Renate Ruge takes in the tastes of the restaurants and pubs serving up some of the finest food in the North

The Ribble Valley is renowned for its beautiful views and picturesque country walks, and in recent years this has been matched by its reputation for being home to some of the finest restaurants in the country.

In the final part of her report back from the region, Renate Ruge visits some of the spots that have blossomed in this fertile valley.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Freemasons At Wiswell Lancashire
Freemasons at Wiswell Image: Freemasons

Freemasons at Wiswell 

Local pioneer of the ‘beat the clock’/after work supper, this locale is found down a quiet cobbled street in Wiswell and has all the charm and textural appeal of a classic country pub. Formerly three cottages, one a freemason’s lodge, Freemasons features flagged stone floors, hand-crafted wooden tables, exposed beams, low ceilings and atmospheric landscape oil paintings. The tap bar at the front is where familiar faces of regulars can be seen enjoying a pint of Hen Harrier and Pheasant Plucker brewed at nearby Bowland Brewery.

Freemasons has a habit of picking up culinary awards, and is a Good Food Guide regular also featuring near the top of the Top 50 Gastropubs. AA restaurant of the year several times on the trot and featured in the Michelin Guide, this is a favourite with Ribble Valley locals.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Freemasons Private Dining
Inside Freemasons' private dining room Image: Freemasons

Sit down astride wooden benches to enjoy a fry up on a Friday of the legendary local ‘chippy tea’ – an ode to the British institution of fish and chips with excellent panko crumbed haddock, big Lancashire style triple cooked chips and mushy peas, plus buttered tea cakes and chip shop curry sauce or gravy; a feast to start the weekend.

Summer’s almost here so starters could well include: velouté of spring greens with fondue of Procter's Kickass Cheddar and signature cheese hot dog or my favourite – smoked salmon from Giles of Wellgate in Clitheroe, with capers, dill and a sourdough crumpet, slathered with pickled cockle butter.

Rr Freemasons Fish And Peas
‘Chippy tea’ Image: Freemasons
2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Freemasons Spring Green Veloute Renate Ruge
Veloute of spring greens Image: Freemasons

Roasts are invariably a good option too and Freemasons fuses locally-sourced ingredients with an “evolution not revolution” motto. Like Herwick lamb rump roasted served with kofta, barbecue gem lettuce and a Middle Eastern twist of miso aubergine, mint and yoghurt. The cauliflower cheese is a go-to side dish for any roast here.

There are more exotic menu twists and turns too, like the extra-large scallop tandoori roasted with Thai mussel curry and baked sweet potato and apple starter. The latter perfectly paired with a glass of South African Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc 2021.

When it comes to desserts, they’re wonderful to look at and even better to eat, like silky chocolate and tonka bean mousse with caramel ice cream.

There’s a mantra this place holds dear that also tops the menu and in the words of J. R. R. Tolkien it goes: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”


One of the finest sections of Roman road in Lancashire lies between Wiswell and Lamb Roe, while nearby Pendle Hill is just waiting to be climbed.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Three Fishes Exterior
The Three Fishes​, Mitton Image: Confidentials

The Three Fishes, Mitton

Bees buzz about their hives and colourful flowers in the garden that leads to emerald fields at the rear of this local Ribble Valley pub/restaurant. The greenhouse at the back, surrounded by orchards, is bursting with ripening tomatoes and fragrant basil.

Home-cooked, healthy food made from simple, quality vitamin-rich produce is the way we all wish we ate, and what’s on offer at The Three Fishes, whether lunch or dinner, the fruit and veggies are straight from their glorious kitchen garden.

For the best chefs, including renowned chef/patron Nigel Haworth, the recipe is simple: homegrown is best and the Michelin starred chef’s garden-to-plate dining has made this atmospheric place in Mitton near Whalley a gourmet star. While already featuring in the Michelin Guide, it’s very much on the ‘one to watch’ list.

Passionately connected to the land and sustainability, Nigel says, “Locally, our bounty of ingredients includes grouse, wild duck, pheasant and freshwater fish, but it’s all about caring for those ingredients and tasting the beauty of this area that is important.”

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Three Fishes Toms
Tomatoes from the garden Image: Confidentials

Walk in to a warm welcome from the team, where locals gather around the log fire and at the bar has craft beers on tap. The excellent wine list (with lovely non-alcoholic fizz) includes Joseph Perrier as house champagne.

In spring and summer, seasonal garden lunches come into their own. The day includes Eccles cake and coffee or herbal tea made with just-snipped herbs, followed by a tour of home-grown produce with the gardener, digging into his growing knowledge. It’s a joy to find huge pumpkins growing in the patch plus lines of fat cabbages, cavolo nero and beans.

These blooming good lunches might include house tomato salad with fennel and foraged herbs and edible flowers or equally tasty light and airy pea mousse-like soup.

