The Inn at Whitewell is located in one of England’s 36 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on the Duchy of Lancaster estate overlooking the River Hodder in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. This charming 14th century inn is easily accessible from the M6 motorway with Lancaster being 18 miles to the north and Preston 17 miles to the south west. Manchester is 33 miles to the south from where one can take a train to Clitheroe.
The hotel is owned by Charles Bowman, the third generation of the family to run the inn which was originally a manor house in the 14th century when it was inhabited by the keepers of the King’s Forest of Bowland.
Arrival and check-in
The inn has ample parking to the front and side of the property and after retrieving our bags from the car boot we stepped into the entrance hallway where a roaring log fire greeted us. First impressions were good, the inn had a cosy feel with armchairs upholstered in country checks and a hall table filled with a good selection of the daily newspapers and latest magazines.
The reception was to be found just along the corridor and is unique as it is contained within Bowland Forest Vintners, an extremely well stocked wine shop. We received a warm, friendly welcome from the receptionist and were soon being escorted to our room on the first floor.
The inn is filled with antiques collected by the Bowman family with paintings and other artefacts lining the walls. There seemed to be a sporting theme with cricket books, prints and related memorabilia adorning the charming inn. Our room key was even attached to a cricket ball and being curious, I enquired about the significance. Apparently Richard Bowman, the current owner’s father was a cricketer who played for his county, Lancashire and he took delight in collecting these items.
All 23 rooms are individually designed to a high standard brimming with antiques and luxurious soft furnishings. Each of the rooms is featured on the hotel’s website which I thought was an excellent idea as, subject to availability, guests can then select their preferred option.
Our room on the first floor had windows to two sides with idyllic views overlooking the river and the fells beyond. Sheep and cattle grazed in the lush meadows and it was a lovely scene. On one of the window sills there was even a pair of binoculars and a small telescope to view the surroundings in more detail.
The bedroom was huge, but so well designed that it had a cosy feel. The large bed was so high that it looked like the sort one comes across in National Trust properties with a couple of wooden steps to climb up on to it. It was incredibly comfortable and we both slept soundly from the moment our heads touched the pillows until my phone alarm disturbed us the next morning.
It’s not often one finds traditional fireplaces in hotel rooms, but several of the rooms at the Inn at Whitewell do and these can be lit as required. A large, squashy sofa faced the fire from where we could relax watching television and reading our books.
At the far end of the room there was a walk in dressing room and a spacious bathroom with a large bath and separate shower. Dressing gowns hung behind the door and a collection of fragrant Molton Brown toiletries awaited us for pampering.
Instead of a hospitality tray, guests just need to phone down to the kitchen or reception whenever they wish. In about the time it takes to boil a kettle, a complimentary tray is delivered to the room with a pot of tea or a cafetière of coffee, fresh milk and some irresistible home made shortbread – how wonderful is that!
Jamie Cadnam has been head chef at the Inn at Whitewell since 1998 and his menus feature locally sourced and seasonal produce. Meals can be taken in either the restaurant or in one of the cosy bar areas. After much deliberation, we decided to select from the bar menu as there was a varied menu as well as a daily specials board.
We came down to the bar at around 8.00 p.m, and it was already bustling with activity but thankfully we managed to find a vacant table facing a cheery open fire. Over a glass of red wine and a pint of local bitter we perused the extensive menu.
My starter of seared scallops from the specials board were some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and were cooked to perfection accompanied with slices of granary bread. Across the table my husband was in raptures over his rich and buttery chicken liver pâté so we were both happily in food heaven.
For our mains I opted for the confit shoulder of Bowland lonk lamb served with crushed new potatoes and white beans in a garlic and mint jus. The lamb was so tender it melted in my mouth and I savoured every forkful.
