The Fleece Inn had a lot to live up to. I’d never heard of the place, never heard of Dolphinholme, and read none of the online reviews.
But the prospect of a visiting a tradition pub in the Lancashire countryside... well, that ticked two big boxes on my ‘perfect break’ wish-list – and it didn’t disappoint.
This place is a real gem. The type of place which must make the locals feel grateful, the type of place which deserves wider popularity.
A cautionary note, and this isn’t a criticism: there’s little to do.
No spa, no shops nearby, no ‘we-must-go-there’ attractions to visit.
And that’s fine for those in the area, and those who like walking or cycling, and those who want to do very little.
With three children and as many jobs between us, my wife and I usually have very little time to do ‘nothing’.
Nothing, but talk, drink, bask in the late summer sun, and say to each other, more than once, ‘It’s lovely here’.
There is nothing unique about old pubs in this part of the world, but what sets The Fleece Inn out is how exceptional everything is.
The good-sized, stone building has a pub and restaurant downstairs, nine hotel rooms above, and a spacious garden to the rear.
Its website says it has recently had ‘significant investment and refurbishment’, and it shows.
From the bar to the bathrooms to the garden, it is obvious a lot of time and money have been spent.
Our spacious room had the trappings of the top hotels – free Wifi, in-room coffee machine, monsoon shower – but still managed to retain a traditional and unique feel. The wash basin, for example, looks like a giant carved-out pebble, and the bedrooms are individually named – small touches which help give the place real charm.
The beer garden, with rolling hills in the backdrop, includes a wooden piece of play equipment which makes you wish you were a child again. The range of beers make you grateful you’re not.
And with an open fire and water features, we had to prise ourselves away from the peace to get ready for dinner.
The restaurant is stylish without treading on pretentious, and while the Fleece Inn boasts of having a state-of-the-art kitchen, it has retained its character of a good, ol’ fashioned pub.
There are the traditional options you would expect to find – fish n’ chips, bangers ’n mash, steak and ale pie – as well as a couple you might not. I opted for the calamari, with Bloody Mary dipping sauce, and it was hands down the best I’ve ever had (and I always pick it on holiday.).
The piri-piri chicken was accompanied by cajun sweet potato wedges, chargrilled corn on he cob and salad, all delicious and neatly presented.
The portion was plentiful without being off-putting.
My wife’s falafel patties were satisfactory – the couscous was plain and ‘fridge’ cold – but the exquisite cheese board ensured her meal finished well in credit.
One nice touch: the local food suppliers are listed.
That alone enhanced the ‘community’ feel of the place, which stemmed further to the compact, but well-stocked, shop inside the pub to serve the village.
The staff were professional and efficient, but warm and friendly – no false niceties here – from the minute we arrived to our reluctant departure the following morning.
We often fail to fulfil our promises to return to places we’ve liked, but I have a feeling The Fleece Inn will prove an exception.
The Fleece Inn is located on the outskirts of Dolphinholme, a short drive from junction 33 of the M6. Rooms are available from £110. The lunch menu offers a ‘two courses for £10’. At dinner, main meals start from £8.95
To check rates, availability and to make a booking, go to www.fleeceinn.co.uk