First, a caveat, a confession. I was given the penthouse. It is not a word I expected to hear at a country inn, on the Fylde peninsula, halfway between Preston and Blackpool, but it is a fitting term for this enormous, open-plan, ?200-a-night doozy. It looks like a magazine feature, with its walk-in shower, freestanding bath beneath a huge Velux window, wall-mounted Bang & Olufsen iPod dock, and terrace overlooking the River Wyre. Half the space is, essentially, a wet room.
The rate is steep, but if you had reason (anniversary, honeymoon, lottery win), you would struggle to find such space and style, at this price, elsewhere. Likewise the standard rooms: I looked over most of the 14, which are available at a bargain single-occupancy business rate of ?65, Sunday to Thursday. If your boss needs someone to go to the Fylde, volunteer. On the proviso you can stay here.
Opened in a new extension last July, the rooms have thick carpets, slick bathrooms and handsome furniture. The attic rooms in particular – one a tartan-and-Union-Jack homage to Vivienne Westwood – elegantly reconcile historic pub and modish design. Julie Beaume, who runs the inn with her French husband Patrick, has a good eye. The finish is of a notably high spec.
If that makes the Cartford sound like some horribly chichi, plastic country inn, it’s not. Yes, it’s been given a swanky facelift. Yes, its retro chandeliers and designer wallpapers could set your teeth on edge were this some pretentious Cheshire “dining pub”. But here it’s done with charm and humour.
The bedrooms are restrained, but the pub is a jolly chaos of objects (including local Ditchfield glassware), colourful art and vintage drink adverts. It also retains its real ales, roaring fire and role as a community hub, with old boys playing dominoes. The menu is simple, modern pub food, rendered with quiet skill by chef Ian Manning.
A well-turned, if slightly fridge-cold, ham hock terrine had a robust texture and flavour, the accompanying piccalilli nicely calibrated. An oxtail-and-beef suet pudding was a rich, meaty hillock, the pastry a shade thick, but the silken mash and gravy spot-on. It was offset by a cold, sharp beetroot salad. Sourcing is predominantly local, if not strictly seasonal (asparagus in November!), with ingredients such as Pilling marsh lamb and, on occasion, sea bass and squid from Morecambe Bay.
Are there flaws? Of course. The rather thin, standard-issue towels, and the jar of H2K toiletries (no, me neither). The room needs blackout blinds. Breakfast is fairly basic, if sound. But, overall, this is a distinctive bolthole of real warmth, which, were it in the Lakes or Devon, would be a lot more expensive and much better-known.
• Tony travelled from Manchester to Poulton – le-Fylde with First TransPennine Express (tpexpress.co.uk)
• For more information on things to do and see on the Fylde, visit visitlancashire.com