Even by east Lancashire’s unassuming standards, Clitheroe maintains a low-profile. This gateway to the Ribble valley – an area loved by walkers, cyclists and foodies – sits at the end of a train line from Manchester but you would have to go back to 1985 (when the Fall played live in the grounds of Clitheroe’s tiny Norman castle), to find Mancunians hot-footing it to this market town in large numbers.Holmes Mill is meant to change all that. A vast, Grade II-listed former textile factory, it was reopened last August as a brewery and bar, food hall, hotel and restaurant. It also comprises smaller concerns, such as a comedy club and gelateria. A gym, pool and cinema are yet to be added.
The food hall
Ordinarily, the food hall itself would be headline news. Interspersed with a cafe and counter-dining sections, it is reminiscent of Italy’s Eataly centres. It is both a global delicatessen and a showcase for northern producers (85 of them from Lancashire itself), such as Great North Pie Co and Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co.
Next door, the rugged, industrial-looking beer hall contains Bowland Brewery (try its classic Hen Harrier or tropically-tinged Buster IPA), and an island bar serving many cask beers (from £3.20 a pint). The selection is a sound mix of traditional and modern beers from northern micros such as Brewsmith, Fell and Hawkshead. A small can, bottle and keg selection takes in the sours and 9% double IPAs that will impress craft connoisseurs.
My find of the night was Chinwag from Rossendale’s Northern Whisper. Although, for northerners raised on Fred Dibnah’s tales of the industrial revolution, the beer hall’s Engine Room may be more interesting. An evocative space, it is dominated by a huge pulley connected to a 1910 cross-compound horizontal engine. No, me neither. But steam geeks will love it.
Holmes Mill’s beer hall
Given the above, you are unlikely to spend much time in the Spinning Block hotel itself (currently 16 bedrooms, open Thursday to Saturday only; 38 rooms, full-time, from June), but its bedrooms are handsome, luxurious spaces, with crisp linens, heavy duvets and spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers and granite walls. Minor idiosyncrasies such as retro Oat Flips biscuits from nearby Nelson are welcome. Less so the (too early) 10.30am check-out and predictable L’Occitane toiletries.
In the Spinning Block’s grill restaurant, Holmes Mill’s industrial aesthetic is given a glamorous spin. Beautifully lit, the lounge – its centrepiece a curvy bar constructed from glowing vintage glass blocks – leads into a restaurant flecked with designer touches and centred around a grand piano. Had Mad Men been set in Mitton not Manhattan, Don Draper would have loved this place.
A bedroom at the hotel
Local ingredients from Cowman’s sausages to Bowland beef are to the fore on a crowd-pleasing menu of classic grill dishes, salads, pork belly and sea bass. This is not food to obsess and fret over. (Gastro-nerds should eat, instead, at Northcote or the Freemasons at Wiswell.) Here, you are paying for the swanky gaff as much as quality on the plate. One ambitious dish (confit chicken with egg yolk, carrot puree and pistachio, £8.50) is a clanger – the chicken rendered as rather rubbery pucks dusted with bitter “leek ash”. The simpler dishes hum along pleasantly enough, though, borne aloft by superb raw ingredients.
Holmes Mill’s restaurant, and grand piano
From the “nibbles” section, a hefty plate of Lancashire cheese and pressed ham was tasty – despite being served fridge-cold. The shredded Bowland beef with wild mushrooms was far better. A chocolate panna cotta with peanut butter chocolate ganache and honeycomb ice-cream was a little inelegant. But how far wrong can you go with those components? Not very. Breakfast (eggs benedict, controversially served with continental cured ham), was excellent.
If the food hall sets a standard the restaurant does not quite sustain, Holmes Mill is nonetheless impressive. It is reason enough to head to Clitheroe. Just prise yourself away long enough to explore the wider Ribble valley.
Ask A Local
Hetty Byrne, sustainable tourism officer, Forest of Bowland AONB
A hill farm in the Brennand Valley off the Dunsop Valley above Dunsop Bridge in the Trough of Bowland. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Alamy
Explore the geographical heart of Britain amid the fells from Dunsop Bridge. Dunsop valley is also a favourite with birdwatchers. End the day with seasonal, local food at the Parker’s Arms in Newton-in-Bowland.
Mountain bikers should head to Gisburn Forest. As well as the marked trails there is a skills loop at the Gisburn Forest hub to test the grades before you set off. There is also a family-friendly walking trail from the cafe.
Nestling beneath Pendle Hill, Downham is one of Lancashire’s loveliest villages: quiet and unspoiled, with a babbling brook running past the village green and stone cottages. The four-mile Downham Walk, passing Twiston Mill, offers opportunities for refreshment at the Assheton Arms.