The Coach and Horses, Bolton-by-Bowland, Lancashire: hotel review
Like most northern European cities, Manchester is amazing up to 24C. But in a heatwave, parched Mancs start asking: whose idea was it to build all these high-rise glass boxes, rather than green space and cycle lanes? Dedicated city-dwellers begin to dream of escaping into the city’s rural hinterland. Luckily, on a muggy, sticky afternoon in July, I was on the 16.35 from Victoria to Clitheroe, gateway to the Ribble Valley.
This handsome swathe of east Lancashire has a bit of everything. Naturally, it is fine walking, cycling and birding country. But you can also dip into its underground arts ecology, most notably at festivals such as Beat Herder and Cloudspotting (28-30 July). Or you can simply pig out in an area where local sourcing and small-scale food production never went out of fashion.
The valley is also home to many impossibly pretty villages, among them Bolton-by-Bowland, where Susan Lord and her Dutch husband have renovated and reopened the village inn. Lancashire may conjure up images of gritty mill towns, but this is pure Richard Curtis territory: a (wealthy) hamlet of ancient, creeper-clad and whitewashed stone cottages. When I arrived there was, of course, a village cricket match being played in the evening sun.
The new Coach fits with these surroundings, but despite its slick interior, in-wall wine rack (with some interesting gems) and crisp linens on certain tables, this is not solely a dining pub. It’s a boozer, too – one which will soon be selling its own 4 Mice ales, brewed on site using English hops and Bolton-by-Bowland well water, alongside Bowland Brewery beers.
“We wanted a real wellies-and-dogs locals’ bar,” said Sue, standing amid midnight blue walls, gleaming copper bar, scrubbed tables and sporting bric-a-brac. Like the spruce beer garden, it was busy with locals, as were the dining rooms. There’s no standing on ceremony here.
Knocking out a relatively compact menu of pub classics (fish and chips, steak and ale pie) and more refined restaurant dishes, the kitchen at the Coach is not trying to reinvent the wheel. Its mantra seems to be to do simple things well, rather than clever things badly. This produced, for instance, panko-crumbed Lancashire cheese croquettes (£5) with a gherkin-mined spicy ketchup and perfect scallops (bronzed without, barely set within), with a gloriously smooth butternut squash puree and fronds of crispy sea kale adding umami oomph (£9.50). An otherwise sound burger of coarse-ground local beef (£11) came in a Kaiser-style roll that disintegrated after a couple of bites (the coleslaw was curiously thin and sharp, too). Slathered in a deliriously good hollandaise, my breakfast eggs Benedict was flawless.
The Grade II-listed inn has seven bedrooms that mix modernity (in their colour choices, fabrics and lack of clutter) with eye-catching antique furniture and luxuriously thick carpets. With obvious Molton Brown toiletries and Harrogate spring water, the rooms do lack a personal or local touch; a bit of homemade cake or a welcome letter with breakfast times and the wifi code (I had to ask at the bar) would go a long way. But there is no faulting the rooms on quality, comfort and space. The push-button walk-in shower, for instance, is exemplary.
If you have cash to splash, the Henry and Rose bedrooms are real interiors magazine stunners. I was content in the mid-range Pheasant. Manchester was sweltering; I was in the Valley. That is always a result.
Accommodation was provided by the Coach & Horses (01200 447331, coachandhorsesribblevalley.co.uk, doubles from £100 B&B). Train travel was provided by Northern (from £15.70 return). More information at visitlancashire.com
Ask a local
Bradley Wiggins trained in the Ribble Valley and there’s a great variety of routes. The 30-mile circular via Paythorne and Settle takes in particularly dramatic landscapes.
For young families, there’s a gentle three-mile circular walk from Downham, often called Lancashire’s most attractive village. It’s like a centuries-old film set, unspoiled by overhead wires, satellite dishes or TV aerials.
The cellars at wine merchant D Byrne & Co in Clitheroe are a must-browse. And enjoy a pint at the Ale House or Holmes Mill, the latter home of the excellent Bowland Brewery.