Apparently The Queen once confided that she’d like to retire to Bowland. Perhaps she had half an eye on the family’s vast Duchy of Lancaster Estate, which swirls across north Lancashire – or maybe Her Majesty has heard tell of the food trail that sweeps across the Ribble Valley?
Although now clearly popular, the area has had a difficult history. The Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 devastated Britain’s rural economy; Lancashire, with its dairy and sheep farms, was particularly hard-hit. The green heart of the county echoed to the silence of empty pastures and naked fells. With rambling off the agenda and restocking and diversifying a pipedream, things looked bad. But resilience, self-confidence and sheer dogged perseverance are the hallmarks of red rose residents.
Through a series of initiatives, promotions and careful business planning, the communities of mid-Lancashire’s Ribble & Hodder Valleys surged like a phoenix from the ashes of the disease. The Ribble Valley Food Trail emerged from such enthusiasm and determination.
The Trail has become a highly successful template for others throughout the country. Launched in 2008 by Ribble Valley Borough Council, it is a marketing initiative drawing upon the ‘local food’ mantra that helped secure the area’s resurgence from Foot and Mouth. You can order a brochure packed with information and photos of around 36 carefully selected locations, or choose your favourites on the website, then create your own ad-hoc route. Visiting any of them inevitably opens a Pandora’s Box of additional possibilities.
I headed for Chipping, a slip of a village tucked beneath Wolf Fell and once famed for its
chair-making. Today culinary connoisseurs drop in to Robinson’s butcher’s, where meats from the farm next door sit side by side with Hodder Valley pork and lamb – and ice-cream made from their Ayrshire and Jersey herd. Nearby at Leagram’s Organic Dairy, Bob Kitching creates nearly 30 superb cheeses from the milk of cows – and sheep – that crop the local vales and hills. Try an organic Bob’s Knobs, a variety of Lancashire cheese dipped in black wax and named after the man himself, at the dairy shop.
Pub culture and cuisine
The village also hosts a couple of cracking pubs; bastions of tradition against a flood-tide of gastropubs. Locally sourced fodder and beer from Bowland Brewery set the Tillotsons Arms apart. But, to be fair, the gastropubs are at the forefront of the Food Trail’s success; The Red Pump at Bashall Eaves or the Inn at Whitewell astonish with their creative cuisine, their chefs crafting award-winning dishes from Bowland’s best, while from Northcote Restaurant at Langho, Michelin-starred chef Nigel Haworth helped create the Trail.
If home-cooking is of greater appeal, then head for Clitheroe, where specialist delicatessen Cheesie Tchaikovsky is the motherlode for Lancashire’s finest cheeses – some, such as Singleton’s Beacon Fell have Protection of Designated Origin status.
This quirky little market town (market days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), clustered around its wonderful hilltop castle, also boasts the engaging Cowman’s Sausage Shop: pork and plum or pork and wild mushroom among the 70-odd, ever-increasing varieties that fly off the slabs here. For something completely different, pop into Mansell’s coffee shop, for a delicious slice of cake hand-made that morning using local free-range eggs.
In the hills above the town is Gazegill Organic Farm at Rimington, where rare-breed meats and dairy produce bursts from tempting hampers.
It’s the sheer variety and quality that continues to astound gastronomes who journey to the green heart of the red rose county. The Food Trail is an invaluable key to unlocking the door to this foodies’ paradise amid moor, vale and hill.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take junction 31 on the M6; then take the A59 towards Clitheroe and Skipton.
Trains run to Clitheroe from Manchester Victoria; reasonable local buses link from the adjacent bus station to Ribble Valley and Bowland towns and villages.
FIND OUT MORE
Peter Barn Country House Waddington, Clitheroe BB7 3JH
Stylish, comfy B&B handy for Food Trail locations.
EAT AND STAY
The Bayley Arms
Hurst Green, Clitheroe BB7 9QB
Bustling village inn with reputation for good food.
Samlesbury Hall, Samlesbury, Preston
Spectacular half-timbered, ‘haunted’ mansion.