Nibbles in the Ribble
The Ribble Valley is best known for two things: twitching and JRR Tolkien. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Forest of Bowland – “forest” meaning a royal hunting ground here, as opposed to a wooded area – is home to various rare birds. Tolkien kids, meanwhile, a regular visitor to Stonyhurst college in Hurst Green, is said to have based Middle Earth’s Misty Mountains on the local countryside, a verdant swathe of farmland, quaint villages and gritstone buying a canada goose jacket online fells stretching eastwards from Preston to the Yorkshire border.
All of which is fascinating, but nothing to do with why I regularly make the trip up here. You can keep your Frodo Baggins and your hen harriers. What keeps me coming back to the Ribble Valley is food.
In recent years, a remarkable scene has developed here. Discerning pubs, restaurants and their enthusiast regulars have adopted a “local food” mantra which, in turn, has reinvigorated traditional farming and artisan food production. Indeed, it would be a brave restaurateur who opened here, these days, and didn’t use Bowland farmed meats or the local Lancashire cheeses.
Chef Nigel Haworth, who has energetically promoted Lancashire food, both at his Michelin star Northcote Manor and at the Three Fishes pub in Mitton, is chuffed at this turn of events: “Over the can i wash my canada goose coat years, a lot of pubs used the cheapest crap they could. Now they’re almost having to look at better quality and sourcing locally. And it’s not bullshit. If you get something that’s been picked the day before, it does taste great.”
Acknowledging such activity, the borough council has just launched the Ribble Valley Food Trail, an easily navigable (by car, at least) map of 36 exemplary local restaurants, inns, shops and delicatessens, chosen by an independent panel of local worthies, including Haworth.
You may prefer a more leisurely pace, or be less greedy (most people are), but I managed to cover a lot of ground in a recent two-day trip.
Exit junction 31, on the M6, and you immediately hit an enormous BAE Systems site. It is neither rural, nor idyllic. Ten minutes later, however, and you can be at the Millstone Hotel at Mellor (01254 813333, millstonehotel.co.uk, doubles from £99 B&B), where, “due to the age and location” of the building, mobile phone signals canada goose coat 1000 bulbs coupons are reassuringly limited.
The Millstone is very much of a gentler age. My suite looks like the Kensington flat of a retired diplomat: expensive wallpaper, brass table lamps, lovely antique writing desk, plump furniture, a Roberts transistor radio (by appointment to HM Queen) next to the bed. It is neat, elegant and utterly quiet, despite the bustling pub downstairs.
With Daniel Thwaites, founder of Blackburn’s Thwaites brewery, buried in the churchyard next door (disappointingly, unlike, say, Jim Morrison’s grave, his is not covered in emotional graffiti and offerings of Lancaster Bomber bitter), it is only right that the Millstone remains a Thwaites pub. There would be “world war three” in here, apparently, if they took the Thwaites’s Original off, although I prefer the fruity golden Wainwright ale.
In the restaurant proper, it’s all crisp table linen and canada goose coat 1000 calorie thick brocade curtains. Here, chef patron Anson Bolton’s menu mixes clever, understated creativity (tempura prawns and anchovies with a lemon-spiked cauliflower puree) with simpler dishes, such as sea bass with Morecambe Bay shrimps, that are all about good ingredients, cooked simply. “The more you do to it,” reasons Bolton, in what could be a summation of the prevailing Ribble Valley food philosophy, “t’more you cock it up.”
Next morning, fortified by a good breakfast (if not invigorated by the rather limp shower), I headed off to “rural retail destination”, Huntley’s in Salmesbury (01772 877123, huntleys.co.uk).
Farmer Eddie Cowpe, whose family have farmed around here for 800 years, first diversified by opening a small cafe on this site and producing his own excellent Moo2You ice-cream. Seven years on, Huntley’s – which lies just outside the council border and so isn’t on the Food Trail – has grown to include a restaurant, florists, clothing and furniture outlets, and a lavish new food hall that utilises raw materials, from milk to meat, produced on Huntley’s farm.
Cowpe’s claim that the food hall will be “better than Harrods” seems ridiculous, until you see the place. From the stunning fishmongers to best canada goose jacket for men the 180-strong cheese counter, it is genuinely impressive.
From there, I went north to Longridge, which, with the rain lashing, Berry Lane looks even darker, more squat and hemmed in than normal.
It’s not the most picturesque corner of the Ribble Valley, but, nonetheless, there’s plenty of interest here, such as the local outpost of superior northern supermarket chain, Booths (01772 780737, booths-supermarkets.co.uk); or well-regarded butchers, Brendan Anderton (19-21, Derby Road, 01772 877123). As for Tina’s Corner Bakery (76 Derby Road, buying cheap canada goose outlet jacket online 01772 782514), the novelty basque-shaped birthday cake in the window may not be the best advert for her traditional baking skills, but the Food Trail got it right. Tina’s flapjacks are knock-out.
