The Ribble Valley is an idyllic part of the north of England located in north east Lancashire and covering 212 sq. miles of the Forest of Bowland, an area of deep valleys and peat moorland. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but despite booming tourism with ever increasing numbers of visitors, it’s still a hidden gem and an undiscovered part of the country to many people.
We decided to take a short break to explore the area and to find out why so many people are flocking to this corner of Lancashire and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The Ribble Valley is centred around the prosperous market town of Clitheroe and is easily accessible from the M6 motorway with Lancaster being 18 miles to the north and Preston 17 miles to the south west.
We made an early start and began our tour of the Ribble Valley in the idyllic village of Downham, three miles from Clitheroe. Pendle Hill looms 1827 feet over the village with the neatly arranged estate cottages of the village below. It’s unusual nowadays to find a village that is entirely owned by the estate with all the inhabitants as tenants, but the locals here appear to be very happy with this arrangement.
The Assheton family took ownership of the estate in 1558 and it has been in their hands ever since. The village comprises a manor house, parish church, post office, 32 cottages and an award winning pub with stylish rooms called The Assheton Arms where we called in for our morning cups of coffee. We received a warm welcome in the cosy bar where a walking group were already busy arranging their activities for the day. Because of its unspoilt nature and the lack of modern street furniture, Downham is a popular location for TV and film crews with several scenes of the famous 1961 film ‘Whistle down the wind’ starring Hayley Mills captured there. Leaving the picturesque village behind, we continued on our way, the short distance into Clitheroe.
Parking in Clitheroe was very easy and we were soon wandering along the town’s vibrant high street browsing its small independent shops. On our way up Castle Street we couldn’t resist popping into Cowman’s Famous Sausage Shop which has been trading for over 120 years.
The Cowburn family took over from the Cowmans in the late 1950’s and were one of the first butchers in the country to reinvent quality British sausages. After sampling a couple of their delicious offerings we continued up the hill to Clitheroe Castle Museum.
The medieval castle has dominated the town for more than 800 years and now contains a museum which is located over two floors. Standard adult admission is £4.40 with concessions available. To keep children engaged, brightly coloured Explorer Backpacks can be borrowed from the shop, each containing a large hat, clipboard and magnifying glass.
Two little girls were eagerly being kitted out with their backpacks and were looking forward to trying to solve the museum clues. I thought this was an excellent initiative as it encourages young children to take an interest in museums and hopefully will make them want to visit other heritage sites too.
The museum has something for everyone with numerous interactive exhibits, a recreated office and a Victorian kitchen containing its original cast iron range and laundry. There’s also a very pleasant cafe with glass doors leading to the castle keep. It’s worth taking the time to walk up the flight of steps to the viewing terrace for some far reaching views towards Pendle Hill and onto Clitheroe’s bustling Castle Street directly below, looking so pretty adorned with colourful bunting hung across the road.
We were starting to get a little hungry so we made our way back down the hill, this time in the direction of Holmes Mill on Greenacre Street. Entrepreneur James Warburton converted the town’s Grade II listed former textiles mill into a tastefully renovated hotel, brewery, beer hall. food hall, cafe and restaurant. It’s now a wonderful celebration of all things Lancashire.
Our first stop was to the Weaving Shed which is absolute heaven for food lovers as it showcases the very best of Lancashire food and drink. At the heart of the vibrant Food Hall is an attractive cafe which was doing a brisk trade. Managing to find a vacant table, we shared two Bowland Boards – the Lancashire and the Fish, each containing a generous selection of local produce and just perfect for a leisurely lunch.
After enjoying our lunch we looked in the adjoining Beer Hall which boasts one of the longest bars in Britain at 105ft 4″. The industrial style decor complements the beer hall’s warm ambience with glass walls at the rear providing glimpses into the Bowland Brewery.
The Engine Room is complete with Elizabeth, the mill’s original engine and cosy seating surrounding it works incredibly well. The building of an Everyman Cinema is currently underway which will undoubtedly add even further to the appeal of the Holmes Mill complex.
To walk off our lunch we wandered around more of the town’s shops, pausing to take a look inside D. Byrne & Co. Wine Merchants on King Street. This family owned, award winning independent wine merchant has been trading in the Ribble Valley for over 130 years. It’s like an Aladdins Cave stepping inside the shop with its towering shelves and warren of underground cellars and is a magnet for wine lovers who come to visit from all parts of the country.
Slightly further down the hill from Byrnes and located next to the railway station we came across the local Tourist Information Centre housed in the Platform Gallery which was a good place to pick up some maps and leaflets of the surrounding area. This light and airy gallery also contains temporary exhibitions and a gift shop.
We had fallen in love with Clitheroe and I wondered why it had taken us so long to discover this thriving small town. We’ll be back soon, that’s for sure!
Back in the car we took the Sabden road out of Clitheroe for the short drive up to the Nick of Pendle, a moorland pass on Pendle Hill offering stunning views. The road climbs steeply until it reaches a small car park at the very top of the hill just past the Pendle Ski Club. Here, we were treated to some far reaching views across the Ribble Valley and beyond. After a short walk, we returned to the car looking somewhat windswept and travelled a few miles further to our overnight accommodation at the delightful Inn at Whitewell nestled in a secluded spot in the Forest of Bowland.
After settling in to our spacious room overlooking the River Hodder we went out for an early evening drive into the nearby Trough of Bowland. Unfortunately the heavens opened before we reached the summit but we did get a glimpse of the dramatic scenery in this glorious part of East Lancashire.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed a delicious meal sat by a roaring fire where we relaxed over drinks whilst planning our activities for the following day.
To be continued ….