It was the perfect way to start our day, sitting in the conservatory of the Gibbon Bridge Hotel enjoying a cooked breakfast with views across the delightful landscaped gardens.
Our first activity of the day was then just down the road at Leagrams Organic Dairy just outside the picturesque village of Chipping. The entrance to the dairy and shop is through a small museum crammed full of old cheese making equipment including presses, moulds and churns collected by the family over the years.
The dairy was established in 2000 by Bob Kitching whose dream had always been to own his own dairy on the very spot where Lancashire cheese was first made. Since Bob’s untimely death the business is now run by his wife Christine and daughter Faye who, along with a small team, create over 28 different varieties of cheese. Milk is sourced from local farms all within ten miles of the dairy including sheep’s milk from a local herd of Cheviot’s (more about this later).
Through a glass window we were able to watch milk being pasteurised by heating to kill off any harmful bacteria before being rapidly cooled in a large vat. Whilst this process was taking place we were taken into the Pressing Area and shown how moulds of cheese are placed into hydraulic presses and left for 24 hours to dry before being hand waxed. From there, it was onto the Cool Store where the cheese is placed and turned on a regular basis to maintain an even flavour.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without taking some cheese home with us and after much deliberation finally settled on some Lancashire creamy to enjoy at home with crackers to remind us of our visit to Leagrams.
Back in the car it was then just a 15 minute drive to Browsholme Hall, an historic country house in the Forest of Bowland. The Hall is approached by a sweeping driveway and surrounded by immaculately tended gardens and parkland. Browsholme is open to the public each Tuesday and Wednesday until the end of September. Standard adult admission is £10 which includes a one hour guided tour and access to the extensive grounds and tea rooms.
Tours are run by volunteers who explain the history of the Hall and the significance of some of its antiques. Browsholme was built in 1507 by Edmund Parker and has been occupied continuously by 16 generations of the same family. The tour takes visitors through the Main Hall, into the Library, the Regency Drawing Room, the Portrait Gallery and then upstairs into some of its bedrooms. Touring the rooms, the Hall feels more like a home as there are are no ropes preventing access.
After visiting the Hall, we strolled through the beautiful gardens and around the lake and lily pond. There is an attractive cafe in the Cart Shed and access to both the tearoom and gardens does not require a ticket. In recent years, Browsholme Hall has become a popular wedding venue and finishing touches were being made to the Tithe Barn for a marriage ceremony later that day.
Close to the Cart Shed tearoom is the recently installed Woodland Glade comprising 10 self-contained en-suite lodges designed for wedding guests but also ideal for other visitors to the area. I’m definitely not a camping person but I could quite happily spend a couple of nights in a lodge like this as they are fitted out to a high standard and very comfortable.
Moving on, we’d reserved a table for lunch at 1.00 p.m. in nearby Mitton and as we were slightly early, it gave us the opportunity of driving to the village of Hurst Green to view Stonyhurst College. This magnificent 16th century building is the home of the UK’s leading Catholic boarding school.
The building is set in extensive parkland and although currently closed to the public, the college houses a wonderful museum. Stonyhurst has collected artefacts and books from its earliest days and contains many sacred medieval objects that would otherwise have been at risk of destruction during the Reformation. It’s definitely somewhere I would like to visit on a return visit to the Ribble Valley.
Popping back in the car we continued on to the tiny village of Mitton where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch at The Aspinall Arms. It was the first time we had been there and if you are planning a visit to the area I’d highly recommend calling in as it’s absolutely gorgeous. The pub has a large terraced garden leading down to the River Hodder and an attractive interior with stone flagged floors and fireplaces.
After months of closure, it was lovely to see the place buzzing with activity and all the tables occupied both indoors and out in the garden. Because of this, I thought we might have had to wait awhile to be served but all credit to the staff on duty as service was prompt and friendly. The menu offers a wide choice from light bites to mains and our rump steak sandwich with caramelised onions and fries and king prawn and chorizo linguine both looked very appetising and tasted equally so.
Portions are generous, so we burnt off a few excess calories afterwards by taking a stroll along the river and to view the 14th century Mitton Hall now a country house hotel and another of the Ribble Valley’s stunning wedding venues.
As we’d started the day by visiting a dairy and learning how cheese is made our afternoon continued on the same theme as we headed back to Chipping, this time to Laund Farm who are one of the suppliers to Leagrams Dairy and also to the Gibbon Bridge Hotel. We were just in time to view their afternoon milking as it is one of the UK’s largest sheep milk farms with 500 sheep grazing on the rolling hills of the Forest of Bowland. The farm offers educational visits and also an opportunity for the public to purchase sheep milk products which are particularly suitable for those with lactose intolerance.
We learnt that milking takes place twice daily and it was an amazing sight to watch the automated operation as the sheep seemed to know exactly what to do. The ewes follow each other into individual stalls guided by a sequence paddle gate system and whilst they are connected up for milking they spend their time feeding. The animals all appeared calm and comfortable and after milking they file out at the far end of the milking parlour with the next rotation of ewes ready to take their place.
The farm is just a mile outside of Chipping with narrow, winding country lanes leading into the village centre. After finding somewhere to park, we wandered around admiring stone cottages bedecked with window boxes and hanging baskets brimming with flowers. Along Talbot Street we came across Brabins, Britain’s oldest shop which first opened way back in 1668 by John Brabin as a cloth makers.
During its three centuries of business it has seen life as a bakers, undertakers, general store and a butchers and is now the village shop/ post office and tea room. Looking inside it felt like time had stood still and it was lovely to view its old fashioned interior reminiscent of bygone days.
Back in the car, we then took the short scenic drive up to the summit of Jeffrey Hill (also known as Longridge Fell) which rises to 1148ft (350m). From the small car park we enjoyed a short walk taking in the outstanding views down to the Vale of Chipping and across the fells of the Forest of Bowland. The scenery is breathtaking and it’s no wonder that the district is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
After returning to the hotel we strolled around the beautifully manicured gardens and then relaxed in our spacious suite awhile. Dinner is served in both the restaurant and adjacent conservatory with both offering delightful garden views.
The menu at Gibbon Bridge restaurant is so appealing that I could have happily selected any of the options and worked my way through the menu but eventually I settled on a starter of beetroot cured salmon followed by pork fillet in a cider sauce with spring onion mash and crispy crackling.
Across the table, the twice baked cheese soufflé followed by fillet of hake wrapped in a herb mousse with a spinach purée got a big thumbs up too. We lacked the willpower to resist a dessert and our profiteroles and strawberry pavlova were beautifully presented and mouth-watering too.
On returning to our room, we lit the wood burning stove which had been prepared for us and cosied up on the leather sofa with cups of coffee in the warm glow of the fire, loving life in this glorious part of Lancashire.
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