Home-baked cheese rolls with Mrs Kirkham’s cheddar are a house signature nibble – also great dipped into chervil soup with pickled fennel. Add a fresh white wine like a Pouilly-Fume Petit Soumard and you’re off to a good start.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Three Fishes Leeks
Leeks Image: The Three Fishes
2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Three Fishes Pork
Pork Image: The Three Fishes
2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Three Fishes Jersey Royals
Jersey Royals Image: The Three Fishes

Waiting for mains to arrive, we spot a sous chef popping out to the garden and collecting greens in a trug. You can’t get fresher. Tender filet of pork with just-picked sautéed podded broad beans and courgettes or braised leek is a light option for lunch but for something meatier, like roe deer loin with a faggot, served with turnip cream and barbecued red beets and topped with shimeji mushrooms is a twist on a classic Ribble Valley dish, pairing perfectly with a full-bodied Aussie shiraz like ‘Sneaky’, Killibinbin Shiraz from Langhorne Creek.

Strawberry soufflé is a sweet finish, especially good with a Balsamic ice-cream, and a peppery tuille. We appreciate the suggested Muscat de Beaumas de Venice, Rhone Valley, France, 2020.

The private dining room has its own cosy vibes with a fireplace, perfect for family gatherings.


In Whalley, where the county’s three rivers – the Ribble, the Hodder and the Calder - meet, there are walks aplenty along the rivers and across the fields to Edisford Bridge or up and around nearby Whalley Nab.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Inn At Whitewell Exterior
The Inn at Whitewell Image: The Inn at Whitewell

The Inn at Whitewell

It was the TV series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as a hammed-up version of themselves visiting this 14th-century former coaching inn, that made The Inn at Whitewell a celebrity in its own right.

The setting is still bucolic, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the food is still more than worth the trip, with Head Chef Jamie Cadman, a Good Food Guide regular, and this year it was winner of the Good Food Guide 2024 Restaurant with Rooms category.

A collection of posh 4x4 cars and shiny Bentleys are parked outside while as hikers in walking boots amble past, keen to tuck into proper pub food.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature The Inn At Whitewell
The Inn at Whitewell Image: The Inn at Whitewell

The restaurant, classically English in décor, is more formal with dining room windows looking out over the River Hodder, where trout and grayling are caught by fly fishers.

The fish pie is a winner - with poached haddock flaked into a deliciously creamy sauce and huge prawns, topped with mashed potato, finished under the grill with meltingly good cheddar cheese. The cheese pie’s not far behind, topped with champ potatoes and served with tender stem broccoli and hand cut chips.

For a lighter choice, seared salmon has potato gnocchi with rich tomato sauce and roast peppers on the side, perfect with a white wine selected from the extensive wine list sourced from on-site, Bowland Forest Vintners.

It’s hard to choose a favourite dessert here, with highlights from the sweet menu including raspberry crème brûlée, lemon meringue pie with a fruit coulis, banana cheesecake mousse and white chocolate sauce plus a small slither of rich dark chocolate and orange torte. A cup of strong arabica coffee is a fine finish.


Cross the river on stepping stones to fields that lead to forests or you can go for full scale yomp across the moors or enjoy a relaxed meander through the valley. The reception has maps and expert tips as well as a downloadable map on where to walk.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Parkers Arms Ext
The Parkers Arms Image: The Parkers Arms

The Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland

On her beloved rural country pub, The Parkers Arms (making this year’s National Restaurant Awards top 100 list), Chef Patron Stosi Madi says this place welcomes “everyone and their dog” to sample their excellent gourmet offering that’s all about the food, local sourcing and what’s on the doorstep. As she says simply, it’s "a family business with great food and beer set in the countryside”.

Jovial host Kathy Smith is the other half of the characterful owner duo, and whether you choose to dine al fresco out front under the red umbrellas, or huddle by the fire inside, it’s always a relaxed affair.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Parkers Arms Ext Credit Parkers Arms Insta
Outside The Parkers Arms Image: @theparkersarms / Instagram

The location in Newton-in-Bowland gives the chef scope to stick to the house ambition of, 'if it doesn’t grow in the area of The Trough of Bowland then (except for chocolate, vanilla or spice), they don’t want it on the menu'. This results in pretty plates like perfectly charcoal-grilled wild Morecambe Bay sea bass, served with al dente asparagus and green herb sauce or Wild Morecambe Bay sea bass tartare decorated with herbs and edible flowers.

If the three-course tasting menu, with special highlights like scallop and lobster with roe butter and sea herbs, is for a more leisurely lunch, then a short and seasonal menu is available for walk-ins and always features one of their famous pies, along with really crispy triple-cooked chips.

Whatever the weather, it’s all “hearty, regional and global fare cooked and served with our individual stamp,” according to chef.

2024 07 04 Ribble Feature Parkers Arms Plates Credit Parkers Arms Insta
'Hearty, regional and global fare' Image: @theparkersarms / Instagram

“In Spring, foraging is great and game season is always the best, when the meat berries come into their own in Autumn. My cooking style is ruled by the season and what’s local,” Stosi says.

The deep green walls of the dining room are reminiscent of the countryside walks beckoning outside but be sure to order dessert before you leave. Our advice, don’t miss out on zingy, fresh lemon curd and meringue tart or the irresistible rum baba.


Dry stone walls fringe the fields and country lanes that lead to Newton in Bowland and walks around the village high on a hill with views of Clitheroe and beyond are peaceful – the silence only broken by birdsong and the odd tractor bootling by.

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