It’s enough to make you want to get married all over again, maybe. On the other hand, you can share joy enough by driving along an avenue of flowers and garlanded miniature trees to Bartle Hall Hotel in the heart of the lush Lancashire countryside, to then sit by the lawns in the wooded grounds amid a chorus of birdsong and enjoy a glass of fizz, or an afternoon tea.
The 18th century former manor house is out of the top drawer as a wedding venue, close to the county admin centre of Preston, while also giving ready access to Fylde Coast – which is a lot more than just Blackpool, fun though it is as the most famous, all-singing, all-dancing seaside blast in the country.
Bartle Hall is also a lot more than just weddings, with a choice of function suites to suit all manner of occasions. But romance has to figure high on the list and is apparent in whatever setting, be it a room for relaxing, hosting a reception and dancing, or a discreet retreat from the madding crowd.
The AA 4Star and English Tourism 4Rosette hotel has 14 rooms in the main building, plus a couple of rather swish tucked-away surprises in the grounds.
One such hideaway is Ivy Cottage, aptly named because it is draped in, you guessed it, a cloak of ivy. The original cottage building has been carefully restored and fitted with the very best mod cons, including giant, double-ended bath (!), walk-in monsoon shower and a sleek, modern four-poster. Even a large, flat-screen TV, too, should you require a diversion. If you need a breather, it also has a curtained back door leading to a small, very private, outdoor deck with a table and outdoor armchairs, perhaps just the ticket for a second bottle of fizz. My long-time favourite Veuve Clicquot is very reasonable, by the way, even the rose!
Which brings us round to dining in the Nest, another tastefully restored room, which is just one among many at Bartle Hall to retain lots of original detail and character, while getting a modern makeover in decor and artwork which chimes in perfectly.
It also has relaxing views of the grounds, with sweeping lawns and majestic mature trees, including an amazing oak and a yew which it’s impossible to resist standing under among the bluebells and marvelling at the photo opportunities.
Pleasant outlook as you peruse the menu, with chefs Rowan and Grahame producing a surprisingly varied menu on a weekday evening, and ticking all my boxes with Ribble sea trout served on crushed potatoes, with cockles, samphire, wild sorrel and Lytham brown shrimp.
Food and beverage manager Heather (inspired hairstyle!) shows a welcome stress on seasonal local ingredients, and in a part of the world with such rich natural resources, it’s no surprise to note that the menu almost works in food yards than food miles – lots of the delicious items are from farms and suppliers just up or down the road a tad, or from the nearby coast.
It’s a real pleasure to find a restaurant proudly listing things like Goosnargh chicken and duck, Tarleton rainbow carrots, Formby asparagus, Ashcroft’s beetroot and Dewlay cheeses from Garstang.
Lancashire on a plate, especially at breakfast with the extra treats of Greaves dry cure bacon, Sawley’s organic free range eggs, John Penny farmhouse sausage, Smithy’s field mushrooms, Neaves smoked salmon and haddock, and even R S Ireland black pudding, from my part of the world in the Rossendale Valley. Add Gornall’s fruit juice and dairy items and some Ann Forshaw yoghurt and you might even harbour thoughts that the County Palatine could declare independence and survive quite nicely, thank you.
Local knowledge and local roots, too, for the hotel is family-owned and family-run, with the personal touch very much in evidence. There’s an air of relaxed, welcoming luxury about the place and much of that has to do with the staff, from the minute you’re signed in by Sophie on reception to when you’re served drinks and dinner by Beth and Amber and then greeted for breakfast by Peggy, who knew exactly the right moment to appear with an extra coffee as I sat outside in the sun trying to catch up on some writing.
Outside is the place to be for a glass or two of Pimm’s, which is an ideal introduction to afternoon tea, hopefully in the sunshine. There are a number of ticket-only events in the grounds, depending on the calendar, and if you’re quick, you might still catch a Wimbledon Final special on Sunday, 10 July, where there’s a his and hers afternoon tea and tennis on both indoor and outdoor TV screens.
Lawn games for grown-ups and youngsters, too, but the strawberries and Pimm’s are the winners for me. It’s game, set and match to Bartle Hall.
Bartle Hall Country Hotel and Restaurant
Bartle, nr Preston