Seaham Hall, Durham


Alice Payne tries a spa experience that harnesses coastal healing for extra relaxation…

Powerful, rumbling vibrations are forming and fading beneath me like ocean waves, in synchrony with sounds of the Hebridean sea. Swathed in blankets and cocooned in darkness, this intense sensory experience feels as though I’m lying on the seabed whilst the earth’s plates shift gently around me. It’s enveloping and unusually meditative.

Far from the seabed, I’m actually lying on a vibroacoustic bed as part of an immersive, post-treatment sound bath at Seaham Hall’s Serenity Spa. This 30-minute Swell experience is an encore to the Five Senses Sound Ritual I’ve just enjoyed – a massage and facial treatment that incorporates elements of the sea to healing effect. As a combination, it’s impressively relaxing.

I’m visiting Seaham Hall, a five-star country house hotel on Durham’s Heritage coast, to try their newly-launched Blue Health spa and wellness package, which harnesses the mental and physical benefits of the hotel’s coastal setting. Within this, the Five Senses Sound Ritual incorporates touch, sound, smell, sight and taste to maximise relaxation while using ishga products – an organic skincare range infused with hand-harvested seaweed from the Hebrides, known for its potent natural antioxidants.

After a short consultation, the 90-minute treatment begins with an invigorating foot and calf exfoliation using ishga’s Hebridean Sea Salt Scrub – thick, crunchy salt crystals in an aromatic blend of lavender, rose geranium, lemongrass and juniper oils – which leaves my skin tingling and soft. I’m then led to the heated massage bed where the sensory experience intensifies. Beneath the bed is a bowl of seaweed in hot water, which lightly infuses the air with the aroma of the sea. A soundtrack combining aquatic sounds and traditional Hebridean instruments plays whilst videos of ocean scenes are projected on the walls around me.

I’m offered a choice of oils and select ishga’s Invigorating Body Oil, a refreshing blend of lemongrass mixed with almond and jojoba oils. My therapist begins with a rhythmic back scrub involving long, pressured strokes, before carefully wiping off the salt crystals and switching to an extensive hot stone massage that focuses on relieving areas of tension along my back, neck and shoulders. The combination of heat, pressure and multi-sensory relaxation is blissful.

Next is a gentle but effective facial using ishga’s natural products, which ensures my state of relaxation is safe from the sting of overly-active ingredients. The facial incorporates a range of steps, including an exfoliating mask, marine cleansing balm, nourishing face oil and hydrating marine cream before ending with cold stone eye therapy and a hot oil scalp massage that’s so relaxing I struggle to stay awake. In a state of somnolence, I am gratefully escorted to the dark embrace of the Swell room, whose soothing vibrations are designed to enhance the effects of the treatment – and where I also find the finale of the sensory quintet…salty popcorn.

Feeling delightfully tranquil, I slipper-shuffle back to my Garden Suite; a vast room with a private garden larger than most London properties’ and an outdoor hot tub from which to soak up the star-saturated sky. The suite is cheerily decorated: there are saffron chairs, yellow patterned wallpaper, a teal headboard scaled by golden butterflies and a collection of bright, quirky artwork. The fusion of colours and patterns is uplifting, and it feels more like a stylish apartment than a hotel room – particularly with five floor-to-ceiling windows and a sofa that could amply seat six. Thankfully, it’s still very much a hotel, with indulgences like breakfast in bed, daily-replenished toiletries and a calming sleep spray laid on my pillow each evening.

Seaham Hall has had many past lives. Built as a family house in 1791, it has been the short-lived marital home of Lord Byron in 1815, the birthplace of his daughter Ada Lovelace, a WW1 military hospital, a whisky smuggling centre, a tuberculosis sanatorium and, now, a 21-suite, five-star hotel and spa. Its cream facade is a striking example of Georgian architecture and there are 37 acres of grounds to discover, as well as a grand terrace for al fresco dining that overlooks landscaped fountains and an attractive lake.

Inside, features such as the large entrance hall and its sweeping staircase reflect the building’s heritage, but the interiors have been modernised to echo the hotel’s warm, friendly ambience. There’s the glossy, red-domed, pan-Asian restaurant Ozone, for instance, where guests are welcome to dine in their robes.

I spend the majority of my time in the spa – a 44,000 square foot haven bursting with features from the 20-metre swimming pool to the hammam, Asian herbal sanarium, eucalyptus steam room, two saunas, two plunge pools, an indoor hydrotherapy pool that I feel slightly at risk of being propelled out of, outdoor hot tubs and a steaming outdoor hydrotherapy pool with views of the Zen Garden. It is wonderfully restorative and, after many hours, I’m only able to drag myself away because a five-course tasting menu awaits me.

The Dining Room is for formal dining and is presided over by a portrait of Byron in Albanian dress, studiously ignoring us. Executive Chef Damian Broom’s tasting menu is superb and draws on inspiration from the region. Standouts include slow-cooked beetroot with cured mackerel in a smoked emulsion; an exquisitely tender butter-poached lobster with yuzu, chestnuts and burnt organic cream (an alluring combination of sweet and earthy flavours); and perfectly pink, salt-aged duck with fermented garlic and lapsang souchong – all paired with well-selected wines.

The next day arrives with an immaculate blue sky, showing off the striking coastline in full glory. Clear skies are just as well as I embrace the Blue Health ideology with some invigorating winter sea kayaking and, to my relief, no involuntary cold plunges.

A short while later I reluctantly bid Seaham’s clean air goodbye, feeling rested and revitalised, with a renewed appreciation for England’s north-east coast. Of Seaham Hall’s many incarnations, I can highly recommend this one.

Nightly rates at Seaham Hall start from £295 in a Junior Suite on a B&B basis. For more information or to book, please, visit The ishga Five Senses Sound Ritual (90 minutes) is £205.