Saddle up and sample the Great American West

Kaye Holland earns her spurs at Wildcatter Ranch

My feelings about cities are complicated. The very things I love about mega metropolises - the hustle and bustle, bright lights and sheer size - are also the things that threaten to overwhelm me.

And overwhelmed is without a doubt what I felt following 48 hours in Dallas. After a fabulous yet frenetic few days of shopping, dining and people watching - while in the Big D expect to be reminded of the power of plastic surgery  -  I was in  need of a reprieve from the urban crush.  Make no mistake: I had reached a point during my Texas sojourn where it was time to relax, clear out the brain clutter and recharge my battery.

But where? Enter Wildcatter Ranch, roughly a two hour drive north west of Dallas. There’s a quiet whisper in travel circles about this living, working ranch - a secret and overlooked corner of the county - that’s becoming a clamour that this year might be hard to ignore.

Wildcatter - recognised by Southern Living as one of the  ‘10 Top Texas Retreats’ -champions many of the things that the I hold dear: landscape, strong local community and wholesome food and drink (the folks at Wildcatter certainly don’t expect you to starve).

Views

After a hearty lunch -  eating here is bad for the waist (ladies, be warned you’ll leave a dress size larger) but good for the soul - and a warm welcome from the ranch staff I was, I realised, feeling much better already. It was a feeling that intensified upon walking into my room (a gross understatement if ever there was one), where waves of happiness washed over me.

Oil Boom

For the accommodation at Wildcatter is impeccable: there are 16 suites in total and all are individually designed meaning no two rooms are alike. My suite was called Oil Boom and had a strong sense of character - photos reflecting the area’s colorful past adorned the walls. But it's the little details - like the homemade oatmeal soaps in the vast bathrooms - that charm.

rooms 2

There’s so much space in the suites you can play at being your own billionaire, before resting on divinely upholstered Queen beds. They’re the soft kind you could spend all day in but, when there is so much to see and do around the ranch, that would be a waste.

So tempting as it was after two weeks of non-stop travelling to hunker down, I decided it would be criminal not to to don my explorers hat and live out my John Wayne fantasies.

views 2

Consequently my first afternoon at Wildcatter saw me slap on the sun cream (only mad dogs and Englishmen underestimate the power of the Texan sun), slip on my walking boots and hit the hiking trail.

As I strode through North Texas Hill Country’s ruggedly beautiful hill terrain past rocks, cacti, Mesquite, Oak, Juniper trees and bluebonnets (the vibrant Texas state flower), it struck that much of the Lone State’s appeal lies beyond the Big D. In fact the further you go from the cities, the richer your Texas experience.

Cacti

Tramping along trails in air so fresh it made me feel giddy, I saw no roads or shops - only footprints belonging to the native cowboys. As someone who is used to being squashed under sweaty armpits on the Metropolitan tube line in London, I found the vastness and emptiness lovely - and the views of the Brazos river, truly jaw dropping.

views 3

The beauty of the historic river -  Indian massacres, outlaws and cattle drives all took place here during the mid-to-late 1800s before the oil boom - is dizzying. It’s the kind of place I thought later that evening as I watched the sun set - deep red fading to pink - from my back porch, that could make you forget your crippling commitment phobia. Even I - someone who swore off matrimony long ago - almost wanted to get married just to have a honeymoon here.

porch

When I was done watching the sun do its incredible sinking thing, I wandered over to Wildcatter Steakhouse for a perfect plate of tacos - the stomach lining to a menu of generous hand cut mesquite grilled steaks, baby back ribs and fresh fish. And with every meal, comes the spectacular view of thee North Texas Hill Country.

After a delicious dinner, I curled up by the Blowout Saloon’s fire with a book (note there’s no pumping party scene here but then Wildcatter stands out for what it doesn’t offer: noise, pollution, pressure, distraction) before retiring to bed.

The next morning after a good night's sleep and a brilliant breakfast of Eggs Benedict (the restaurant serves eggs any way you want them), I felt ready for adventure. There’s a whole host of excursions for the loafingly challenged including canoeing and archery, making Wildcatter a wonderful destination for self improvement.

horse riding

However I opted to saddle up and give horse back riding a go - a fab way to see more of the great Texan outdoors and converse with a real cowboy: take a bow the heartwarmingly good natured Clint.

The time I spent with Clint, 24, and his colleagues at Wildcatter and the conversations we had about how passionate they are about their work and their commitment to the ranch inspired me - even if I didn’t always share their sentiments. Sorry guys but I am never going to agree that “guns are good.”

Clint

Nonetheless I was happy to hold and fire a gun for the first time in my life -  travelling should be about new experiences, right? -  during an afternoon skeet shooting session.

Longhorns

Skeet shooting I soon discovered requires concentration and strength - two skills I  lack. But happily I did hit target once - not bad for girl from the big smoke, or so Clint kindly flattered me. For as much as I enjoyed activities such as feeding the Texan longhorns (a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns) on offer, many of my lasting memories were gained from speaking with the staff who will bend over backwards to help you and go out of their way to make sure you fall under the spell of Wildcatter.

skeet shooting

At the risk of gushing, I’d recommend you visit - that would make Anne Street Skipper and her brother Glenn Street  (Wildcatter’s proprietors) and general manager, Jason McAllister’s day.

pool

But don’t worry about them. Be selfish and visit for yourself for Wildcatter offers the kind of complete escapism you might think impossible and even a short trip could encompass floating in the infinity edge pool under the stars, hiking, horse riding, massages and mountain ranges. After two nights at Wildcatter, I walked away just that bit taller. My message? Go for a day, a week or infinitely longer but do go and take the time to recharge something far more valuable that your iPhone: yourself.