in the Yorkshire Dales. On a half term visit, Chris Allsop discovered it’s also one of the best places in the UK to introduce children to rewilding


View of Yorkshire Dales from Broughton Sanctuary

Broughton Sanctuary – on National Geographic’s Cool List, and fun for baby bison

Rafe (5) and Ada (7) are playing ‘avoid the snowdrops’. My wife, Rowena, and I watch nervously as our children hop about in their wellies amid the delicately stemmed flowers. The walled garden in which we find ourselves is beautifully landscaped, divided between a modern arrangement of slabby hedgerows on one side and an expanse of undulating emerald-green grass on the other.

However, this part of Broughton Sanctuary was designed over twenty years ago – when it was known as the Broughton Hall Estate – almost fifteen years before its current steward, Roger Tempest, unleashed one of the most ambitious rewilding schemes in the UK. In another five years, the plan is to introduce rare breed cattle onto the estate. So perhaps it’s okay if they squish some snowdrops? Because that’s the point of the bison, isn’t it? To tear things up a bit?

Fortunately, my baby bison hop nimbly through, because while Broughton Sanctuary is making waves for its environmentalist forward thinking – even earning a spot on National Geographic’s Cool List – it’s more than just a beacon of environmentalism.


Broughton Hall Gardens, Yorkshire

Strictly business and holiday homes in a beautiful Yorkshire Dales setting

Set on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, its rolling 2,500 acres encompass a 16th-century grand house; 19 self-catering holiday homes (from cosy two-bed cottages to the palatial 11-guest Eden); the outstanding plant-based restaurant, Utopia; The Bull gastropub; a residential rehab centre; the Avalon Wellbeing Centre; and possibly the most attractive business park in the country.

The business park was essential in helping Roger save his family’s estate—bestowed upon them by William the Conqueror no less. Today, the formerly threadbare Broughton Hall is restored to its pomp, authentically re-decorated and adorned with museum-grade oils (as featured on TV period dramas such as Gentleman Jack). Four-posters a-go-go. If you attend a retreat here, you get to stay in those palatial beds (house tours are also available).


Ice Baths, Broughton Sanctuary

Kids get a different take on nature at Broughton Sanctuary

We’re lucky enough to be spending February half term in the Chapel Flat, Roger’s former lodgings in the hall’s golden stone west wing.

The children rush in, delighted by the long hallway with its wood floor ideal for sliding in be-socked feet. There’s art and colour everywhere. Our bedroom is a collage of Hockneys (the Normandy landscapes a nod to the Tempest origins). In the kitchen, a poster-sized John Lennon portrait flanked by towering amethyst crystals pumps out cosmic good vibes while you try not to burn the macaroni cheese.

The living room transports you into the dark wood tones of the hall proper, with a huge theatrical window that looks out towards the front of the estate, where swans navigate the river like toy sailboats.

A stuffed bear and bow-tied rabbit greet the children on their beds. The flat also has hidden doors, and access to the chapel (that still holds services featuring one Father Angel, no less). But we’re not here just to stay inside (although, with February’s grey mizzle, it’s tempting). We’ve bolted on Broughton’s three-day Lens on Nature bundle.

Available for those staying on site, it’s a three-day immersion in what this place is all about. Think activities like daily habitat spotting and bird spotting (with data fed back into the project), tree planting, and Avalon Centre wellness activities including Yin Yoga sessions.


Outdoor feasting in the Cosmic Garden

Wild explorers, cosmic gardens and the spa of Avalon

The first morning, we’re straight in the pool. Housed in the Avalon Centre—the estate’s contemporary spa and wellness area—there are allotted two-hour slots for families throughout the week. One side of the pool area is glass, with a garden beyond of ferns, snowdrops, and a sculpture that draws Moana comparisons. Louise, who works in the centre, says she’s come into work to find deer grazing outside.

The acoustics within the centre are better suited to pan pipes than Ada and Rafe’s joyous shouts. We split our time between the pool, the blingy gold and silver jacuzzi, and enjoying repeated explanations as to why the door to the sauna/hammam should be opened and closed quickly.

I return to Avalon the next day. We’re without the kids, who are at Wild Explorers, a forest school run on the estate. While they’re having unintentional mud therapies, I serenely drift in a flotation tank. Rowena explores the Cosmic Garden, a wooded area that hosts outdoor feasts and is threaded with trampoline-like tree nets.


Family Days, Broughton Sanctuary

Fall in love with Nature Recovery at Broughton Sanctuary

Afterwards, we meet up with Kelly Hollick for the Nature Recovery experience. Kelly is extremely personable, a local who chose to ditch an unfulfilling advertising career in London for a return to nature back home. Now she works as Broughton’s rewilding project manager.

Close to the pottery workshop (from which Ada brings home a painted treasure), Kelly points out the well grazed hills with their neat blocks of woodland. She describes how the rewilding plan ignited, and how the land, previously rented to farmers, began to return to the estate. With Roger and his partner, Paris’s, passion for environmentalism, the course was clear.

They’ve now planted over 350,000 trees in the last three years, and already seen a surge in biodiversity across the 30% of the estate that’s being rewilded. Reintroducing beavers and rare breed cattle will be the next major step.

“We want people to come here and fall in love with nature,” Kelly says, “And when you’re in a relationship with something, it’s a reciprocal thing, right?”


Broughton Hall Estate, Yorkshire

It takes a sanctuary to plant an orchard at Broughton

We put this into action at an orchard planting. Despite wet conditions, Rowena and I and a jolly team off volunteers literally sank fruit trees into helpfully pre-dug holes.

When it was time to pick up the children, we find them with their grinning faces streaked in mud and chocolate from the s’mores. They’ve just enough energy to help at the celebratory wassail back at the new orchard. Ada and Rafe hang toast on bare branches and water the roots with apple juice before we hightail it for burgers and drying out at the Bull, the wassailers’ song fading into the mizzle.

Before we depart the next morning, we find the wild swimming pond. Rafe is unusually keen on the idea and who are we to dissuade him?

After barely troubling the icy waters, we’re racing into the woodland sauna to warm up (the kids divesting themselves of their double wetsuits). Among the many things they’ve learned over these few days, we’re delighted that closing the sauna door is chief among them.


How to plan a stay at Broughton Sanctuary

How to get there

London Kings Cross to Skipton, from 3 hours.

Broughton Sanctuary is 10 minutes by taxi, from Skipton Station.

London to Broughton Sanctuary by road, from 4 hours, 28 minutes

Where to stay

Chapel Flat (2 adults, 2 children) from £1,995 for 3-night stay

Find out more and book Broughton Sanctuary

Good to know

3-day Lens on Nature bundle £150 per family

Wild Explorers £30 per child, per day