The Yorkshire market town of Knaresborough is often neglected by tourists, but not by those who know about Gallon House. A minute's walk from the town's railway station, its gingerbread house-style 19th-century exterior, painted a sludgy stone, looms grandly among a row of humbler buildings. Named after John Gallon, who once owned the flax mill below it, the house has been carefully restored in the decade that Rick and Sue Hodgson have owned it.
Above a large dining room, oak-panelled lounge and magazine-stacked conservatory are three light, cosy and comfortable en-suite bedrooms. One double and a twin look out over the River Nidd at the back of the house, with better views than the second (but slightly larger) double at the front. Ideal for anyone bored by the bling of many a contemporary "boutique" guesthouses, the decor here is smart but homely, with old pine chests, quilted bedspreads and armchairs upholstered in traditional fabrics. Bathrooms are small, with showers rather than baths, but they do the job and come with Clarins toiletries. A stash of toothbrushes, eye masks and other basics is also provided, as is Yorkshire Tea, Taylor's coffee, Black Sheep ale, Harrogate Spa water and elderflower cordial.
The ultimate freebie isn't something you can take home with you, though. From the conservatory, the two back bedrooms and the building's south-facing balcony, there are extraordinary views over the gorge below. To one side is an ancient but still working railway viaduct, to the other Knaresborough Castle and, between them both, a precipitous drop to the River Nidd.
A classier than average help-yourself buffet offers all the usual favourites (homemade muesli, cereals, yoghurt, fresh fruit and pastries) plus more unusual seasonal options (fruit compote in cinnamon syrup, freshly poached plums, homemade jams). The choice of hot breakfasts includes a full Yorkshire, bacon muffins, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, grilled Yorkshire kippers and grilled tomatoes with Wensleydale cheese on toast.
Sue previously worked in human resources for Betty's tea rooms in Harrogate. Rick brings years of experience as a chef to Gallon House. So the couple are as good with guests as they are with behind-the-scenes service and food. And anyone with arsonphobia can sleep easy here; Rick is also a retained fireman.
Go for a stroll around the town's 14th-century castle (01423 556188; bit.ly/knarecastle; £3.20), marketplace or riverside "Long Walk". Then take a rowing boat out along the river (£5 per adult per hour) from Marigolds Café (01423 869773) or Blenkhorns (01423 862105) or fit in a visit to the slightly underwhelming Mother Shipton's Cave, where the prophet of the same name is thought to have been born in the 15th century (01423 864600; mothershipton.co.uk) and you've covered Knaresborough's main sights.
However, Harrogate is only eight minutes away by train (08457 484950; nationalrail.co.uk). Here the attractions range from Victorian Turkish Baths (01423 556746; bit.ly/HarrogateBaths) and Harlow Carr Gardens (0845 265 8070; rhs.org.uk), to afternoon tea at Betty's (01423 814070; bettys.co.uk) and great shopping.
If you have your own wheels, set off for a day's hiking in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (0300 456 0030; yorkshiredales.org.uk).
The Pit Stop
While Carriages (01423 867041) serves tapas and modern European fare, Knaresborough is surprisingly stony ground for foodies. All the more reason, then, for booking in for dinner at Gallon House (£36 per person). Taking a Slow Food ethos as his starting point, Rick discusses preferences with guests before designing a locally sourced, three-course menu to suit. Ours started with rich onion, plum tomato and anchovy puff pastry tarts before moving on to tender Nidderdale lamb with creamy celeriac, boulangère potatoes and three homemade jellies – quince from a friend's garden, handpicked apple and elderberries. And, finally, brandy snap baskets filled with Cointreau ice cream and a rhubarb and orange compôte. There's an impressive wine list, too.
Part of the fun is sharing the guesthouse's dining table with other guests. Starting off with a G&T by the lounge's fireplace, or on the balcony if the weather's good, helps to set a sociable tone.
Gallon House, 47 Kirkgate, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire HG5 8BZ (01423 862102; gallon-house.co.uk). B&B doubles from £120.