The Bowland community of Chipping is big on hospitality
PUBLISHED: 00:07 09 May 2013
Chipping is a great place for a walk but it also has some culinary delights, as Martin Pilkington discovers.
PHOTOGRAPHY: KIRSTY THOMPSON
Many things draw people to Chipping. Start with the characterful stone cottages, all mullioned windows and projecting porches, an occasional alleyway adding to the scene. Then, the welcoming fact that it has two fine pubs, The Tillotsons Arms and The Sun, with a third – The Talbot – being refurbished for an impending relaunch.
And the soul is well catered for here along with the body: the pretty parish church of St Bartholomew’s is Tudor; the splendidly foursquare St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church dates from 1828 and Providence Chapel Congregational Church from ten years later.
Chipping remains a living village sticking close to its roots, epitomised by the village store, Brabin’s, thought to be the oldest shop in continuous use in Britain. ‘It was the village Post Office which sold gifts and papers too, but the Post Office part went in 2008 and now we have the outreach Post Office service a couple of times a week,’ says Laura Hunt who runs it with husband Paul.
‘We also have a tea garden, little cafe, an art gallery and second-hand books in the coach-house round the back, and recently extended to sell groceries after the other village shop closed. We’re a shop for all seasons!’
Brabin’s opened for business in 1668. Local-boy-made-good John Brabin used a fortune earned as a cloth merchant in London to build it, the house next door (that some say he still haunts), and on his death to leave a trust for the village that it still enjoys. One of Chipping’s two schools bears his name and gets support from the trust, which also owns the fine almshouses on Windy Street. In 2004 it bought another row of cottages, Club Row.
Continuity is a definite theme. The host at The Tillotsons Curly Neary is great-grandson of the original landlord. And Bob Robinson who runs the butcher’s says: ‘We’re the fifth generation. The business started in 1911, and my son is in the business so we have a sixth coming through.’ But it is continuity with change. Robinson Bros, famed for sausages made with meat from their own farm half-a-mile distant, is now also known now for home-made ice-cream, a hit with the caravanners at the nearby Brickhouse Touring Site.
Sadly one Chipping tradition ended in 2010 when Berry’s Furniture Works closed its doors. Its products, however, live on in many houses and businesses in the village. The fine old mill building is currently unoccupied, though rumour has it a country activity centre is being considered as one option to revitalise the site.
It wouldn’t be the first landmark building to close and re-open here. ‘We moved to the village about nine years ago,’ says current owner of The Sun, Rob Hedges. ‘We used to come down for a drink. It closed and was vacant so we decided we’d have a pub. The main thing that’s stuck in my mind since taking it on is how essential the pub is to village life.’ Amen to that.
30 and Still Growing
About a mile southeast of Chipping on the appropriately-named Green Lane is Gibbon Bridge Hotel, a local institution that just celebrated its 30th anniversary.
‘Every year there are projects, something happening, something being added on,’ says Pauline Smith, PA to owner Janet Simpson. ‘Janet has never stood still. In 1995 we built the bandstand for civil ceremonies and recently added the orangery. The hotel was originally Janet’s parents’ farm and has grown from there. Not only was this the original barn, but Janet still lives in the farm cottage just opposite. We now have 30 bedrooms but it started with just six.’
One secret of the hotel’s success is continuity – that word again - with key staff. estate manager Robert Lowe and managing director Philip botjh came decades back not expecting to stay but become hooked.Edward Walmsley, who runs the function side of the business, is a comparative newcomer with a mere 18 years’ service.
Functions vary from car launches and car club rallies – Janet is a collector and enthusiast with a special love of the Bentley marque – to hosting about 80 weddings a year: ‘The weddings are interesting, I could tell you some stories about the brides – but I’ll let you imagine what we hear, see and get asked!’ says Edward.
A Day in the Life of a Country Cafe
Kath Bailey and husband Stephen run the Cobbled Corner Cafe in Chipping. Their workload says much about what it takes to keep a country business going these days.
‘The day starts with the shopping, and then we do the school dinners for St Mary’s over the road, and also the meals-on-wheels. We open at 10am and have the day-to-day running of the cafe. If it isn’t busy with customers I’ll be making cakes or, in the season, jams. We shut at five-ish depending on trade, but once a month we put on gourmet evenings upstairs, the next is May 11th.
‘I have a chef who works with me, Anthony Liddy, who cooks in a very modern style. He does the mains and starters. I do the canapés and puddings. In the winter we cater for a couple of shoots here, and I do a lot of outside work like marquee weddings, christenings, funerals... and I cater for Hodder Valley show every year, do a stall at Chipping show, and make Christmas pudding and cakes.’
The cafe is very popular with cyclists who enjoy touring the little lanes of Bowland.
‘Bradley Wiggins used to come here before he was so famous. There’s not an ounce of fat on him – all he ever had was a double espresso.’ After one customer told them his bike was worth £10,000 they bought special locks, and they keep tyres, tubes and other spares for those who’ve had mishaps.
Things to Do
This is a village to walk around, but if you fancy a more testing hike there are more than 3000 acres of open-access land on the beautiful fells just north of Chipping. If you time your visit well you can enjoy one of Chipping’s renowned shows: the Steam Fair takes place between May 25th and 27th this year; and Chipping Agricultural Show is on August 24th, a promised highlight for 2013 sheep racing!
Beacon Fell Country Park is about four miles westwards, Browsholme Hall – check when it is open before visiting – the same distance east. Keep an eye open for paragliders leaping from the nearby hills.
Places to Eat
The eateries in Chipping village know their clienteles. Brabin’s has a tea-garden for a cuppa and cake or ice cream; the pubs –both dog-friendly - serve hearty food for walkers; and the Cobbled Corner has a wide selection of home-baked goods and filling dishes for the cyclists who throng there. Gibbon Bridge Hotel is great for classic food in beautiful surroundings.
A Ghostly Presence
Brabin’s ghost is not the most famous in Chipping. That honour goes to Lizzie Dean. Lizzie, a serving wench at The Sun, gave herself to a local lad who abandoned her and compounded the misery by proposing to Lizzie’s best friend. On the day of their wedding at St Bartholomew’s Lizzie hanged herself in the pub’s attic, and her ghost has been a regular visitor ever since.
‘I don’t know if i believe it or not, but some strange things have happened that I can’t explain,’ says Rob Hedges, who with his wife owns The Sun. ‘When we first got the pub we were a bit scared, and it was a case of one person at night with their finger on the light switch and the other holding the door open. I had a strange one when I was going upstairs and felt someone go past me when there was nobody there. Recently my wife saw a glass come off the shelf and hover in the air for a bit then go onto the shelf on the other side. It’s difficult to explain a glass moving three feet like that. And she doesn’t drink!’
How to Get There
Chipping is five miles north of Longridge and can be found via a maze of lanes. Programme PR3 2GD into you Satnav and you should be there. There is a pay-and-display car park on Club Lane, between the Cobbled Corner Cafe and Village Hall.