Jonathan Schofield enjoys great food to bolster a fine cycling trip in which he takes a tumble
Three langoustines with chilli washed down by an Alsatian Gewürztraminer completed the mood shift. For various reasons I'd caught the train in Manchester to Lancaster in a foul temper. Fortunately I'd gifted myself a bit of randomness to perk things up.
Gorgeous countryside, my favourite food type, namely, seafood, good wines and a good night's sleep
As noted on these pages I'd had my bike nicked in a crazy manner some weeks before. So I'd looked up bike sales on Gumtree and found there was a chap selling a drop handle road racer just a hop, a skip and a jump from Lancaster station. I checked the machine over. It was all good. We shook hands, I paid, and hey presto, ten minutes later I was cycling.
Lancaster has superb cycle trails, which was making my mood better.
The Fenwick Arms at Claughton (pronounced Cluffton) is around seven miles out and you cycle there along a former railway line for nearly all the distance. The scenery is glorious, particularly at the Crook of Lune, were the river goes lunatic and does a double-switchback. The only problem was all the other cyclists attempting to nod, slow down and say hello. I was not quite there yet with all the rural joy so I cycled along like Richard Ashcroft strutting the street in the video for Bitter Sweet Symphony.
I reached the Fenwick Arms in no time at all. The handsome black and white pub on the A683 sits at an odd angle to the main road, as though it only wants customers on the way to Lancaster rather than leaving it, so be careful, if you are driving that you don't overshoot. The interior is lovely, tasteful and modern with nods to the past. There's that guarantor of autumn and winter comfort, real fires.
The most trite word used about country pubs is 'cosy', so I refuse to apply it. Comfortable, easy, would be better words for the Fenwick, it makes you want to get a book and sit with it for hours, forsaking the digital world. That's what I did, with three of my best mates, that trio of langoustines (£8.95) and the Gewürztraminer, my new best mate. Then I had some devilled crab, shrimp and and salmon pate (£6.95) which was good too but needed a little more seasoning so I applied it myself. I had another glass. Or two.
Nina Finn, the Business Development Manager, of the Seafood Pub Company chatted with me as I ate (and as I silently congratulated myself on avoiding reference to the nominative determinism of her name).
There are 11 pub/restaurants in the group, mostly in Lancashire with the odd outpost over the Pennines. Head office is in Clitheroe and the boss is Joycelyn Neve, daughter of a famous fishmonger, Chris Neve of Fleetwood. The pubs and fish business are proper Lancashire success stories, revealing the demand for good fish done properly in the UK. We really don't need to send so much to Spain and France.
The bedrooms at the Fenwick lie upstairs and to the rear. Mine was again tastefully decorated in muted tones with a huge bathroom. I didn't spend long in there. The fish were calling me from downstairs. And the wine.
I'd arranged to meet my brother, who lives nearby, for dinner. The feast was generous, the talk good and the service amiable and knowledgeable, led by Adam who has been at The Fenwick for a while, despite being a young chap.
The pick of the dishes were the scallops (£10.50), with a cracking black pudding, pancetta, apple and pickled walnut, and the perfectly timed turbot with seaweed dumplings, crab chowder and crispy seaweed (£24.95). The latter came at a great price, delivered rich variety of flavour, with the seaweed dumplings little darlings, especially when soaked in the crab chowder.
You can also get a big fruits de mer platter from £50 for two to share. If fish isn't your thing then there are steak options, plus grills including gammon and lamb chops.
The best pudd was a simple but just so, syrup sponge pudding with custard (5.95). My mother, the ten-times crowned queen of the Lancashire sponge pudding (unofficial of course, and only awarded en famille) would have given it ten out of ten. My brother's chocolate fondant with honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream (£6.50) was just a shade under that excellence.
That was that for the evening.
The following morning, I had a full English breakfast (£8.95 if you're dropping in, included as part of the bed and breakfast deal otherwise). This had all the essentials with nothing left on the pass too long to dry up. It was completely in order and an excellent start because I had 30 plus miles of cycling ahead of me.
The location is one of the magical things about the Fenwick.
The Lune Valley delivers the essence of the northern English countryside, pastures lying beneath high hills and moors, woods in cloughs sweeping to the river, rich history.
I cycled north past the sweet village of Hornby, with its castle above the River Wenning, and then west over the River Lune, by ancient earthworks and old WWII pillboxes, through the lovely village of Gressingham - where the famous ducks, half mallard, half Pekin duck, originated from. Then there was a steep climb to a ridge where suddenly views of the whole of the northern Pennines and the Lake District mountains opened up.
It was a beautiful day of scudding clouds and blue sky. Nothing could spoil my mood, not even when a family cycled by and I smiled and the mother shouted at me: "What sort of example are you to my kids riding a bicycle without a helmet?" To which I retorted, cheerfully: "What sort of example are you to your kids shouting at people enjoying a bike ride."
She might have been right though. While having a little internal conversation about cyclists who shout at other cyclists for not wearing helmets, I whizzed down a hill too fast, couldn't take a corner, and ended up in a hedgerow, unharmed and laughing my head off at the absurdity of it all.
I finished by cycling south west to another lovely corner of this part of the world. This takes you out past Lancaster, out to where the River Lune gets lazy and tidal, out to Sunderland Point where it feels like the end of the world.
You have to time your visit, Sunderland Point is unique as being the only British community to be on the mainland and yet dependent upon tidal access. After it was a final pint in the Golden Ball pub and a return to Lancaster Station. It was 2pm and I still wasn't hungry after the huge breakfast.
I loved this press visit, the Fenwick is really no great distance from Manchester. I had a pleasant train journey, superlative bike rides in gorgeous countryside, my favourite food type, namely seafood, good wines and a good night's sleep. The Fenwick Arms is a great base for exploring the area, but with that food quality, it is far more attractive than just that.