So many millions of words have been written about a small market town wedged between the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Lancashire fells, that you feel whatever glowing report you pen it has probably all been said before.
So we set off for a short stay in Kirkby Lonsdale on a chilly but unseasonally sunny Saturday morning in February to make the most of a nice little mid-winter break, just an hour’s scenic drive from the Ribble Valley.
We’d heard about the great shops and eateries, the amazing scenery, Ruskin’s View, Devil’s Bridge and the bikers’ weekly gatherings in this town.
What we didn’t expect was our destination for the night, The Sun Inn, being the gem that it is. From the outside a pretty enough, white painted hostelry with its modest golden sun-coloured sign seeming fairly appropriate.
But within an hour we realised the gold really was the gift at the end of the rainbow.
For this Sun really shines and deserves every one of its five stars for the accommodation and award winning restaurant. Immediately we were greeted by a helpful young lady called Hannah who showed us to our room, explained about keys and locking up times, and gave us a pass for free parking on any of the town’s car parks. A really nice touch as this ancient inn nestling among the shops, pubs and the lovely old church of St Mary’s does not have a car park, just a really handy dropping off space. So you can leave your bags and there are numerous car parks within a few minutes walk and you can park for free throughout your stay.
The room itself with its church view was a delight. A fascinating combination of a traditional inn with neutral toned but not boring décor, lovely bespoke furniture with a big comfy bed and crisp white bedding, two comfy armchairs, spacious wardrobe with large mirrors - and then in contrast a wow factor large modern bathroom. All white and chrome with large stand alone bath tub and separate spacious shower, contrasting with dark slate flooring. Just the place to spend time pampering yourself with the free perfumed toiletries from a local shop, fluffy white towels and thick bathrobes.
I just wanted to curl up on the bed with my book, open the bottle of complimentary chilled champers and stay there till Sunday as the room was so welcoming. All the refreshments were Fairtrade, there were bottles of both still and sparkling spring water, “proper” crumbly biscuits, and the milk cooling in a flask instead of one of those annoying plastic sachets.
There were even sets of ear plugs for anyone who has a problem with church bells! But as we later found out they weren’t at all loud and seemed just right on a country Sunday morning. There were none of those “oh if only there was a.....?” moments as this room had everything you could think of.
But I wasn’t allowed to loiter - even though we had been told there were free teas and a range of coffees etc available at all times for guests, in the bar.
My husband wanted to set out to see the town which boasts inviting individual shops where we picked up some gifts for friends, and tried out a few real ales in the local pubs.
Then it was time to try out that inviting bath tub and get ready for dinner in the Sun’s 5-star Good Food Guide feted restaurant, Carter at The Sun Inn. As has been said before: “It was so good we named it after him!” and head chef Sam Carter’s fare was no disappointment.
We chose our starters and mains and after turning down an offer of the home-made bread fearing we may get too full, we were surprised with a pre-dinner “nibble” which was a small cup of warming French onion soup which went down a treat.
I chose the scallops followed by lamb served with goats cheese, beetroot and vegetable jam, while my husband opted for monkfish followed by rib of beef with carrots, parsnips and savoy cabbage. We are not fine dining connoisseurs by any means but, accompanied by a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir, it was truly delicious; perfectly cooked and perfectly presented and with excellent service from restaurant manager Nick and his team, who were really helpful. This was food at its best, all locally sourced and inviting, so it would have been rude not to have tried out the pudding course. On the recommendation of the waitress I chose the caramel tart with praline and macaroon which was so good I am now spoiled for any other desserts. Kieron went for the cheese and biscuits, choosing four varieties from the cheese trolley, and every morsel and various biscuits soon disappeared.
Chatting to fellow diners it was no surprise to find that one couple come every year from Leicester as a special treat because they love the hotel and the food so much. Another young couple had chosen to dine there as a special child-free date night treat.
Owner Mark Fuller, who runs The Sun with wife Lucy, said their reputation is growing and now 35% of their guests are “returners” which in business terms is very good.
Mark told us how, after buying The Sun in a run-down condition in 2006, they took 10 transit vans of rubbish to the tip and set about cleaning the place from top to bottom. Then they started the transformation, starting with two deluxe bedrooms to see how business went. The rest, as they say, is history and there are now 11 bedrooms in the thriving business. With Lucy’s father making all the furniture and, having everything you could possibly want in modern accommodation, these original features blend well with the charm and ambience of an old English 17th Century pub with its flagstone and oak floors and blazing fires.
After dinner the bar was bustling and welcoming, and after a short walk we had a nightcap before those crisp white sheets beckoned.
Sunday morning meant one of The Sun’s delicious breakfasts. Then offers of more tea and coffee if we wanted to relax for a while with the Sunday papers and a chance to chat with one of the staff, university student Charlotte, who has worked there since she was 14 and returns every chance she can. She told me she expected to get a part-time job in Sheffield where she studies, but instead keeps coming back.
It was time to stir and enjoy a walk to admire the view from the churchyard over the Lune Valley, a view made famous by John Ruskin who described it as the best in England and then immortalised in Turner’s famous painting. We took the 89 Radical Steps, fortunately going down, and strolled the river walk to Devil’s Bridge which dates back to the 1300s, before ambling back to town through all the nooks and crannies this market town is famous for with such wonderful names as Salt Pie Lane, Horse Market and Swine Market.
Sadly the Sun had to set on our little adventure, but we will definitely be one of those “returners” hopefully sooner rather than later.