Posts Tagged ‘forest of bowland’

Brennand, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

I’ve been thinking I should be travelling a bit further out these days. It’s July after all, and seriously summer. I don’t want to waste another year’s retirement, barely venturing more than a day’s return journey outside of Lancashire. Time to book some B+B, then, and seek out those more distant places, places I don’t get to very often – say the Western Lakes, Southern Scotland or North Wales. But I’ve not done that since before Covid – stayed in a B+B, I mean – mingled with,… you know,… strangers, who might be carrying,… you know,… it,…

So far, touch wood, I’ve not caught it. But people are telling me I’m in the minority now, that I’m bound to get it, that I’m in denial if I think otherwise, so I should just go out and catch it and be done with it. I know it’s less likely to put me in hospital these days, but I also know several people who have caught it recently and it’s taking them a long time to get over it, and then it’s leaving them drained and with lingering chest problems. Getting over it sounds like a long-winded business. Hiking in the hills is about the lungs as much as the legs, and Covid seems to take both. Is it wise then to risk company, for a taste of the unfamiliar, when, to catch it might finish my summer altogether?

Or so ran my thoughts as I browsed places to stay this week, and yes, I’m starting to feel impatient for adventure, but cases are on the rise,… we’ve just reach 200,000 deaths, and in the end, I decided to play it safe.

So it is, you catch up with me today, motoring by the Inn at Whitewell, bound for Dunsop Bridge, and a day out in the Forest of Bowland. The plan is to park a little way up the Trough road, by Langden Brook, then climb the track up Ram’s Clough, to the nick between Whins Brow and Whin Fell. I’m thinking I should get a good view of The Brennand Valley from there. There are lots of stories of lost valleys, secret places, mythical places, idyllic places hidden from view in an otherwise inhospitable wilderness. The most famous perhaps is the legend of Shangri-la, while, amid the bleakness of the fells, here in the north of Lancashire, we have the seldom seen Brennand Valley.

I first came upon it many years ago, after a very long walk along a private road from Dunsop Bridge – private meaning you can walk it but not drive it. I was heading for the circuit of a hill called Middle Knoll, and wasn’t expecting the revelation of the valley on the way. After all these years, the valley is the thing I remember, while the circuit of Middle Knoll is a blank. The way up over the fell from Langden promises to be a more interesting walk, and not as long if I just nip up and down, plus, the start point puts me in the vicinity of the Langden Grill chuck wagon, of which I have heard great things.

However, I’m disappointed today to find there is no chuck wagon, so there’s no gourmet breakfast barm. But never mind, we’re here. It’s an overcast morning, a flat light, the sky mostly featureless, somewhere between Flake White and Paynes Grey. Meanwhile, the air is heavy, pungent with the smell of ferns, and the buzz of flies. The walk takes us up the Trough road a little, which, for such a lonely road, proves busy with zipping bikes and cars. If you’re on the tourist trail in Lancashire, a run through the Trough is likely to be on your itinerary. This brings about an immediate change of plan, and a commitment to not returning this way, but dropping into the Brennand Valley itself and circling back via Dunsop Bridge. It’s further than I was planning, but involves less traffic.

The Trough of Bowland

I’m determined not to get sucked into the already breathless coverage of the Conservative leadership contest. On politics, I prefer satire now to what passes for objective journalism in the UK. The satirist, John Crace, writing in the Guardian describes it all as game-show territory, and even Peter Obourne, former chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, speaking on DDN paints us a picture of future governance that is even bleaker in prospect than the Bowland hills this morning. But I’m trying for a day without current affairs, and the little blue car agrees, its radio suddenly, and mysteriously, having refused to pick up the BBC on the drive over.

I find it’s quite a pull, up Ram’s Clough, to the top of the ridge. Considering all the hills I’ve climbed since I was a kid, you’d think they’d be getting easier now, but they never do. It’s with an air of anticipation then we crest the ridge and, sure enough, the Brennand Valley comes suddenly and dramatically into view. It’s remote and lush green against the dour, shaggy brown of the surrounding fells, a patchwork of sweet pastures fanning out from the central hub of the High Brennand Farm. It has to be one of the loneliest places in England. Alas, it’s not a dramatic light sort of day, so any pictures will be flat, even after teasing them out in post-processing. But we’ll see.

