A jewel in Lancashire’s crown, this charming 14th-century inn is a home from home for visiting sportsmen. By Rory Knight Bruce
In John Martin Robinson’s magnificent book A Guide to the Country Houses of the North West (1991), there are many examples of the private mansions of Lancashire that no longer stand or have been ousted into commercial or municipal use. Against this backdrop of progress, the 14th-century Inn at Whitewell, in the Duchy of Lancaster near Clitheroe, exists today as a jewel in the crown of the county.
That it is in the safe and welcoming hands of Charles Bowman (whose family have lived here for centuries) and his wife Louise, a former Joint Master of the Pendle Forest and Craven, and is a warren of comfort and sporting memorabilia, ensure a stay is all the more memorable. It also has a cosmopolitan twist. The night of my visit coincided with the next day’s prize-giving at nearby Stonyhurst, the imposing Catholic public school, and many of the guests (one discreetly landing by helicopter in the grass field below the inn) were parents from all over Europe. Their pupil offspring were smartly dressed and impeccably behaved. There is a fine collection of Catholic artefacts at the school (including a thorn from Christ’s crown) and a museum of Roman antiquities at nearby Ribchester.
The third generation of his family to be the proprietor of The Inn at Whitewell, Charles Bowman is a sportsman and, before his return home, was a director of a leading London advertising agency. But he is a true countryman at heart. “I learned to fish on the River Hodder with a trout rod tied to my arm aged eight,” he told me as we sat on the inn’s terrace, the river flowing below us and, on the horizon, sympathetic Fells framing ancient pasture in a spot known as the Forest or Trough of Bowland. The whole region of 312 square miles, with its picturesque and well-kept villages, is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Charles Bowman’s grandfather, Clifford Bowman, chairman of his own brewery, took on the lease so he could indulge his two passions: fishing and drinking his own beer. Then it was the turn of Charles’ father, Richard Bowman, who played county cricket for Lancashire, a fast bowler who was frequently teamed with Fred Trueman. Of the 25 individually designed rooms at the hotel – many with open fires – the room keys are attached to cricket balls in memory of Dick Bowman. Roll-top baths, walk-in showers, Egyptian cotton sheets and plump duvets complete the scene of modern comfort.
The late Queen and Duke of Edinburgh lunched at the inn in 2006 and, in 2010, actors and comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon spent five days filming there for their television comedy series The Trip. But anyone can enjoy today what was said of Dick Bowman: “He had a mission to eradicate pomposity and pretension from fine living without sacrifice to style, comfort and, above all, humour.”
The Inn at Whitewell employs 83 people, with a team of 10 under head chef Jamie Cadman (now in his 20th year), and has a vintner’s shop, offering excellent and well-priced wines, run by Charles Bowman’s friend Jonty Haighton. It is completely dog-friendly and guests can opt for formal dining in one of the two airy dining rooms, the Hunting Dining Room, the terrace or other firelit snugs, complete with sofas, hunting prints and fox masks. This is the majestic hunting country of the Pendle Forest and Craven.
My dinner guest was the noted artist Caroline Assheton, whose family have owned and lived in the nearby village of Downham since 1558, undimmed by progress. She opted for the signature fish pie, and all the menu is drawn from local and traditional sources. “The Inn at Whitewell has a lovely, friendly, settled atmosphere,” she told me. “It is like home from home.”
The Hodder runs in a bow below The Inn at Whitewell, and there are famous steps nearby to walk across the water. For fishermen, walkers and sporting guns, it is a first port of call. “You can walk and not see anyone all day,” says Charles Bowman.
“Unlike the Lake District, there is no queuing up on the Fell paths,” he adds. In easy reach are several grouse moors and regarded pheasant and partridge shoots. In the river are salmon, brown trout, sea trout and grayling. The salmon run is in September and October. Grouse in season is always on the menu.
The Inn at Whitewell, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 3AT
Tel: 01200 448222
Rooms from £200 a night