‘Hidden gem’ Bay Horse is a secret no longer

Nicola and Craig Wilkinson, Bay Horse, Ellel.
Nicola and Craig Wilkinson, Bay Horse, Ellel.

In the not-too-distant past The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant was described as a “hidden gem”.

Only those in the know sought it out – and others who found it down a quiet country lane between Garstang and Lancaster may well have stumbled across it by accident.

The Bay Horse, Ellel

The Bay Horse, Ellel

Now under chef patron Craig Wilkinson The Bay Horse is an award-winning gastro-pub and a well-kept secret no more.

The pub, in the village of Bay Horse, Ellel, dates back more than 200 years and started life as a farmhouse.

It was taken over 25 years ago by Fylde Coast couple Brian and Mae Wilkinson, who had run the famous Illawalla night club at Thornton, where Ken Russell filmed his film Valentino featuring Rudolph Nureyev.

In 1992 they took on the Bay Horse at Ellel and their son Craig jumped in to help them.

Craig said: “I came to help my mum and dad straight from college. I had been offered a job in London but I decided to come in here and help them set it up.”

Craig recalls the carpets were threadbare and it needed more than a good lick of paint.

He put his training at Courtfield College in Blackpool to good use in the kitchen.

The business became food-led, and the regulars and reputation of the Bay Horse grew, becoming known for top quality locally-sourced food.

Then in the early 2000s the business really took off.

The Bay Horse was awarded a Lancashire Life Food and Drink Award and it never looked back.

In the years since, The Bay Horse has gained several awards proving its consistency and passion to provide the very best of locally-sourced produce.

Six years ago the family had the chance to buy the pub off brewery Mitchells.

Craig, now 45, said it was both exciting and scary.

He said: “We bought it right in the middle of the recession. Looking back, it was very brave, but it had to be done.

“We always wanted to buy it off them.

“The pub was already a food-led business and I wanted to build on that.”

Craig said he saw the shift from a drinking culture to dining out and he knew he had be on top of every aspect of the business.

He said: “In the recession a lot of pubs went under. People couldn’t afford to run them.

“You have to keep one step ahead all the time. You have to adapt and run a very professional business.”

In summer 2015 Craig’s wife Nicola joined the team and she and Craig hope to build upon the successes of his parents .

Brian and Mae, who live in St Annes, have now taken a step back but still come into the pub once a week to help out.

Craig and Nicola now have a son, Hugh, born just a few weeks ago.

For Craig, cooking is a way of life and the long days are not a chore.

The career he chose is now trendy with the rise of TV shows such as Masterchef.

He said: “It’s a vocation. It’s a lifestyle.

“It was pretty much underground when I started.

“I thought the celebrity thing would die down after a few years but it seems to have got bigger.

“We will keep developing. We look after our staff and get them involved inthe business and treat them well.”

Now the Bay Horse is looking to expand the business, improving facilities and adding up to 20 more covers.