Meanwhile, Mr. C. opted for the inn’s signature dish, the Whitewell fish pie, another of my all time favourites. The generous serving of gently poached haddock flaked with prawns in a delicious creamy sauce and topped with mashed potato and grated cheese was divine, and I know, because I insisted on sampling it. The dessert menu looked equally inviting but sadly we couldn’t manage any more so we relaxed over more drinks and a read of our books.
Breakfast is served in both the restaurant and adjacent orangery between 7.30 and 9.30 a.m. and for guests who enjoy a cup of tea of coffee on wakening, they can phone down for complimentary room service.
A fire was already lit in the dining room and we helped ourselves to freshly squeezed juice and croissants whilst catching up on the news in the morning papers. From the menu I ordered a dish of citrus fruit served with local, organic natural yoghurt which had a pleasing, creamy texture. To set us up for the day, we followed this up with full Lancashire cooked breakfasts and thick sliced toast with home made marmalade. Service was attentive but not rushed and our large cafetière of coffee brought us to life nicely.
The five star inn boasts three bar lounges, a restaurant, private dining room and a wine shop. Since holding a wedding licence it has become a very popular venue with its charming interior, impeccable service and spectacular backdrop. An in-house spa is also available for facials and relaxing massages.
Doors from the bar lead onto the riverside terrace from where guests can take in the stunning scenery whilst sipping a glass of wine and enjoying a bar meal at one of the wooden tables. The hotel has its own stretch of the River Hodder extending to seven miles and rods, fishing and shooting can be arranged at reception.
The wi-fi signal was strong throughout the inn but its secluded position results in a very poor mobile phone signal. Being unable to be contacted can actually be a bonus on a relaxing country break, and it didn’t appear to be a problem to any of the guests who were happy reading or playing one of the games provided.
Due to the nature of the ancient inn, there is no lift but for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility there is disabled access in the far left of the building, all areas of the bar where food is served and ground floor rooms in the annexe. Please note that access to the dining room is via 5 steep steps and these are too narrow for a wheelchair ramp. If you have any concerns I suggest contacting the hotel as I’m sure they will do all they can to help. The hotel is dog friendly and during our visit we saw several well behaved dogs in the bar area along with their owners. Dogs are also welcome to stay overnight in the bedrooms but are not allowed in the restaurant.
Out and About in the Ribble Valley
The hotel lies on the banks of the Hodder, a tributary of the River Ribble. This beautiful part of East Lancashire is known as the Ribble Valley and is famous for its scenery, historic landmarks and locally sourced food.
Walking – The Forest of Bowland is a walker’s paradise and an easy marked walking trail starts from a footpath behind the village church next to the inn. If the river is not too high, walkers can have fun carefully crossing the stepping stones behind the hotel and then following marked paths along a looped trail. The route returns to the inn via Burholme Bridge, providing just enough exercise for a well earned pint and a tasty bar meal.
Nearby places of interest include the picture perfect village of Dunsop Bridge. As well as being a local beauty spot, the Ordnance Survey have officially declared the village as the nearest village to the exact centre of the British Isles. A wonderful claim to fame!
A 20 minute drive from the inn lies Clitheroe, a thriving market town with a castle and a good range of high quality small independent shops. The privately owned historic Browsholme Hall is just down the road from the inn offering tours of the house.
The inn has managed to combine a relaxed, informal atmosphere with its impeccable service, stylish rooms and delicious locally sourced cuisine. What struck me was the devotion all the staff have to the inn, each of them taking immense pride in the hotel and genuinely being pleased to take time to chat to guests and help in any way they can. Our stay was faultless and I would heartily recommend a relaxing short break at the Inn at Whitewell in the secluded Forest of Bowland.
The Good Pub Guide obviously share my views because just as I write this, the day after our visit, the Inn at Whitewell has been awarded 2020 Pub of the Year in the Good Pub Guide. Much deserved, and even more reason to pay a visit to this gorgeous inn!
Details: The Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 3AT. Tel: 0200 448222
We were guests of the Inn at Whitewell and as always all views and opinions are my own.
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