Coach and Horses, Bolton-by-Bowland, Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 03:24 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:12 20 February 2013
Ross Heywood has gone from Most Haunted to most wanted by opening a successful country restaurant in the Ribble Valley with partner Zak Aujla. <br/>Emma Mayoh reports<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
When Ross Heywood and Zak Aujla first peered through the windows of the Coach and Horses in the tiny village of Bolton-by-Bowland, they wondered what they were letting themselves in for.
'It looked as if it had been preserved in time,' explained Ross. 'It was as if there had been some big party the night before and then the boogie monster had come along and taken the entire village. There were glasses on tables where people had been and they looked like they'd been like that for years.
'It didn't stop us though. My mum and dad had gone up on a cold February morning to look at it first for us. We came up on the Tuesday. It needed a lot of work but it was a lovely building and for such a beautiful village it was a shame to have this gorgeous place lying empty. I just wanted it, there and then.'
The former television producer, originally from Rochdale, has been living in London for some time when he and Zak decided they wanted to open up their own boutique dining house.
They'd wanted to buy something in The Cotswolds because they were already living that way but when they found out about this building they couldn't resist it.
'Zak and I wanted a business we could do together,' explained 32-year-old Ross. 'We drew up our wish list and it went a very long way. It had to be a country location, beautiful scenery, beautiful building that needed work doing to it and it went on and on and we weren't going to settle for second best.
'I kept hearing these words Ribble Valley being banded around, I asked my mum about it and she told me how pretty it was. Within six weeks of seeing it we'd moved lock, stock and barrel. It was the village that sold it for me. I loved it.'
It's not a far cry from Ross' previous work. As well as being a television producer on programmes like Most Haunted, he first worked as a food stylist preparing the 'here's one I made earlier' for cookery segments on television programmes.
The pair have spent thousands refurbishing the interior with bright hot pink walls and contemporary furnishings and fittings since they first saw it at the start of 2008. The walls are also decorated with work by an artist who lives in the village.
And it has been a hard slog for the pair and their families when they first set up. Ross' parents moved in for six weeks and his sister was drafted in as it was all hands on deck to get the Coach and Horses up-and-running. Ross and his mum shared the cooking at first but it was when they found chef Cassie Bond that everything fell into place.
'We'd been searching for ages for the right chef. We'd had people from prestigious restaurants in New York, we'd had knock out chefs, but none of them were right. Eventually we came across Cassie. She just finished filming for Professional Masterchef for BBC2 and she was originally from Accrington so she was a Lancashire girl.
'I think I'm quite well versed in foodie stuff but she blew me out of the water. She was thinking about things like candied beetroot, Vietnamese menus and she wasn't afraid to try new things out. She's done her own black pudding stuffed chorizo, she's done pan-fried sea bass with Morecambe Bay shrimps in a batter with Southport samphire and her pies are out of this world.
They now have a menu packed with local suppliers including Wellgate Fisheries, Mrs Dowson's ice-cream and meat sourced from the Ribble Valley. They have already extended the business by creating rooms for people to stay in. But, unsurprisingly, it's far from average.
Ross said: 'We've got two rooms and plans for another one. But we want people to have an experience when they stay here. We're looking at doing things where people stay over but we'll organise champagne picnics in the countryside or hot air balloon rides. We want it to be extra special.
'Even so far this has surpassed all of our expectations. We were really ready for a challenge like this and we'd been talking about it for two years. To have finally done it is amazing. I'm nearer my family now. I can't believe we didn't do it sooner.'