Where To Eat In The Forest Of Bowland (2005)

Where To Eat In The Forest Of Bowland (2005)

A few years back -- in 1992 to be precise -- the bright sparks at the Ordinance Survey office put their heads together and set to calculating the dead centre of the British Isles. It turned out to be the Lancashire village of Dunsop Bridge, at the heart of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This protected landscape of rugged moorland and tranquil river valleys carves a huge swathe out of Lancashire, an area bounded by Clitheroe and Longridge to the south, Garstang and Lancaster to the west, Kirby Lonsdale to the north, and Settle and the Yorkshire border to the east. And although much of the land is still under private ownership, Bowland is nothing less than a haven for those in search of the rural Lancashire idyll.

The Bowland Festival, which runs from June 6-12, highlights what the area has to offer, and along with all the events exploring local heritage and wildlife, some of Bowland's restaurants and pubs will be running 'Best of Bowland' menus showcasing the best of local produce. But throughout the year, Bowland has plenty of places to eat, ranging from restaurants and country lodges to pubs and tearooms. One venue that started off as a tearoom 35 years ago and has since grown into traditional British restaurant, bar, hotel, function suite and outside caterers is The Priory in Scorton, a picturesque village perched right on the western extremity of Bowland. The building has a history dating back to before Cromwell's time. It's said that his soldiers overnighted here and since the addition of seven en-suite bedrooms in 2003, you can too. It's a great base for exploring Bowland, whether by foot, bike or car. Right across the road from the Priory is The Barn. This garden centre, gift shop and orchard garden also has a coffee bar which is open throughout the day from 9am (10am Sundays) serving snacks such as filled baguettes and croissants, jacket potatoes, quiche, cream teas, coffees and the like. Another good option if your exploring Bowland's western edge is Calderbank Country Lodge in the hamlet of Oakenclough, four miles from Garstang. This restaurant and hotel was built as the country retreat of a paper magnate in the 19th century and is now a real getaway, surrounded by open countryside. You can stay the night here in one of the three bedrooms or just drop by for a meal or a drink. The restaurant seats 30 and serves traditional British fare such as roast beef and pork, gammon and steaks, home-cooked using local produce.

The River Lune marks part of the northern boundary of the Forest of Bowland and is a magnet for walkers and cyclists with its many riverside paths and trails. A favourite beauty spot is the Crook O'Lune and just yards away in the village of Caton you'll find the Cottage restaurant and tearooms. The cottage dates back to 1692 and the interior is all low, beamed ceilings, stone hearths and wooden floors. There's also plenty of room to dine outside al fresco in the summer. Although currently only open during the day for lunch, snacks and a great Sunday lunch, the food is prepared by a former finalist in the Young Chef of the Year competition and there are plans to open in the evenings. A few miles down the road, Hornby is home to both its imposing castle and the Castle Hotel on the main street with its new brasserie. Here you can sample the Modern British menu in real style, with linen and silver service, and stay over in one of five guest rooms. Further on still in the village of Wray, Bridge House Farm is a new garden centre and craft shop with tearooms serving soup, salads, sandwiches and jacket potatoes. There's also a picnic area and kids' play area.

Chipping's history dates back to the Domesday book and the village is one of Bowland's gems. A brief flirtation with the Industrial Revolution has left no lasting scars and indeed one mill - a furniture makers - is still going strong. The Cobbled Corner is right in the heart of the village and for years has been a popular stop for refreshments. You can eat in or take out and the choice extends from snacks to cream teas and full home-cooked meals. There is also an outside catering service and on Friday and Saturday the café converts into a bistro. Booking is essential. Heading out of Chipping towards Clitheroe, you'll come across a real Lancashire success story -- Gibbon Bridge. It has grown from humble beginnings as little more than a farm shop in 1982 to become one of the county's most prestigious country house hotels. The award-winning gardens are a joy and not surprisingly the setting for many weddings during the summer months. There are now 29 rooms and suites, hi-tech conferencing facilities, and a beautiful restaurant and conservatory. You can even fly here as the hotel has its own helipad. This year, Gibbon Bridge picked up the Lancashire Life Hotel Of The Year award -- the only hotel ever to win it twice.

Back close to Dunsop Bridge and the heart of England, Slaidburn is the jumping-off point for treks around nearby Stocks Reservoir or - for the more ambitious - a traverse north over the open moorland along the old 'salters way' to Hornby. Until boundary reorganizations in 1974, Slaidburn and much of the surrounding area were in Yorkshire and many locals still consider themselves Yorkshire folk. The village pub is the Hark To Bounty with a history dating back to the 14th century. The pub has nine en-suite rooms and Squires restaurant, where you can enjoy traditional British cuisine from a menu that changes monthly and might include roast beef and pork, lemon sole, steak and a vegetarian option.

For something on an altogether grander scale, Eaves Hall (pictured above) near Waddington is a Georgian-style country house built in 1871 and set in seven acres of its own landscaped gardens. Since 1961, it's been owned by the Civil Service Motoring Association and facilities now include pitch and putt, tennis courts, crown green bowling, as well as salmon and trout fishing on a private stretch of the River Ribble. Jonathan's is the elegant restaurant at Eaves Hall where you can choose from a la carte, table d'hote or bar snack menus, available seven days a week, lunch and dinner. There are 34 bedrooms here if you wish to stay over.

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