Gibbon Bridge is painted in broad strokes – and masterful ones at that.
It deserves lavish language to describe its unique blend of homely comfort and sophisticated opulence. Public rooms are vast, with unique hand-printed wallpapers, there are enough flowers to open a branch of Interflora and the award-winning, 23-acre grounds are filled with exotic statues and even a couple of enormous pigs, Sage and Onion – happily grunting in their own muddy haven and strictly not destined for consumption.
My husband, Patrick, and I are consuming plenty of other wonderful food however, and yes, we are rather making pigs of ourselves. My boiled goose egg (a first) is the largest I have ever eaten, requiring an army of soldiers to do it justice. The cuisine at Gibbon Bridge is widely renowned; the dining room busy with loyal diners, many of whom return regularly for local Goosnargh duck, black treacle marinated fillet of beef (from Brendan Anderton Butchers in nearby Longridge) and the restaurant’s signature twice-baked souffle with cheese delivered from Leagram Organic dairy, just half a mile away. The in-house kitchen garden supplies a host of vegetables and the morning air is filled with the intoxicating fragrance of hot fresh bread and croissants from the on-site bakery.
Because this is such a private hideaway, nestling in Lancashire’s glorious Forest of Bowland, many of Gibbon Bridge’s fans are famous faces who come to relax in the peace and privacy that its inspirational owner, Janet Simpson, has created. Dame Shirley Bassey and Princess Anne have wined and dined here, and Corrie regulars Ken Roach, Gaynor Faye and Jane Danson are all frequent visitors. Lesley Nicol, Downton Abbey’s popular cook, Mrs Patmore, was also spotted during our stay (perhaps discussing future menus with the proprietor?).
This year has seen the opening of an elegant conservatory, seating 130 guests and enabling diners to admire the beautifully manicured gardens and romantic bandstand, where over 700 couples have tied the knot in civil ceremonies. Inside, two extraordinary modern chandeliers are the latest addition to Janet’s much-loved collection of glass objets d’art, created specially for her by master glass sculptor David Reade and shipped over from South Africa. A classical pianist plays soothing music on the grand piano; reclaimed cast iron pillars (from Preston Public Hall) frame the top table for weddings; a crackling log fire graces the extensive bar and a cosy wood-burning stove greets guests at reception (note to self – excellent hotel to stay at in winter).
There are 30 bedrooms in all, most of which are enormous split-level suites, with the famed ‘Staple Oak’ honeymoon suite as the pièce de resistance, complete with its own private garden and log-burning stove (worth planning a renewal of vows just to have an excuse to book it). Our own room has a whirlpool bath and a lovely secluded sitting room downstairs, where we sink into a capacious leather sofa whilst gazing at a Turkish carpet the size of a small swimming pool. Upstairs the bed is also the biggest I have ever seen – and no cheating here with mattresses that have been pushed together – this is a giant, sprawling slice of bed heaven that soothes away stresses and strains, leaving Patrick happily murmuring “Full English please” in his slumbers.
The silence is total (I tell a lie – there’s a cuckoo and his friends heralding he morning, but that’s it). No traffic, no voices, nothing but absolute peace and tranquility. We walk a mile to the tiny hamlet of Chipping, with its ancient church and 16th century houses, and spend a satisfying afternoon in nearby Clitheroe, a pleasant 20-minute drive away. Clitheroe is home to Cowman’s Butchers, boasting over 70 different sausages (everything from Beef and Guinness to Pork and Parmesan) and it’s also worth searching out The Time Train, a fascinating collectables shop where we find old Rupert annuals and a 1930s Lotto game for the princely sum of £3.
But our best outing is in Janet’s prized 1939 Derby Bentley, which she handles with an expert touch. Tireless in her passion to constantly improve her magnificent hotel, Janet’s other passion is vintage cars – and it’s no surprise that such a driving force should drive an awe-inspiring vehicle. Though it is something Janet would normally be far too busy to offer, we are lucky enough to be taken for a rare spin through the picturesque Ribble Valley – an experience of traditional motoring that we will never forget. True to her tough Lancashire roots (she has gone from being a farmer’s daughter to one of the country’s leading hoteliers) Janet doesn’t believe in putting the roof up. Luckily, the sun is shining, the daffodils are waving, and the cuckoos seem to be making a bid for the Eurovision song contest. Happy days …
The Gibbon Bridge Hotel
Chipping nr Preston
Forest of Bowland
Lancashire PR3 2TQ