I WENT in search of another face of Lancashire, something different from the industrial landscape that was the backdrop of my earlier years in what I still argue, is the best county in England.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well into industrial architecture; the factories that tower like proud industrial cathedrals, with spire-like chimneys and the names of local cotton spinning barons inlaid into the brickwork. I even like the ugly functionality of pit winding gear with its massive wheels the only indication that beneath was a dark factory gouging coal from the rock.
When I was a kid we went to posh Chester to see nice villages and up to Cumberland and Westmoreland [remember those lovely names?] to see hills and lakes – which were sometimes called crags and tarns – and to walk in unimaginable tracts of open countryside.
Since then I have spent enjoyable times in Lancaster (which has a child I presumed had been named so because it was in Lancashire), I have both lived and worked along our fine Fylde coast and I have trodden the 400-year history of Pendle’s witches and their notorious trials
So, looking for something different I headed to an area which was once famous for its cotton spinning and the roar of newly built war-time bombers but nowadays, Mellor and Salmesbury are more rural than industrial and I was told I would find a few surprises. As one of those people who have not visited this part of Lancashire for a while, that was a good enough reason to take another look.
Just a few miles from both Preston and Blackburn, Stanley House Hotel has blossomed and it can now rightly claim to be an award-winning spa destination and a weekend break in itself.
Of course, having an award-winning chef in charge of the kitchen is always a good move and Lewis Gallagher continues to notch up the accolades – Grill on the Hill and Mr Fred’s are great dining destinations in their own right and the popularity among locals is testament to that. So too is the number of those from further afield who determine to make the dining experience a mini-break and stay over in this superb rural setting – which is also an ideal base for seeing more of Lancashire and the Ribble Valley.
Stanley House’s 30 excellent bedrooms are much more than just a place to rest your head. They are well appointed, stylish and each with their own touch of luxury. Some are recently built but I stayed in the Manor House, a Grade II listed building with superb, individual bedrooms oozing character and comfort. It is a hotel with a view, inside and out
The breakfast – as you might expect from Lewis’s kitchens– is excellent and locally sourced. Dinner proved equally good. We dined in Mr Fred’s, a relaxed bistro-style restaurant with views across the Ribble Valley. Grill on the Hill is the fine dining side of the Stanley House plate and the menu there is tempting enough to have you booking an extra night’s stay.
At Mr Fred’s our choices from the wide-ranging menu were pan fried fillet of sea bass with seared squid and a blackened chicken breast with a blue cheese dressing. You know a menu is good when the food arrives and you both look, jealously, at each others choice. There is a superb wine list too,
During the day it was time to explore another attraction of Stanley House and escape into the luxurious world of its Spa for the sort of R&R which is more than capable of taking you out of your world and into theirs – and a welcoming trip it is, too.
Welcoming though Stanley House is, if you limit your time to a small corner of the Red Rose county you could be selling yourself a bit short. So after all that relaxation allow yourself some time to spread your wings and explore.
Not far away Clitheroe, with its famed 800-year old Castle and museum, offers two not-to-be missed attractions. Cowman’s is a true emporium of sausages with a list of enticing varieties, while Byrne’s is a family-run Aladdin’s cave of fine wine. As one wine writer once observed: “If ever there was a wine shop created by wine lovers for wine lovers, this is it.“
Close by Stanley House is Salmesbury Hall – a stunning half-timbered, black and white medieval stately home which was built in 1325 – and its near 700-years of history is just part of its attraction. It was once threatened with demolition to make way for a housing estate. Whoever proposed that should be put in every set of stocks in the county on successive Saturday afternoons for the rest of their lives.
The Hall and its grounds are superb and its delightful restaurant dining room just begs you to to order dishes seasoned from the hall‘s own herb courtyard. The lunch menu included Forest of Bowland Lamb, meat from a Longridge butchers and seafood brought from Fleetwood, excellent bakery goodies and a drinks list including local ales.
Not far from Salmesbury Hall is Huntley’s Country Stores, where you can take in the antiques and collectables stalls, butchers, fishmongers, food shop, garden centre, furniture and clothing outlet and then stroll over to the restaurant for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea – all with local produce. On no account must you leave without tasting one of Huntley’s famed ice creams – or maybe two. Indulgence in a tub.
If you feel all this eating and drinking is beginning to take its toll Brockholes offers the perfect antidote. A stroll around this nature reserve adds another dimension to life and shows just what a wide variety of interests Lancashire has to offer.
It opened in 2011 but has taken 20 years to evolve from a former quarry to an ideal spot for a family day out - whatever your age. It offers a gentle walk on the wild side and a great chance to observe nature at reasonably close quarters. Great Crested Grebe, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe are on view, along with Brown Hawker and Emperor Dragon Fly and, in the pools, White Water Lily. This is a nature lover’s mini paradise. Another Lancashire, as I said.
For more ideas and inspiration on short breaks in Lancashire go to www.visitlancashire.com.
Stanley House Hotel: twin/double rooms from £185 including farmhouse breakfast (Sun-Thurs) and from £235 (Fri & Sat). It also offers daytime and overnight spa breaks for detail see www.stanleyhouse.co.uk.
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