Great cuisine, exciting activity and team-building at Northcote

Land Rovers at the entrance to Northcote

Michelle Chenery dines, drives and goes shooting in Lancashire

Organisers interested in a short incentive packed with exciting and enjoyable activities, competitive tests and superb food in beautiful surroundings should put Northcote on their ‘must-see’ list.
Northcote has been acclaimed Hotel of the Year in the Lancashire Tourism Awards, but the word ‘hotel’ doesn’t do it justice.

ITCM was invited to inspect this boutique property near Blackburn and I am still savouring the very wide range of activities that we enjoyed there with a group of guests. I can still hardly believe what we were able to enjoy in just two days and nights.

We gathered at London Euston to take the evening Virgin Trains service north to Preston. First Class made the 2-hour journey pass all too quickly. Then it was merely a 20-minutes road transfer to Northcote.

The first item on the agenda set the tone for the whole experience. I checked into my room in the Garden Lodge before meeting our hosts over champagne in the Louis Roederer snug, warmed by a roaring fire.

It was then only a couple of paces to the Chef’s Table for a truly memorable dinner. Seating up to 14, this very special venue allows diners to see their dishes being created by the chefs. They serve a 5-course gourmet meal or a 7-course taster menu, each dish accompanied by an exposition by one of the chefs on the ingredients and the method of preparation.

Our 5-courses were described in great detail by Northcote’s Executive Head Chef, Lisa Goodwin-Allen. She is well known since she was a competitor in the fifth season of the Great British Menu, where she created a prize-winning dish and later cooked at a banquet hosted by Prince Charles.

Our sumptuous repast ranged over charcoal potatoes, organic leeks, fresh wasabi, then red leg partridge and afterwards caramelised celeriac and chestnut ravioli. This was followed by wood-fired veal hanger and mead caramel with roasted artichokes. A Bramley apple cheesecake arrived on our plates in exactly the shape, size and colour of a Bramley apple. Each course had its own wine from a carefully curated wine cellar. One course was even paired with Ikekame Junmai Daiginjo sake. I was surprised by how well they suited each other.

After a very relaxing night’s sleep I took the short walk back to the Manor House and to the restaurant where breakfast was waiting. It was another very satisfying experience, sitting there and being served with absolutely anything I wished. On the menu was locally sourced produce that included breads, cereals and yoghurts, fruit, traditional organic oatmeal porridge with local wildflower honey and hot frothy milk.

I still couldn’t resist trying the full English and even greedily eyed the dishes opted for by others of the group. They were eating omelettes and Mrs Kirkham’s melting cheese soufflé with grilled tomato.

Suffice to say that we had plenty of energy stored ready for the day’s activities. We were met by staff from the Land Rover Experience North Yorkshire and allocated to four Land Rovers and driven to their base on the stunning Broughton Hall Estate. This is located two miles outside Skipton, 23 miles from Northcote. Set within the 3,000-acre estate, Yellow Farm Barns was formerly a goat farm. It was sympathetically restored in 2015 and now boasts conference facilities and a state-of-the-art driving centre. The main meeting area has comfortable seating for up to 22 delegates U-shape or up to 80 theatre style, with additional break-out areas. The Land Rover Experience offers a wide range of driving options for clients with or without their own vehicles. They can choose from 1-hour taster drives to half-day, full-day, advanced days and trek days.

We were able to enjoy a half-day experience. After being served refreshments, we were given a quick overview of our vehicles and a safety briefing and then we were seated in the vehicles for an off-road drive. The instructor was at the wheel whilst we got a feel for the course. He gave us a taste of what the vehicles could do on the ups and downs of the terrain ready for us to take our turn in the driver’s seat.

There are 15 vehicles of 4x4s on offer. I was in a Range Rover Vogue, but it could have been a Sport, Discovery, Discovery Sport or Defender. I took the wheel and drove slowly, because speed is not to be recommended on a rocky track with very sharp corners. I made full use of the cameras located in the wing mirrors so I could make sure the tyres were in line with the rocks and not falling off the edges. It was a tricky manoeuvre to traverse an 18-inch wide gulley, not to mention the care and caution required when literally in deep water. I had to check out the on-board sensors to see how close we were to the depth limit for the vehicle.

