by Garry Cook
Cycling in a dreamland of undulating hills, strolling through a picturesque village and then dining in some of the country’s best restaurants.
I’m in the Ribble Valley. I won’t be too surprised if you’ve never heard of it.
Lancashire’s wealthiest borough is also it’s most rural and as a destination for cyclists few places can compare.
A criss-crossing of fabulous country roads and Quiet Lanes, the staggeringly beautiful scenery make the area a honeypot for day-tripping cyclists and touring families.
Unlike the Lake District just an hour further north, there are no major single site destinations in the Ribble Valley like Windermere, Levens Hall or Grizedale Forest.
Instead there are miles and miles of glorious countryside, punctuated by postcard villages like Dunsop Bridge, Chipping, Slaidburn and Waddington.
Those who should know rate the area highly. The Queen famously stated in her autobiography that she wanted to retire to the area while Olympics cycling gold medal hero Bradley Wiggins regularly trains here. And it’s easy to see why.
Cycling is undoubtedly the best way to experience the area. A mixture of flat touring roads and spectacular hilly climbs means the Ribble Valley rider is spoilt for choice.
Many cyclists use visiting for the day use Whalley as a base. An hour from Manchester and situated conveniently off the A59, the road which links northern Lancashire to the M6, this busy village has ample free parking and some delightful cafes to refuel after a day in the saddle.
Heading north past the Station on Mitton Road (B6246) you are soon onto the country roads which make cycling so enjoyable
For an easy day round Longridge Fell and Jeffrey Hill through Chaigley to Chipping or keep going north to the Inn At Whitewell, where The Queen has lunch when she is in the area, and onto Dunsop Bridge.
For the more adventurous keep heading north past the Red Pump Inn at Bashall Eaves and beyond Browsholme Hall before taking a sharp right just after going over the bridge. You’ll recognise where to turn because the sign post points to Whitewell in both directions!
Up a short hill and turn right again, signposted three miles to Newton, and a long, steep hill is rewarded with views good enough to knock you off your bike. It’s here you will realise what the Ribble Valley is all about.
Lush green hills as far as the eye can see, the Trough of Bowland looming in the distance and the sort of up and down roads ahead of you which make cycling such a joy.
For those of you who want the perfect round trip heading to the Trough, as it is known locally, with a stop at cycle-friendly The Priory in Scorton, is the perfect five-hour ride
But the hilly loop from Newton to Slaidburn, or the steep climb from Newton over Waddington Fell to the village of Waddington offers a shorter-distance test.
A favourite stop-off for cyclists is Puddleducks Café at Dunsop Bridge. Here you can enjoy a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich in a village which claims to be at the geographic centre of Great Britain.
The steep climb from the Inn At Whitewell is not for the faint-hearted but for those who want a real test, the climb from Hodder Bridge, near Chaigley, up Jeffrey Hill is as difficult as it gets.
Whalley itself has a smattering of high-end clothes boutiques and cafes, a fabulous abbey and a sandwich shop – CJ’s – famous for its generously huge butties.
Ten minutes up the road, the market town of Clitheroe offers non-cyclists a relaxing day out which includes the castle and its picturesque grounds, plenty of hot drink stop-offs – the highlights being Emporium and Callooh! Callay tea shop (both on Moor Lane) and Exchange Coffee Co. (Wellgate Street) offers some of the best hot drinks in the county.
Further into the countryside lunch is exquisite at Bashall Barn, a former farm which has diversified into food to great success. The site also boasts Bowland Brewery and a farm shop.
Fine dining is one of the highlights of the Ribble Valley with some of the best restaurants in the country.
The Michelin stared Northcote at Langho near Whalley is a leading light but there are several superb alternatives which are wallet friendly.
Perhaps the best, and fairly unknown, is the Freemasons at Wizwell.
A recent addition to the restaurant scene, the Freemasons menu is perfection. Hidden in the secluded village of Wizwell, locals would prefer it if the Freemasons remained their secret. If you don’t book ahead you won’t get a table – and that is all you need to know about how good the venue is.
But further up the A59, in the charming village of Sawley, is the Spread Eagle Inn which served me the best game meat I have ever tasted.
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But there are other gems dotted around the Valley, some of which can be spotted on the Ribble Valley Food Trail (though the website, launched in 2008, is not up to date).
NOTE: What cyclists need after a four-hour bike ride (above).
NOTE TWO: This cycling journey inlcudes the Forest of Bowland.