KAY TAYLOR explores the Ribble Valley for its range of top eateries and wedding venues
Historic houses, farms, hotels and stately homes – there are plenty of places to visit in Lancashire’s picturesque Ribble Valley.
So when I was invited to attend a ‘Wedding Heaven’ tour of the area, I was intrigued to explore some of the interesting venues on offer.
We started at Eaves Hall, a country house hotel exclusively available for weddings. It means people can’t visit for lunch, but for anyone wanting to sample the culinary delights of the James’ Places group of properties, there’s the nearby Mitton Hall or Shireburn Arms, which are also popular wedding venues.
I was first taken in by the large driveway leading up to Eaves Hall – a good photo opportunity on the big day – and there’s even a Lodge at the bottom of the grounds for the bride and her bridesmaids to spend the night before the wedding.
The joy of Eaves Hall is that couples have the venue exclusively for the day (or even multiple days) so can determine which rooms are accessible to guests throughout various stages of the celebrations.
There are a number of cosy lounge areas as well as the bar, all separate from the main ceremony and reception rooms.
We were told that one couple closed off one of the rooms for their wedding, to cater for a crèche company to entertain the kids, and outside party games are also popular at Eaves Hall.
A personal favourite of mine was the hidden snug, boasting a large, lush purple pool table and a secret corner for guests to enjoy a quiet tipple.
Nearby Mitton Hall can cater for larger weddings, and also has a public bar and restaurant so that visitors to the Ribble Valley can get a taste for the local cuisine without having to attend a wedding.
A large lounge area with a roaring fireplace adds to the character of the hotel and brasserie.
This is where I enjoyed an evening meal of a delicious, creamy velouté starter, an impressive mouth-watering lamb main course, and a tasty cheese board for afters.
There’s also space for a double-decker bus out front, which couples sometimes hire for a drinks reception to remember.
For something a bit different, Browsholme Hall is definitely worth a visit. It’s Lancashire’s oldest surviving family home, with heir Robert Parker residing there with his wife Amanda, the present High Sheriff of Lancashire.
It’s open for tours so visitors can learn about the history of the Elizabethan house, and can also cater for weddings. Family heirlooms such as weaponry and large paintings adjourn the walls, and the rooms are furnished with pieces dating back hundreds of years – certainly an alternative-style wedding venue, ideal for anyone wanting a unique set of images for their album.
And for couples seeking something more contemporary, the grounds at Browsholme Hall also house the refurbished Tithe Barn – a blank canvas for people to add their own touch and personality to create their perfect ceremony and reception space. I’m told people often tie the knot at the Tithe Barn and enjoy an evening party there, but venture up to Browsholme during the day for photographs. Brides can also get ready in the morning in one of the hall’s historic bedrooms to add a touch of Downton Abbey to their day.
Another quirky venue we were shown was Bashall Barn – a food visitor centre and farm shop which can transform into a cute space for quaint weddings. It’s worthy of a stop-off in its own right, though, with plenty of Lancastrian dishes, a bar, and ice cream parlour for visitors to enjoy – not forgetting the on-site Wedding Cake Company.
Gibbon Bridge Hotel is also one to consider for anyone planning a trip to the area, and our group enjoyed a refreshing lunch of haddock soup, tiny fish cakes, and platters of cold fish and meats.
The place is steeped in culture from owner Janet Simpson’s travels around the world. Glassware from South Africa is a firm favourite, with vases and light features adding a splash of colour to the restaurant and ceremony areas.
There are also impressive archways restored from a derelict church, and even some art deco-style pillars from Preston Public Hall, where Janet used to go dancing.
Fine dining is the theme here, and Gibbon Bridge also boasts its own on-site bakery providing freshly baked bread, biscuits, cakes, desserts and preserves.
Elsewhere in the Valley, Higher Trapp Hotel and Mytton Fold both come under the Best Western brand, but have bags of character and are both family-run.
At Higher Trapp we were introduced to Pier Fun Casinos, which caters for weddings and other celebrations for guests to play a range of games with personalised bank notes and chips, including Blackjack and Roulette.
Test driving golf buggies at Mytton Fold was another highlight, and the golf course offers a fantastic backdrop for family photos.
For pub-lovers, the Spread Eagle and the Inn at Whitewell are both cosy and classy, perfect for lunch, drinks, an evening meal, or a wedding.
So whether you’re planning a wedding or just fancy a day out in the countryside with ample places to stop for top class food and drink, you need look no further than the beautiful Ribble Valley.
Visit www.ribblevalleyweddingheaven.com for more details.