Ouster Rake, Brennand

We’re about 1400 feet up, now, so find ourselves an impressive perch to soak up the view, and settle down for lunch. Here I meet the only other walkers I’ll see all day, a sprightly Scottish couple, well into their later seventies, making an ascent of Ouster Rake. I’m curious about the rake as I’ll shortly be heading down it. It has a slightly sporting look as it cuts across the face of the hill, which appears uniformly steep, and vertical in places, so I ask if it had given them any trouble. Oh, you’ll be fine, says the lady. You’re plenty young enough. To have reached my sixties, and still be considered a young man, and without irony, by a pair of active seniors, is encouraging, that while old age can be daunting in prospect, it need not be entirely downhill. I still hope to be rambling the hills at their age. What puzzled me though was how neither seemed out of breath. I will always be found out of breath in the hills, and sitting down for a rest.

But speaking of down-hill, lunch done, and having taken our fill of the beauty of this elevated view of the valley, we make our descent into it. Ouster Rake, though a little giddy in places, at least for a wobbly head like me, was nothing but beautiful. But poor weather, and in particular, snow or ice, I think you’d have to watch your feet here. It would be a pleasure to come back when the heather is in bloom.

The way down to the farm is occasionally faint, the line of the path petering in and out, but we gradually leave behind the shaggy greens and browns of the fell, and enter the fertile grounds, as we make our way into the bosom of the valley. Looking back up the fell from here there’s a sense of regret, now, the high land only briefly graced, and a long yomp back to the car awaits us, along that private road, to Dunsop Bridge, then a little way along Langden brook.

I’m kept company from here by oyster catchers, which seem to be fishing the river. Over the moors, I’d seen and heard nothing. The Forest of Bowland can swing from an austere beauty to a terrible loneliness, in the blink of an eye, perfectly reflective of the personal predisposition, so it pays to keep your pecker up. No drifting off into depressive thinking on current affairs, or this place will crush you. Better by far to let it help you forget.

Later, as I drive home through Osbaldeston, rattling over the potholes, I note the speed camera, which was set afire, back in May, is still in a state of ruin (police seek witnesses). And as I pass the blackened mess of it – the miscreants used a burning tyre – it’s tempting to read it symbolically, as both a brazen contempt for authority, and authority’s now threadbare lack of finances to fix things when they go up in smoke. Is that the state we’re in, now? But let’s not go there. Let’s remember the day, and the beauty of Bowland.

The valley of Brennand, one of Lancashire’s least seen places, and one of its most beautiful. Yes, it would be nice to get a little further out, but there’s still plenty to be going at in the meantime, in this little corner of the North.

The Trough Road

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Fair Snape Fell and Paddy’s Pole

It seems incredible, the last time I was in Chipping was December 2008. I arrived at first light and drove home in the dark, after following pretty much the route I’ll be following today. Chipping hasn’t changed much. It’s still as elusive a place as ever, to non-locals, though quite a substantial and indeed a very pretty village when you do manage to find it. The roads that morning were icy, and the tops were snowy. Today is forecast for eighteen degrees, but warming already to considerably more than that. I was sad to note in passing the demise of the little Cobbled Corner café, so beloved of cyclists and walkers. We arrive to find the car-park is empty, but then this is a mid-week morning.

I have a chair that was made in Chipping. The H J Berry factory, famous for furniture making since 1840, closed in 2010, finally crushed by the financial collapse. The site is still being cleared this morning. I guess it’ll go for houses. My dining table was made by William Lawrence of Nottingham. That place closed in 2000. I can just about grasp the scale of the loss in terms of skills and livelihoods, but I need a very flexible view of economics to understand why it makes better sense now, if I want something so basic as a chair or a table, to have it made in China, and shipped halfway round the world, regardless of the carbon footprint that implies. The likes of H J Berry and William Lawrence are not coming back. Maybe other, more modern manufactories will replace them in the post BREXIT world. I don’t know. All I know is the shape of the future Global Britain remains, as ever, a mystery.

Anyway, it’s a hot morning, with something of a haze about it, which bodes ill for photography, but we’ll see what comes out. We wend our way out of the village, and pick up the track that takes us to Saddle End Farm, then we strike up Saddle Fell. This is the first leg of a fine horseshoe walk that’ll take in Fair Snape (1706 ft) and end with Parlick (1417 ft). That morning in 2008, I remember an inversion which obscured the tops, but which we came out of on the climb up Saddle Fell, to reveal a cloudless blue, and snow clad hills afloat on a sea of mist. It’s a scene I put in my last novel Winter on the Hill.

Parlick, from Saddle Fell

I must have been much fitter then, as I don’t remember as many of the ups and downs along the way that strike me today, in this heat. I remember tackling the fell without much difficulty, but then memory can be selective. Today I’m flagging, sweating, swigging water every five minutes. The horse-flies are taking lumps out of me, and I’m salving their bites with the now ubiquitous hand sanitizing gel. It seems to work too, and keeps the buggers off.

