Yes this was a thoroughly enjoyable tour of three of Oakman's inns, taking in the scenic splendour of the Northwest countryside but with plenty of things to do and shops to visit just a short drive away.
The three venues we visited are relatively new additions to the Oakman Inn family. The Seafood Pubs now exists as a brand within the Oakman group having previously been owned by The Seafood Pub Company and they have continued to be surf and turf specialists with fresh fish and shellfish delivered each morning. More about the meals later!
Our first port of call was The Derby Arms, situated in an idyllic countryside spot between Longridge and Chipping in the Ribble Valley near Preston. A stroll outside and you are immediately blown away by the view over the Forest of Bowland, registered as one of the UK's areas of outstanding natural beauty, and an ideal place to visit while here.
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With the wonderfully warm weather we were able to gaze out at this awe-inspiring landscape as we had our drinks and meals under the impressive outside dining canopy, but should it not be as temperate and sunny, The Derby Arms has an elegant and welcoming restaurant with oak and slate overtones and a rustic bar area with a fine selection of wines and whiskeys.
All of the bedrooms are en-suite with flat screen TVs, tea/coffee making facilities, hairdryer, complimentary mineral water and free WiFi. A plethora of pillows and a cornucopia of cushions bedeck the deep mattress-topped bed and, indeed, this comfort is mirrored in all of the hotels we visited.
Being a 250-year-old building, expect rustic beams and traditional sash windows and, while no air conditioning, we were kept comfortable during the exceptionally hot night by fans.
Sight-seeing visitors can take themselves off to the Lake District, The Pennines and the Trough of Bowland, and Preston is not far away should you fancy a bit of retail therapy!
While loth to leave such a relaxing hotel behind we were not to be disappointed with our next venue, The Fenwick, based in the village of Claughton, near Lancaster.
The Fenwick is just a short drive away from Devil's Bridge, the Forest of Bowland, and the historic city of Lancaster with its 12th century castle and typical array of high street shops.
It is in a perfect location for walkers and cyclists to take in the majestic surrounding countryside, and an ideal stopover hotel to enjoy a wonderful relaxing meal and comfortable night's sleep, being an ideal gateway to the Lakes and Scotland.
Again this lovely inn has the added charm of being over 250 years old, and continues to rank among Lancaster's busiest and best gastro-pubs, oozing character with large open fires (in winter!), low-beamed ceilings and oak-planked floors.
The Fenwick's ultra-modern bedrooms, situated on a new extension annexed to the building, are all equipped with the same facilities as in The Derby Arms, and pet-friendly rooms are also available on request.
Last but certainly not least we arrived in Colne and then made the ascent to the village of Laneshawbridge and The Alma. Here we were transfixed by the magnificent view on offer, and even more so with a walk to the upper car park to be greeted with an incredible 360 degree vista.
Local attractions include Wycoller Country Park, a favourite with the Bronte Sisters who referred to many of its landmarks in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
Rising 557 metres above sea level, Pendle Hill is one of the county’s most famous attractions, probably best known for its connection with the Pendle ‘Witches’ and their subsequent trial at Lancaster Castle.
If you fancy a trip to the shops, Colne is just down the road as is Burnley for a greater retail experience.
The bedrooms at The Alma are situated within this former coaching house, originally built in 1725 and which has been lovingly but sympathetically restored to the renowned gastro-pub it is today. Foodies flock from far and wide to sample the delicious food on offer, or stay in one of its nine comfortable rooms. TV’s Gok Wan is a regular stayer at the venue when filming the Say Yes to The Dress programme in nearby Colne.
Again, imagine tasteful elegance with sash windows, dreamy cushioned carpets and period-style modern bathroom sinks and taps, while downstairs in the bar and dining rooms stone floors and original beams transport you back to a time of Heathcliff and Mr Rochester!
So let’s talk about food. All three inns, being part of the original Seafood Pubs, have similar main menus with a few changes here and there. Daily changing specials showcase the best of what’s in season. As well as the daily fresh fish and seafood, produce is sourced from local farms throughout the venues’ respective menus with options to suit everyone’s tastes including traditional pub classics and creative international dishes.
The favourite meal of my stay was the Malaysian seafood curry (£16.95), crafted from the just-caught fish and shellfish arriving that day. It’s refreshing to know that each and every curry is likely to be different, depending on the catch that morning. As the menu states: ‘you’ll find the best of the day’s catch on our chalkboards. We buy a few portions of each, work our magic, and when it’s gone...it’s gone’.
I can’t name every delicacy on the menu but other standout dishes we enjoyed were the lamb cutlets (£18.95), 12 oz 28-day dry-aged ribeye on the bone (£25.50) and the Goosnargh chicken and ham hock pot pie (£15.50), all with their accompaniments included in the price.
We enjoyed a pint of Perroni (£5.50) and Grolsch (£4.30) with our meals, and the deliciously crisp Tooma River Australian Chardonnay, zinging with zesty citrus flavours (£23.50 a bottle).
Breakfast is no poor relation either, with tasty locally-sourced produce whether you choose the full English, full veggie, eggs benedict, omelette, smoked salmon – the list goes on.
Prices? Well, that depends on where and when you go, but a night’s stay for two with breakfast at The Derby Inn starts from just £90, from £97 at The Fenwick, and there’s currently a great offer at the Alma with dinner, B&B for just £129 with a £30 dinner allowance (food only) per person.
I’d recommend going to all three – and there are even more Oakman Inns throughout the country, each with their own unique identity. Just visit www.oakmaninns.co.uk and arrange your road trip!
Things to do
In addition to soaking up the rural beauty and shopping, why not take a trip to Lancaster and a visit to the Castle. At the moment a complete tour is not possible but we enjoyed an external tour of the keep, which dates back to the early 12th century (11th century some argue), and the former prison courtyards. The castle courtyards, including cafe, are open daily and tours of the external courtyards and courts are free. Still a working civil and crown court, we were told interesting and informative stories including that of the infamous Pendle Witches trial. Pre-booking is essential. Visit www.lancastercastle.com/tours-visits
Fancy a day at the beach? Morecambe is just a short drive away, particularly from The Fenwick, while we enjoyed a go-karting experience like no other at Prestige Karting, just down the road from The Alma in Colne. Imagine togging up in F1-style overalls, balaclava and helmet, and then putting your foot down on the pedal! Every lap you do is monitored by state-of-the-art technology and your tally, speed, fastest lap and position within your group is printed out for you. A great experience for couples, families, groups and team-building experience organisers alike! Visit www.prestigekarting.co.uk