Then I had to maintain a firm grip on the when driving over worn and uneven rail sleepers. I concentrated on keeping the vehicle on line, with just enough acceleration to get over them but not so much that I would lose control. I have to say that it was handy to have the instructor by my side, offering little bits of advice, also explaining what driving mode to select - and how to change it even when the Range Rover was still in motion.

But the most fun of all were the hill descents. This involved lining up the vehicle at the top, hearing the groan from the brakes as I kept it at the ready, then letting the descent mode kick in as I lifted my foot from the brake pedal and put both feet flat in the foot-well away from any pedals, allowing the car to go down the hill in its own way. My job was to keep the wheels in a straight line, as they would otherwise have chosen to go one way or another, off track. The fun continued even when I was a passenger and could sit back and watch a fellow occupant dealing with the problems presented to him by the terrain.

Finally it was a more sedate drive along normal tracks and roadways back to the gates of the estate. There the instructors took over to use the public road to The Bull for lunch.

The Bull is one of five Ribble Valley Inns that are also part of Northcote Leisure Group. Again they use the finest, freshest ingredients from local suppliers to create a menu based on tradition but with some contemporary twists. We chose from a menu inspired by Nigel Haworth and cask ales and an award winning wine list compiled by leading wine expert Craig Bancroft.

I went with a ‘paddle’ of cask ales which consisted of three sample-sized beers. They were a perfect accompaniment to my 8oz burger. Others in our group opted for fish and chips, Nigel Haworth’s Lancashire hotpot or pan-fried sea bass.

After lunch we were back in the Range Rovers and heading for Kelbrook shooting school, but the drivers from Land Rover Experience still had a little fun with us as we drove there. They picked out a route that no normal vehicle would be able to handle, driving down a tiny lane and into a narrow river for about five minutes, before rejoining the main road.

Our destination was the Kelbrook Shooting School just eight miles out of Skipton. It is run by Michael Meggison, a member of the British Olympic shooting team in 1980 and1984, and his son Aaron, who has also been a successful member of the British team and a competitor in the Commonwealth championships since the age of 13. The school has 50 fully automated traps around a 70-acre estate that comprises lakes, flight ponds, moorland, forest and rhododendron cover. There are 34 sporting stands.

These include hides, lowered platforms, raised platforms and nine towers ranging in height from 12ft up to 80 ft (about 4 to 25 metres).

For corporate groups there is a choice of two half-day programmes and one full day. For a half-day, there are no more than six guests per coach and they take part in shoots on four clay target layouts. These represent pheasant, rabbit, snipe and duck shoots with approximately 40 shots each person. After a coffee break there is a competition over the four targets to determine who is to be awarded the ‘Top Gun’ prize of the day.

The alternative half-day programme has an added taster flush, engaging teams of two or three competitors in an exciting rapid-fire event. Each has a total of approximately 55 shots.

The full day programme has an extra clay target shoot, making five in all with a total of around 95 shots each. There is also lunch and afternoon tea included in the itinerary.

Before being given a gun, we had a safety briefing and we were tested to see which was our master eye and whether or not anyone needed an eye patch to help us keep the targeting eye open.

We were equipped with hearing protection and glasses where necessary and then divided male and female teams. None of the ladies had ever previously fired a shotgun, so our instructor allocated extra time to ensure that each of us had hit at least one of the five clays. Actually some in our group hit as many as three clay pigeons.

The second trap station was completely different. The targets flew directly overhead in between the tree tops and we had to use a different technique aiming ahead of the clay. I didn’t manage a single hit.

The rabbit trap was much harder still, fast moving and bouncing along the ground. I fluffed the first two attempts, then got the hang of it and hit the next three spot-on. At the duck trap we shot from a raised platform at a target floating over the lake. The technique was to cover the target before firing. Our team was quite successful at this. We then joined up with the boys team and were divided into teams of one male with one female, according to our scores up till that point.

