How far would you go for a bit of peace and quiet? The answer, it turns out, needn’t be very far at all.
Just two minutes off a busy A-road in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, we pulled into an antidote to today’s hectic, noisy, full-on world.
Wiswell is a quintessential English village, all pretty, stone-built homes that have stood the test of time and no doubt seen a fair bit of history.
There’s even an old-style red telephone box, now serving a very different purpose.
It’s a book exchange, with shelves lined with hardbacks and paperbacks and a sign saying: “Help yourself, just leave something new”.
The heart of every village is, of course, the pub and Wiswell has an award-laden cracker.
The Freemasons (open Wednesday to Sunday) is the brainchild of acclaimed chef Steven Smith, current UK Gastropub Chef of the Year.
As pubs-with-rooms are the in-thing, Steven’s just added four beauties.
Named Mr Fox, Mr Hare, Partridge and Grouse, they’re stamped with quality.
From massive monsoon showers in the bathroom to the roll-top bath on the half-balcony above, our rooms, Hare and Fox, were an absolute delight. They also featured two massive TVs, a sound system, subtle and sophisticated light dimmers and enough cushions on the beds to stock IKEA.
The views over the roofs of the village to the rolling countryside beyond are magnificent.
The pub is just a few steps away – 20 to be precise – and a warm welcome and cold beer awaited.
So, too, did the food for which the Freemasons has won acclaim. You can dine at the bar or in Mr Smiths, which has a stunning tasting menu.
We were lucky enough to be dining at the Kitchen Bench, a counter overlooking five chefs responsible for dishes that were simply sensational.
And forget shouty, Gordon Ramsey-style shenanigans, this was calm and precise perfection and it was a real pleasure to watch.
Breakfast is often an afterthought when you’re staying away but that’s not the case at the Freemasons.
The whole team were there bright and early, some doing preparation for later meals, others delivering the most delicious start to the day including a fabulous taster of porridge with honey.
Refuelled and impressed, it was time to strike out and discover some more of what Lancashire had to offer.
Clitheroe is just a 10-minute drive away and the castle keep was the ideal place to get a bird’s eye view for miles around, including Pendle Hill.
The adjacent museum tells the story of the former mill town in some style.
And one of those mills has also found a very stylish new lease of life.
Holmes Mill (holmesmill.co.uk) which has been in the centre of town since 1823, has gone from derelict ruin to one of the biggest and newest attractions. Where generations once laboured at hundreds of noisy cotton machines, there’s now everything from a super food hall and café to a 39-bedroom hotel and even a brewery.
Bowland Brewery moved into the renovated mill complex three years ago.
The hour-long tour with our keenly-knowledgeable guide was a fascinating insight into how the brews are made.
The Beer Hall next door is where you get to sample the freshly–brewed ales at one of the UK’s longest bars or in the popular restaurant and bistro.
Our second night was at another picture-postcard village nearby, this time Downham.
Just as at the Freemasons, the Assheton Arms is right at the heart of things. The building has been there since the 1700s but the rooms – ours used to be the village Post Office and it still bore the sign – are classily modern.
So, too, is the food. Like the Freemasons, The Assheton Arms has been voted one of the UK’s best 50 gastropubs.
Downham sits in the Forest of Bowland, and a drive through this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is as pleasant an experience behind the wheel as it’s possible to find.
A few miles on is Dunsop Bridge, the geographical centre of the UK, where you can feed the ducks with bags of grain bought from the aptly-named Puddleducks Tearoom.
Just be aware, merely rustle your paper bag and you’ll have dozens of the orange-footed creatures all over your feet!
Lancashire information from visitlancashire.com