We head to the picture-perfect village of Downham in Lancashire in our ongoing quest to uncover the finest villages in England.
Downham has been on my must explore list for a while now. It was a recent re-run of the British classic film Whistle Down the Wind which gave me the extra impetus needed to get out an explore this jewel of the Ribble Valley.
If you are not familiar with Whistle Down the Wind, it was a film launched in 1961 starring Hayley Mills, Bernard Lee and Alan Bates. The plot revolved around three young children on a farm who believed they’d discovered the reincarnation of Jesus Christ in a barn.
As most of this film was to be shot outside of a studio, having the right location would be a major key to its success. Fortunately, an accountant from Burnley tipped off the films location manager about Downham and a great film was born.
To give the film an even more authentic feel, the production team decided to use children from primary schools in Downham and Chatburn alongside some of the village residents. This helped to make Whistle Down the Wind one of Britain’s classic feel-good films. And, who knows? Without Downham, its beautiful buildings and glorious backdrop, it could well have been just another wonderful film confined to a dusty shelf.
It’s been a couple of years since I last wrote a piece on a British village. Last time, my subject matter was Silverdale on the North Lancashire coast. I have absolutely no idea why I hadn’t written a focus piece on a British village since then. In all honesty, there was no excuse. It’s only a short drive from where I live and I had been there recently to meet up with a childhood friend.
On that occasion, the stunning views and fine ale at the Assheton Arms were enough to satisfy me. But, I knew there was far more to this picturesque piece of England than this.
As we were having some extraordinarily good Spring weather, I convinced my wife we needed to do some exploring and Downham would be the ideal place. My primary goal was to experience the true essence of the village. In addition, I wanted to take a closer look at the architecture and chat to visitors and the residents.
Lancashire is blessed with a plethora of beautiful locations but very few make you feel like you are actually stepping back in time like Downham does. Unlike other villages, Downham doesn’t have a condensed feel about it with buildings stacked up on top of each other. The absence of TV aerials, satellite dishes and large signage all contributes to the time-warp feeling. It’s only the modern-day cars parked around the village which gives the date away.
The lack of large signs has its obvious visual benefits but doesn’t help so much when it comes to parking. Most people who come to visit tend to park by the side of the road, never realising there is a free car park at the foot of the village. In addition to the free car parking, there is also public toilets and a visitors information centre. Even these public toilets are not immune to the charm and character of this village. They were converted from a cow shed and still have the dividing walls in place. And the walls in the adjacent visitor information centre are adorned with award plaques confirming that the affection for Downham is shared by others.
As you start wandering around the village, the surrounding hills and countryside are ever-evident. The babbling brook running through the village is a magnet for wildlife. Ducks fly around you and noisily quack away. Smaller birds dart between the trees and hedges. All the while, their songs and the clean air reinforces that traditional English countryside feeling.
Downham has a magical quality about it that makes you think ‘what’s the rush?’ Even a leisurely walk can become a task. The scenery, sounds of the birds and the water makes you want to sit down, relax, observe and listen.
On a sunny day, the flowering borders and well manicured grassed areas is a sight to behold. In addition to these, the residents contribute to the perfectly manicured look and feel. The stone-walled slate-roofed cottages are all beautifully maintained and enhanced with flower pots and reminders of the villages country heritage.
On every visit to Downham, you’ll probably feel the urge to start taking photographs. It’s well worth making the effort. It will act as a permanent reminder of just how beautiful England can be.
During our visit to Downham, we enjoyed watching the young lambs frolicking in the small stone walled paddocks. We even came across some rare Soay sheep, a breed we had only recently been made aware of. These sheep have a gazelle-like quality about them and are the most primitive-looking sheep we have in England. It wasn’t just seeing the Soay which made us happy. The fact that they all had lambs was an encouraging sign for this very special breed.
At the top of the village is the Assheton Arms. This is a charming public house with 14 en-suite rooms. The Assheton Arms offers some gorgeous views over the countryside and is situated opposite the church. It has picked up numerous accolades over the years including ‘Pub of the Year’ from Lancashire Tourism and the Ribble Valley Tourism team.
One of the mainstays of the menu is seafood due to the founders’ historic links to the fishing industry. If you’re not in the mood for some seafood, don’t worry as there is a good choice of British classics and comfort foods also available.
The Assheton Arms is open Monday to Friday: 7.30am ~ 11 pm, Saturday: 8 am ~ Midnight and Sunday: 8 am ~ 11.00pm. Food is served all day.
If you’re craving something a little sweeter and dare I say, a little naughtier. The Downham Ice Cream Shop is a must visit.
Located in the lower part of the village and a short walk from the public car park. The Ice Cream Shop has a wide selection of drinks, confectionery and desserts. Probably enough to satisfy every type of sweet-toothed fan.
We stood and watched a procession of school children come into Michelle Brown’s shop. Dressed in their pristine uniforms, excitedly looking at what was on offer. We immediately noticed something quite alien to us, something we simply had to ask her about.
Each of the school children was incredibly well-mannered and polite. “Please, can I have one of those”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye”. On all of our extensive travels, we’ve unfortunately witnessed far too little of this behaviour.
Michelle seemed a little confused by our reaction, stating “It is nothing out of the ordinary, they’re all like this”.
I replied, “wait until you go down South, then tell me it’s normal!”.
If you were fortunate to have a lovely sunny day like we had. You should treat yourself to one of the locally-made ice creams. Just sit down and relax at one of the tables in the front garden and give your eyes and palate a treat.
Where is Downham?
Downham is in the Ribble Valley. The village is on the north side of Pendle Hill off the A59 road about 3 miles (4.8 km) from Clitheroe. Much of the parish, including the village is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For those planning a visit by car, the postcode for your satellite navigation is BB7 4BN.
You can call me old-fashioned, say I am stuck in the past and you’re probably right. It’s true that I hanker back to a less-complicated life. A time when we weren’t ruled by technology and defined by our success. For me, the visit to Downham was emotionally cathartic. And, wandering around the village reminded me of what makes Britain great.
In conclusion, not all the best things in life come with a hefty price tag. In my opinion, we can probably all benefit from some olde-worlde Downham charm.