There was a team shoot-off, with both team members trying to hit as many targets as possible from 20 rapid fire clays being shot out over the lake. It involved reloading the guns whilst the clays continued to fly out. It was great fun even though I only managed to hit one of the ten clays. I had expected to do better, judging from the progress I had been making.

However, there were cream cakes with tea and coffee and then prizes were awarded to the best of the male and female shooters of the day.

Northcote’s bar was the venue for pre-dinner drinks later that evening and we put the cocktail-making skills of the bar staff to the test by going off menu and simply suggesting a few spirits that we liked and seeing what the bar staff could mix up. They did not disappoint. Whilst savouring the drinks we were able to view the menu and select our dishes for dinner. My starter was red leg partridge and my main course was aged rare breed beef. Dessert was melting ginger pudding. Each course was such a work of art on a plate that it felt a shame to eat it and destroy all that had gone into its presentation. However, the great flavours soon overcame that feeling, so the day ended with yet another superb experience, before another good night’s sleep and the return journey by Virgin Trains.

Northcote’s meeting facilities
The Northcote property comprises two buildings: the Manor House and the Garden Lodge. The Manor House has the restaurant, bar, 18 guest rooms and the Louis Roederer Room. The Louis Roederer Room has its own private entrance, bar, lounge and courtyard and is able to accommodate up to 60 guests. It can be into two separate spaces, the Vintage Room able to host up to 36 seated and the Cristal Room can seat up to 14. It can be used for both private dining and for meetings. As a Boardroom, it can host from 14 to 24 people. The rooms are fully equipped with Smart TV and high quality presentation screens, DVD, music and surround sound, private wash room facilities, complimentary Wi-Fi and air conditioning. Northcote offers both an 8-hour and 24-hr delegate package.

Northcote also runs a Cookery School in its Michelin-star kitchen, with a variety of culinary courses available, from skills and techniques to entertaining, themed classes and premium master culinary classes. The school features four stations that can accommodate a maximum of eight people, with participants able to watch through the glass front to see the real action taking place in the main kitchen. Participants receive an information pack on all of the food prepared during the course as well as a Northcote Cookery School apron to take home.

There are three categories of guestrooms in the Manor House: six Deluxe rooms, nine Superior rooms and three Classic rooms. The three Classic rooms are decorated with a contemporary design and have a shower. The Deluxe rooms feature a king size bed with separate bath and shower, and the Superior have Queen size beds and differing bathroom configurations. There are a further eight rooms available within the Garden Lodge.

The Garden Lodge itself is a new addition to Northcote. Located in the gardens, the rooms have been designed exclusively by Jill Holst of Ward Robinson, exuding their own individual character. They combine rich fabrics, soft furnishings and wall coverings with highly distinctive furniture.

There are eight luxurious and spacious rooms, including four Garden Lodge Deluxe Rooms, three Garden Lodge Superior Rooms and one impressive Master Suite. There is also a lounge area for relaxation and a pantry kitchen as well as boot and drying rooms. The Deluxe rooms feature either a balcony or terrace overlooking Northcote Gardens, and each room is fully equipped with Temple Spa Luxury Bathroom Products, Soft Cotton Bathrobes, Bose Wave Radio and CD with iPod Dock, Smart TVs with Sky, BT and ESPN sport channels, complimentary Wi-Fi, DVD player and access to a complimentary DVD library, mini bar (complimentary range of soft drinks), an optional evening turn-down service, daily newspaper and hot beverage facilities. The Superior Rooms also feature either a terrace or balcony but the views also look over the Ribble Valley countryside.

The Master Suite features an ensuite bathroom with bath, separate double shower and twin basins, a separate lounge with an L-shaped sofa and a recessed fire as well as a separate guest toilet. The doors from the bedroom and sitting area lead onto a balustrade balcony with spectacular views across the Ribble Valley to the roofs of Stonyhurst village.

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Travelling with Virgin Trains
A single Standard Class fare is available from £20 
A single First Class fare is available from £42
Typical journey time between London and Preston is just 2hrs 8 mins. Those routed via the West Midlands take slightly longer. 
Virgin Trains operate two services an hour during the core of the day (Mon – Sat).

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