The Inn at Whitewell
Wild, beautiful and relatively unfrequented, the Forest of Bowland is somewhere I'd only ever previously bypassed on the M6 on the way to more well known destinations like the Lake District or Scotland, so discovering The Inn at Whitewell on a trip north last week was like being let in on a well kept secret.
The Inn sits high on the banks of the River Hodder in Lancashire and is approached via a meandering drive through a large private estate owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (held in trust for the Queen as Duke of Lancaster). I was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty of the landscape in and around the Hodder Valley. The idyllic scenes that slowly unfolded in front of us as we approached Whitewell from the nearest town some twenty minutes away, offered up a taster of the stunning views that greeted us at the inn, and we checked in with a sense of excitement at having discovered this beautiful but often overlooked little corner of the UK.
The Inn at Whitewell is everything you could possibly want a country inn to be. The warm, welcoming and relaxed interiors are filled with art and antiques passionately and knowledgeably chosen by owner Charles Bowman, who is the third generation of Bowman to become involved with the Inn - it was previously run by his father Richard, the former Lancashire cricketer and brewer.
Vintage suitcases and taxidermy sit alongside antique scales and hunting prints and each of the 23 bedrooms has been individually designed with rich colourful textiles by Nina Campbell, Mulberry, Benisson and Colefax and Fowler, all of which is a refreshing change from the familiar Farrow and Ball shades and Cotswold style furnishings that adorn so many country house hotels.
A number of the bedrooms have huge four poster beds (luxuriously topped with Savoir mattresses and beautiful linen) and many also have wonderful old Victorian or Edwardian baths. I do like a nice walk in shower so I'll admit I wondered about these at first. Would the antique shower heads be awkward and fiddly to use? Would the water pressure disappoint? But my concerns were completely unfounded. Everything worked perfectly, and after a memorably indulgent soak in our room's stunning Victorian brass cabinet bath, complete with Molton Brown toiletries and a luxuriously drenching shower, I was completely won over.
"They are rather like old Bentleys", observed Charles when I chatted to him about his passion for these lovely old antique baths, which are so beautifully crafted that they must have been the height of luxury in Victorian times. Now immaculately restored and spotlessly clean they remain perfectly functional more than a century after they were made.
We opted to eat in the bar rather than the dining room. The menu offered comfortingly familiar dishes like fish and chips, slow roast belly pork, shoulder of lamb and the inn's renowned fish pie - a favourite with Whitewell regulars. Everything was just as it should be. The food was wholesome, generous, cooked well and efficiently served by friendly young staff with the minimum of fuss.
There's also an excellent (and very reasonably priced) Vintners, which doubles as the reception. With more than two hundred wines to choose from, mainly from smaller growers, we couldn't resist picking up a bottle to take home with us when we checked out.
The Inn is very dog friendly and you are quite likely to find yourself stepping over an assortment of outstretched hounds as you enter so Albert felt perfectly at home.
There are also lots of lovely walks nearby. We took a delightful short circular walk across some stepping stones and through the adjacent pasture land before heading back along the River Hodder where we were rewarded with this sun-dappled view of the inn.
Just a few minutes later the weather shifted rapidly and it began snowing briefly! Luckily we made it back to the inn just in time and found ourselves a cosy fireside seat.
If I were to sit down and compile a list of all the ingredients that would make up my perfect country inn they are all here - a warm welcome, good food, great wine and invitingly furnished rooms with supremely comfortable beds, crisp white linen and beautiful fell and moorland views.
It's hard to do this place justice in pictures. Pictures don't capture the welcoming scent of the fire as you step through the front door, the warm, relaxed atmosphere which immediately puts you at ease, or the changing light on the magical views as you sit quietly enjoying a drink and gazing out of the window.
It's a secret I'm very pleased to have been allowed in on.
Design Hunter was a guest of The Inn at Whitewell, Near Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 3AT.