It’s a resounding “yes, yes, yes” as I enter The Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Oh, it’s ticking the boxes all right: a fire in the grate right by the front door, flagstone floors, clinking glasses and a hubbub of chatter from drinkers sitting at grainy oak tables … now where’s reception, and, more to the point, what kind of reception will it be? The most recent newspaper review I could find reserved its only criticism for this part of the Whitewell experience.
Reception is round the corner, and it’s full of bottles of wine. Turns out it doubles as a wine shop, so I’m careful how I hoist my bag on the approach to the desk at the rear. Nothing wrong with my welcome; it’s friendly and brisk, sort of northern, which is what you’d expect in Lancashire.
The receptionist whisks me back to the main bar, then through another smaller one, to my room, which is down a flight of stairs. No disappointments here – it’s really pretty, with a four-poster bed, antique wardrobe and desk, a big sash window and French doors and the sound of fast-flowing water outside, though as it’s as dark as pitch I’ve no idea whether this is a swollen stream or something more substantial. Either way, the sound’s adding to the allure of a rolltop bath in the bathroom, but I’m itching to get back into that lively bar.
I’m all for a glass of wine, but the barman, full of cheek, points out a light, fruity draught from the local Moorhouse’s brewery in Burnley. OK, make mine a pint of Blond Witch, then.
Perusing the menu by the fire with my companions (we are three for dinner tonight), it’s tempting to stay and eat in the bar, as one family is. Their daughter’s doing her homework at the table; now that’s what I call quality time with the folks. The temptation to stay in the bar’s embrace – it’s all well-worn rugs, mismatched checks and tartans and old hunting prints – disappears when I spot Chateau Musar on the wine list, a spicy red from Lebanon, which warrants a bit more circumstance. So through yet more bars we go – this place is labyrinthine – to the softly lit dining room. It’s busy in here, too – with a large group of Americans (as opposed to a group of large Americans), assorted couples and one tiny chap who is savouring his meal with Mum and Dad from the elevated comfort of a wooden Victorian high chair (whose future redundancy at the hands of health and safety is, I should imagine, guaranteed).
As soon as the food arrives, I remember why there is a north/south divide. Up here there’s never any danger of leaving the table hungry. Chicken liver pate à la Ballymaloe is pronounced smooth and buttery, seared king scallops with parsnip puree another hit, and only my gravadlax disappoints – the salmon, from a local smokehouse, is too fishy for me. The mains (charred fillet of beef with parsley crushed potatoes and cauliflower cream, roast loin of Bowland lamb with carrot and cumin seed puree, potato galette and soft onions) are accompanied by a further dish of vegetables. Suffice to say flavours are as big as the portions. Pudding anyone? No chance. All we can do is repair to the bar to finish our wine.
It takes a few minutes next morning before I realise the thick mist is outside and not the result of overindulgence on the grape front. As it lifts reluctantly the rowdy river appears, even giving me a glimpse of a leaping salmon (the inn has fishing rights). Later, at breakfast, the fells in the distance gradually reveal themselves as if disrobing flimsy chiffon. What bliss – fresh juice, tea, toast, the paper and an autumn tableau.
· 01200 448222, greatinns.co.uk. Room rates £96-£156 per night B&B. For further information see visitenglandsnorthwest.co.uk.
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