Gerald and I ‘get away from it all’ at Bowland Fell Park
When we first embarked on our retirement Gerald and I were a bit at a loss as to what to do.
Most people have a plan heading out of their retirement.
Folks who don’t own their own businesses spend the last few years of their working life daydreaming about how they’ll jet set around the world, or go fishing on the Amalfi coast, or learn how to play an instrument. Gerald and I believed wholeheartedly that we’d be content to spend the next 20 or so years together simply relaxing in each other’s company. After all, we’d spent a lifetime working together; surely it wouldn’t be difficult to simply put our feet up and relax?
It only took a few days for us to realise that sitting on our bottoms watching television all day really wasn’t for us. Before we knew it we were pottering around the Farm Food Shop, making little adjustments here and there. It wasn’t long until our kids realised that our retirements weren’t going that well and soon we’d been caught red-handed rearranging the fruit displays.
They told us that if we still wanted to work then we should work, but that we couldn’t work at home anymore. They set us the task of exploring the UK and finding the very best places to eat locally sourced food. They called it ‘research’ but we know they were just trying to get rid of us.
Our latest adventure took us to the Forest of Bowland where we would stay in a lovely lodge and eat our fill at one of the best pubs in the country…
The first stop in our little mission up North was at Bowland Fell. This sited caravan park (which also runs a sideline as a semi-retirement village) is situated pretty much right on the edge of the forest, making it a great starting point for anyone who’s looking to get lost in the woods for a weekend. We assumed that this was going to cost us a fortune, but luckily it turned out that you can hire a holiday home in the Forest of Bowland for as little as £200 for three nights!
Once we’d settled in it was off to a place that Gerald had been dreaming about for weeks.
We first saw the Inn at Whitewell featured in the comedy series ‘The Trip’. Although I can’t say I wholeheartedly agreed with the disagreeable nature of the two lead characters, the food featured in the show looked uniformly excellent and regularly had us both salivating despite ourselves. There weren’t any Abba singalongs on our trip over, but we enjoyed the scenic ride nonetheless and before we knew it we were parking outside the Inn.
Calling the Inn at Whitewell a ‘pub’ would certainly be doing it a disservice. The plush fittings and well-kempt staff were clear signs that both Gerald and I probably should have worn smarter shoes. The welcome was warm nonetheless and we soon found ourselves sitting down to a sumptuous meal featuring hits such as a mouth-watering plate of Venison Carpaccio, a ludicrously blushing Rack of Lamb and a generous English Cheese Board.
Although the ride back to the lodge was mercifully short, I must admit that I fell asleep on a couple of occasions – that’s the effect that good food has on me!
Thankfully we were lucky enough to find some specialists to inspect the infestation and we were informed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as others they had seen. Whilst Japanese knotweed doesn’t cause the environment any immediate damage, it’s invasive nature has made it a sworn enemy of the British government and land owners around the country. Left untreated, knotweed will grow unchecked and can significantly damage the value of our land.
With a team of professionals hired to begin the treatment process, Gerald and I felt assured enough to head off on another trip. We had little trouble booking a place to stay in North Wales at short notice, but the restaurant booking took a bit more forethought…
Gerald and I had been waiting over 6 months to get a seat at this particular restaurant.
Preparing only two dinner services a day to a 16-cover restaurant, Sosban & the Old Butchers received it’s first Michelin star last year, wowing critics with it’s novel approach to serving locally sourced fine-dining fare in a relaxed environment. This much in demand restaurant is only open three days a week, making it increasingly difficult to find a table any less than 6 months in advance.
After a quiet drive down through Wales we arrive in Menai Bridge with a good hour to spare. This charming little island town is only a short hop away from mainland Wales yet it somehow feels so much further. The nearly 200-year old suspension bridge that takes us from nearby Bangor over to the Isle of Anglesey is only 417 metres long but the short trip makes it feel like we’ve entered a foreign land.
Having lived on a land-locked farm for most of our lives, Gerald and I are often swept away by the romance of living near the sea. We wander up a path that takes us along the coastline of the island, the bridge is a dominating presence and at night the lights make it a truly dramatic sight to behold. Before we know it we’re running late for our sitting and have to pick up a light jog in order to make it to the restaurant in time.
After almost stumbling into the restaurant area we both feel like profusely apologising to both the staff and the waiting diners. The space is so small that it’s not too difficult to blurt out an apology and have everyone hear it. Sole front of house member Bethan warmly welcomes us and before we know it we’re whisked away into an exciting locally sourced tasting menu that, amongst other things, features an ‘umami log’, a celeriac risotto and a rather tasty cut of venison which Gerald falls in love with at first sight.
At just £65 per head (plus extra for wine) we can’t really believe the value and find ourselves booking another sitting in 6 months time.
Our drive back home the next day is peppered with reflective ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when thinking about our meal, it’s safe to say that we’re eagerly awaiting our next visit to Menai Bridge!
When we first started growing our own we never dreamt that we’d end up selling our veggies in our own shop…
But, a decade on, that’s just what is happening.
Many people tell us that we were ahead of the game when we set up our farm shop. We’re often told that we somehow predicted ‘the Farm-to-Table trend‘ that was soon to take over the UK scene. In fact, that really wasn’t the case. Both Gerald and I started growing vegetables in the garden so that we could alleviate our own mounting food bills and find a way of preparing food for the kids that was healthy and free of any chemicals.
Still – we’re both so pleased that the concept of Farm-to-Table eating is so fashionable right now.
Despite what many people might think, Farm-to-Table cookery is much more than just oddly shaped vegetables and anaemic looking meat. In the last few years a number of restaurants have started cropping up, touting the very best in locally sourced food; all of them trying to claim the prize for shortest distance from garden (or pen!) to plate.
It makes sense that the high-end restaurant scene has picked up on this new trend, really. Ethically sourced food is invariably more expensive than your average food stuff and both Gerald and I can attest that it tastes significantly better than than your average ingredient. Of course, there’s no point having lovely, local food if the chef doesn’t have a bleeding clue what he’s doing with it!
The very best Farm-to-Table restaurants make the most of their rural locations whilst also poaching the finest cooking talent from London. So, whilst the ingredients might not have travelled that far to get into your mouth, you can almost guarantee that the chefs themselves probably did.
On our mission to taste some of the best British produce, Gerald and I took a trip to a restaurant that sits right on the edge of the Lake District. L’Enclume is one of the most iconic restaurants offering a completely seasonal menu that constantly shifts throughout the year. Chef and owner Simon Rogan takes his veggies very seriously. In fact, he respects the plants that he grows in his 12-acre farm so much that he demands that each new chef entering his kitchen works the land for at least one month before setting foot in the kitchen.
The food certainly doesn’t come cheap here.
Both Gerald and I choose to drink (as we’ve made such a long trip we’re both eager for a good glass of wine with our dinner). The total cost for the tasting menu, with ‘classic’ wine pairing, comes to £450 and we both begin to understand the attractive aspect of running a restaurant in conjunction with your farm. The food itself is certainly fancier that we’re used to eating, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying it – the wine is also well worth the £80/pp (!) price tag.
Leaving L’Enclume, we both share a look and a shrug. Whilst it might have been fun to set up our own restaurant, we’re satisfied for now with just eating at other people’s tables!