Although hazy, we still have a sufficiently awesome view across the vale to Longridge Fell. Our later objectives – Fair Snape and Parlick, rising above Wolf Fell, are starting to preen themselves in the light, as the morning matures, and are looking a lot bigger than I remember. These are substantial hills, Fair Snape only a little lower than the grand old lady Pendle herself.

It’s cooler as we crest the ridge and come onto the moor-top, but only because the air is moving a little. I remember skittering about on ice up here last time – the bogs all frozen deep. Today the moor is dry and dusty, the meandering trail leading us across to Paddy’s Pole on Fair Snape. There’s litter here, and the remains of past lunches. Paddy’s pole is – well – a pole sticking out of a substantial cairn. Nearby is a well constructed wind-shelter of dry-stone walling, comprising several stalls. Way south is Parlick, with its ever present coterie of paragliders. They were aloft that winter too. It was minus five on the summit then. Heaven knows what it was up around the paraglider man’s toes.

We have quite a drop in altitude, before the final pull to the stately dome of Parlick (1417ft). By now the hips are aching. I’m hoping this is just a bit of stiffness and not a sign of wear and tear. My mother’s hips began their decline around my age, rendering the last decade of her life one of severe immobility and frustration, even with an eventual replacement in her early eighties which she never really got the use of. We keep our fingers crossed, make hay while the sun shines and soldier on – to seriously mix our metaphors.

Fair Snape summit, looking back from the ascent of Parlick

The descent from Parlick is a steep one. We meet the paraglider men coming up with their huge packs, and pity them, though they look happy enough, and why not? Not all humans are destined to fly as they are. There is a hang-glider coming up too, rolled into a long and impossibly ungainly package, which the guy carries over his shoulder. He makes painfully slow progress, his brow dripping in the heat, and humidity. There is something messianic in his plodding torment. One hopes he manages to stay aloft long enough to make this purgatorial journey worth his while.

The thermals that will power his flight are in evidence around Fell Foot. They are like earth-scented blasts from an open furnace, and seeming strong enough even to lift my arms, though I obviously imagine it. Gaining the lower ground now, and slightly giddy in the heat, one is tempted to think the walk is over, but we’ve still a way to go and the navigation not so straight forward. Not all the paths are well-marked, and we’re outside the access area, so we must be careful. I’m trying to stay off the roads, but I lose the path around a place called Fish House, which is undergoing extensive rebuilding work, where neither signage nor evidence of gates or stiles exist any more so, in spite of our best efforts searching for a way through, we end up finishing the last mile into Chipping by tarmac.

There’s water in the car, which replenishes the shrivelled extremities, then a large Mocha from the farm shop does the rest. Here, I learn the Cobbled Corner Café is not gone forever, that it may reopen soon, which I’m sure is good news to many.

A fair day on Fair Snape, then, about eight and a half miles, sixteen hundred feet of ascent, four hours round. At this rate, we may even be fit enough to heave our bones up a mountain, before the year is out.

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slaidburn nov 2014

Slaidburn – November 2014

Slaidburn is the self styled touring capital of the Forest of Bowland which this year celebrates 50 years of being designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. Bowland is a vast tract of peat upland in northern England, mostly wilderness, dotted with occasional rounded hills which lend a gently soaring splendour to bog and windy bleakness. It’s also grouse country, much of the land hereabouts being owned by a few wealthy individuals for farming and shooting – one of them being the Duke of Westminster.

Slaidburn also styles itself as a centre for hillwalking, but I’ve never thought of it that way. Indeed I am from a generation of walkers for whom Bowland was never much on the radar due its aggressive attitude set against public access. Rights of way have always existed here, but they were sparse and I always found them to be of little use for a day’s walking, tending more towards the impossibly remote and leading to nowhere you could easily get back to from a parked car. Attractively named peaks: Wolfhole Crag, Wards Stone, Nicky Nook, and many others were simply out of bounds. Interesting walks – horseshoes, rounds, and any genuine, intimate exploration of this so called  “area of outstanding natural beauty” inevitably involved trespass.

