With a cold wind blowing and the outside temperature not offering much above freezing, it was a perfect day to be cozied up in a quintessential old fashioned inn, hidden away the Lancashire countryside. The Inn at Whitewell is nestled at the bottom of a little valley in the Forest of Bowland, an area of truly outstanding natural beauty. It had been a long hard winter and even though the middle of March, the drive into Whitewell is dramatic with the white, snow-topped hills and the glint of frost on the roadside vegetation and farm walls.
According to Visit Lancashire, Whitewell is known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’ and I can quite understand why. The scene is set with the river Hodder winding its way along the wooded valley along with a lovely old church (St Michaels Parish Church), the Inn and a few cottages.
Some more local history from Visit Lancashire is that “cave dwellers lived here around 1000 BC and Middle Bronze Age relics were found in the ‘Fairy Holes’ cave a few years ago. Roman remains have also been found in the area and a long straight roman road over the valley is still partly in use. The manor, now known as the ‘The Inn at Whitewell’, used to be the location for a thriving market, which was held on the forecourt.”
The Inn is situated on the banks of the River Hodder and it’s interesting to learn about the Inn’s Royal connection. Apparently, in the 1300’s it was just a small manor house and was lived in by the keepers of the Royal forest. “The Royal connection still remains as the Inn forms part of the Duchy of Lancaster Estate. It was not until comparatively recently, during the 1700’s, that the building was transformed into a resting place where travellers en route to or from Lancaster could safely stay before continuing their perilous journey.”
This area of Lancashire is somewhat of a foodie paradise. The Ribble Valley Food Trail demonstrates the reason why and unsurprisingly The Inn at Whitewell is featured.
Our visit is on a Sunday and the table booking is for 12.30pm. I am immediately struck by the atmosphere in the Inn as it’s extremely busy and almost chaotic with lots of people coming and going. The immediate area containing the bar also has tables for eating at and has a very rustic feel to it with a large log fire.
We manage to attract the attention of a member of staff behind the bar to record our arrival. He seems a bit flustered and unable to grasp my name to check for the booking. However, we succeed in the end with smiles all round and, with our drinks in hand, are shown to our table. This is situated in a separate room, accessed down a short corridor, that is more like a dining room compared to the rustic area around the bar. It has a very pleasant vista overlooking the river below and the surrounding forest.
This dining room has several tables laid with crisp white table cloths. There are not many people dining when we arrive and, with a carpet on the floor subduing the clatter of footsteps, it is very quiet and dramatically different in atmosphere to the mayhem down the corridor at the bar.
The menu is very comprehensive and there is also a specials board.
Our choices are made relatively quickly and easily. Some difficulty ensued in requesting a side of mixed vegetables which was a strange experience (almost as if it wasn’t ‘part of the script’), but order we did and all that remained was to sit back in anticipation.
My starter is grilled goats’ cheese on polenta tart with vegetable ratatouille and drizzled with basil oil. This is really nice. The pastry is made with polenta and is wafer thin and crispy with the characteristic nutty flavour and texture. The cheese and ratatouille work very well together. Excellent.
My main is fish pie and is described on the menu as ‘perhaps the dish they are best known by’. Why order anything else then? When it arrived, it was a very substantial dish but the presentation wasn’t terribly inspiring.
And we also ended up with three different sides of vegetables (having only ordered one!), peas, carrots & green beans – something got lost in translation down the line but at least we got something!
The fish pie was nice but for me lacked some interest and variety in the content of the fish. The menu was clear that there was only haddock and prawns in it; my personal opinion is that a really good fish pie needs something smoked and a little bit of salmon for colour.
And so to dessert.
This was a more tricky choice but I decided on the apple, pear and sultana crumble tart with vanilla ice cream and crème Anglaise. I thought this might end up being a bit too heavy and filling but not so. The pastry and crumble topping were very light and complemented the fruity filling; any tartness being offset by the ice cream and Anglaise sauce.
A cafetière of coffee was a fitting finale.
By the time we had finished eating, the dining area had filled and emptied with other diners and we were about the last left as we departed.
Overall, I would say it was a tasty experience although perhaps a little unfortunate the flustered bar staff and difficulties with vegetables ‘tainted’ confidence in the service that otherwise had been acceptable. Would I frequent the Inn again? Certainly; but maybe not on a busy Sunday lunchtime.The Inn At Whitewell Near Clitheroe, Lancashire. BB7 3AT http://www.innatwhitewell.com/welcome.php