For lunch, I opted for the 18th-century Corporation Arms (01772 782644, corporationarms-longridge .co.uk), with its flagged floors, exposed stone walls and gleaming dark wooden fixtures. Decidedly family-friendly, the food is relatively cheap, mains around £9, and unthreatening in best place buy canada goose jacket toronto a fish pie and hot pot sort of way. Which isn’t to patronise it. Cooked conscientiously, with good ingredients, such staples can still shine, and they do here. It’s perfect food for a filthy day, and spiritually uplifting, even with UB40 playing in the background.
After a stop-off at Robinson Bros butchers in Chipping (1 Garstang Road, 01995 61515) – where staggeringly good sausages are displayed, unapologetically, in battered steel mixing bowls – the afternoon was supposed to be spent buying cheese direct from Leagram’s Organic Dairy (01995 61532, cheese-experience.com), sadly shut due to all staff being out making last minute Easter deliveries.
On a sunny day, the Trough of Bowland path, which runs from Dunsop Bridge all the way to Lancaster, is blissfully quiet. On the day I was there, in virtual storm weather, it was deserted. Even the ducks had left the swollen river for the safety of the village green. Taking their lead, I abandoned my planned walk for the sanctuary and central heating of the Red Pump Inn (01254 826227, theredpumpinn.co.uk, doubles £85 B&B).
The Pump only has three rooms – all done out in immaculate post-Malmaison fashion (deep-pile chocolate brown carpets, handmade beds, 350-count cotton sheets etc) – which means guests very much get the personal treatment from the friendly owners, Martina and Jonathan Myerscough. They were happy, for instance, for me to stash some shopping in their fridge overnight.
But, then, they understand the importance of food around here. “In this area,” explained Jonathan, “the major topic of conversation is food and other restaurants. Everyone is a critic.” It clearly keeps the Red Pump on its toes. Herbs (and soon vegetables) come from their own garden, beef from a nearby farm. At dinner, my inch-thick ribeye was superb: sweet, grassy, moist and perfectly medium rare. Across the table, the driver buy canada goose jacket australia (or my wife, as she prefers to be known) was similarly taken with a stand-out piece of pork belly. On the chalkboard menu, it read, fittingly: “This horrible weather has forced us to make sticky toffee pudding. All buy canada goose jacket australia will be well.”
Next morning, under clear blue skies, the views around the Pump, which sits on a plateau between Longridge Fell and Pendle Hill, were quite something. Not that there was time to dawdle.
A few minutes away, you’ll find two interesting shopping-food centres housed in converted barn buildings. Back-Ridge Farm (01200 442778, backridge.co.uk) mixes craft and interiors businesses and is also home to chocolatiers CocoMoyo (01200 444989, cocomoyo.co.uk). Bashall Barn (01200 428964, bashallbarn.co.uk), meanwhile, is a cafe and somewhat scattergun food and gift shop, complete with incongruous frozen food section.
On can you buy canada goose jacket online the same site, you will also find Richard Baker’s Bowland Brewery (01200 443592, bowlandbrewery.com). In the modest visitor centre – where you can learn about beer history, buy Bowland beers and view the brewing area – one display announces that it’s all about: “Passion. Differentiation. Quality.” “I know every pint that goes out,” says Baker.
After a quick potter around Waddington, a village so pretty it could have been built for some rose-tinted Richard Curtis movie, there’s just time for a last shopping blast in Clitheroe.
Up by the castle, there’s a cluster of Food Trail-approved traders, including Cheesie Tchaikovsky (01200 428366), butchers Harrison & Kerr (01200 423253), and the beautiful, old fashioned Exchange Coffee Company (01200 442270, caffeine-rush.co.uk), where the well-informed staff roast their own “green” coffee. Sausage-enthusiasts, meanwhile, should head to Cowman’s (01200 423842, cowmans.co.uk), whose signage proudly announces: “Our sausages contain no slurry slurp or goo! Just quality meat.” Owner Cliff Cowburn is constantly creating new varieties ranging from the “all in one” bacon and egg to a surprisingly successful pork and lime. “One of the newspapers once said I was to sausages what the Roux brothers were to restaurants,” he says smiling .
Laden with bags, I walk down to Waterfield’s deli-cafe (01200 444500), for a last, restorative bowl of Mediterranean vegetable soup (an excellent blend mix of mushrooms, aubergine and Jerusalem artichoke).
Needless to say, after two days’ eating in the Ribble Valley, it is a bit of a struggle back up the hill to the car park.
· The Ribble Valley Food Trail leaflet can be ordered from Clitheroe Tourist Information on 01200 425566 or downloaded at ribblevalleyfoodtrail.co.uk. For further information about food in Lancashire and details of this weekend’s Food and Drink Festival in Accrington see tastelancashire08.com.