Fence Gate Lodge, near Burnley, Lancashire: hotel review | Travel
When I arrive at Fence Gate Lodge, owner Kevin Berkins is busy with a tape measure on the staircase, checking the installation of a bespoke bannister. It is one of the finishing touches to the 24-bedroom addition to the creeper-clad Fence Gate Inn (50 metres away) in Fence, a village outside Burnley on the edge of the foodie Ribble Valley.
Such hands-on management is unusual in people who’ve been in the business for 35 years. Many owners get other people to check the stair rods, but that is not how Berkins rolls. He designed the Lodge himself, and from the Inn’s staggering collection of nearly 1,000 gins (including a 1947 Gilbey’s, the year of Berkins’ birth) to the Lodge’s punched-stone exterior (dimpled stones commonly used to build east Lancashire’s mills), everything bears his fingerprint. Berkins was originally a butcher, and Fence Gate Inn is renowned for its sausages, made at his other pub and deli, the Eagle at Barrow. (These excellent products were the highlight of the lodge’s creditable grilled breakfast.)
Like all new builds, it looks a bit too polished, and – as it is also a wedding venue – quite a glam affair. The marble-topped bar and chrome stools will be too blingy for some (me) but overall the Lodge, which incorporates the remnants of six listed cottages, is persuasively restrained. Statement pieces (designer light-fittings, huge ornaments, the reception’s faux-medieval fireplace) shine against autumnal tartans and grey walls.
And everything works: from the Yorkshire Tea, fresh milk and good, local Farmhouse Biscuits in the bedrooms, to instantly hot wet-room showers. Towels are thick. Beds comfy. It is serenely quiet. The guest wifi transfers seamlessly from lodge to pub.
The buzzy inn is a must. Suffused in an amber glow, the wood-panelled bar – with its log-burner ready for winter, on-point staff and perfectly kept traditional real ales (Bank Top’s Flat Cap was the pick at £3.60) – is one of those places where you immediately relax. It feels like a genuine local, too, with lads, couples, families and jolly middle-aged groups of drinkers.
There is a muted TV in the corner relaying the news headlines (another pet hate) but, thankfully, real life does not intrude in the brasserie. An idiosyncratic mix of pies, steaks (check that beef-ageing cabinet), curries and east Asian dishes with nods to French fine dining, the menu is refreshingly indifferent to hipster food trends. The scallops in the coquilles St Jacques (£8.95) are a little overdone, but how far wrong can you go with seafood, mushrooms, air-light mashed potato and grilled cheese in a punchy white wine sauce? Not very.
An opening plate of average breads arrives with exceptional dips (£3.25), particularly the beef dripping, which tastes like a liquidised Sunday roast. My main course, a burger (£13.75), is touted as England’s best thanks to some historic award, but it looks drab: dressed simply with lettuce, tomato, cheese. No trendy Sriracha, mayo or kimchi here. But the well-seasoned, charred patty tastes – and this is rare – profoundly beefy, with the outsize bun moulding itself around it, creating a satisfyingly fat mitt of meat. And the onion rings are A1.
It is a sound meal in a very seductive pub. If visiting rural Lancashire to go walking, cycling or birding, but particularly if you want a lazy retreat, book now. A weekend spent shuttling between Fence Gate Inn and its Lodge would be very therapeutic.
• Food and accommodation were provided by the Fence Gate Lodge (doubles from £125 B&B, 01282 618101, fencegate.co.uk)
Ask a local
Ashley Sutcliffe, owner of Colne interiors store Live Like the Boy
I’d recommend Gawthorpe Hall, which houses a rare, world-renowned textile collection right beside Burnley FC’s training ground.
Look out for the Grand Unit 5 Social Cinema, hosting pop-up nights across the borough. Try to catch an evening at one of their usual venues, such as Tubbs of Colne, an awesome bistro with a great wine list.