As an apprenticed walker I grew up on tales of a past generation for whom forays into Bowland had the air of a special forces raid, avoiding local spies and gamekeepers in order to bag the peak and brag about it afterwards. A friend of mine was once run to ground among the crags of Ward’s Stone by the keeper’s dog. He befriended it by sacrificing his packed lunch, which kept the dog happy while he made good his escape, losing the keeper in the mist. This story is possibly a myth, but a good one. For myself I preferred to avoid conflict and usually headed on up to the Lakes, or the Dales instead where the ways were more certain, the peaks loftier, and the welcome more assured.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 did much to secure access to Bowland’s upland regions, but actual walkable paths are still sparse. There are some permissive routes, all liable closure at short notice. I’ve had a day’s walk cancelled by local restrictions – access to Ward’s Stone peremptorily closed because of a shoot. That day I remember watching as a convoy of glittering black Range Rovers crossed the russet moor like a fleet of galleons. Inside were quaintly dressed gentlemen with guns. I’d driven 50 miles, so turned around and drove 50 more back home.

Slaidburn was always more of a place to bring the kids for picnics on the green, not usually to walk, but there are a number of lowland routes you can enjoy from here without trespassing, though you need good navigation skills and keen eyesight to spot the way markers and, where the markers have “disappeared”, a fair amount of imagination and a magnanimous attitude to failure.

A foggy day in November isn’t the best of times to visit anywhere, but Slaidburn put on a good show today, managing to look homely and quaint. Mostly sixteenth century and with very little modern development, this attractive, unspoiled village – formerly in the west riding of Yorkshire – has a timeless quality about it. Photographs of Slaidburn are best dated by the style of the motor cars. Shoot in sepia today and the village still has a timeless air about it. Built from a mixture of locally sourced limestone and sandstone, it has a picturesque quality, aided by the lack of road-signage, telegraph poles and powerlines that festoon other places. By contrast modern developments do not respect the local character of a place, indeed their building materials may well have come from China. Not so Slaidburn. This is definitely England, and northern, and very, very old – so old it is, in part, still Feudal.

My walk for the day took me past the Hark to Bounty pub, following the little road, Town End, northwards, out of the village, where I picked up the first of a series of farm tracks and then fast vanishing footpaths that threaded their way across upland meadows, back towards the peaty glide of the River Hodder, at Newton. Hill fog and near 90% humidity made for a steamy walk with misting spectacles and rather poor views across the Bowland Fells.

Newton in Bowland 1There’s a bleak grandeur about this landscape, something that stirs the heart, but I have to admit my heart wasn’t exactly on the walk today so much as it had been on the drive over Waddington Fell from Clitheroe. I’ve crossed that fell dozens of times in hatch-back commuter-mules, playing eye-spy with the kids to keep them occupied. Today I’d driven alone in a little roadster that’s been making every journey I take in her something really special. She was down on the carpark, waiting for me, muck splattered, and to be honest all I was thinking about was enjoying the drive home again.

I am not as attached to Bowland as other walkers are. I suppose it’s had its back to me for too long, and to be frank there are other places more understanding of and amenable to my motivations as a hill man. I was open to inspiration of course, as ever, but it was slow coming.

But then, sometimes, the unexpected happens, like fetching up on a dour, black, wind-blasted farm, sunk in mud, like something from a Gothic novel. And there were birds – great murmurations of birds, like smoke, wheeling about, rendering alive the aged roof of the byre in which cattle sulked in muck, birds perched brassily long their backs and heads, robbing feed and bedding – a mad cacophony of shrill birds and lowing cattle.

Lonely places, these, a hard living from the earth, hunkered down among decaying farm detritus and, for the walker, always something intimidating about it when the path turns through the yard, and the dogs are barking, and the black windows of the farm are staring at you in accusation. And the tractors look tired and rusty. I would have liked a friendly face, a cheery wave, someone to point me in the right direction, but there was no one about and I had to guess my way. I’ve had a chill feeling in my gut all weekend, thinking about that place – a place ravaged by marauding murmurations of birds. And loneliness.

The paths became less helpful as I went on, markers missing, ladder styles that lured you into the wrong meadow – meadows from which there was no escape without a long back tracking – and all this shenanigans with GPS and Sci-Fi navigation app on my ‘phone to mark the way. No, this is hardly a popular area for pedestrians, and I wondered what had brought me there other than curiosity. Sometimes the way could only be discerned by a bit of rubber insulation over the electric fences, then giving on to long trackless runs where it appeared neither man nor beast had trod in centuries. If you like your waking lonesome, then Bowland is for you. Come November, midweek, you’ll feel like the last man alive.

dunnow hall

Dunnow Hall – Slaidburn

I was glad to pick up the surer way of the riverside path at Newton, by the Hodder, a path that led me back to Slaidburn across the wide, landscaped, sheep cropped meadows, and under the multifarious windows of the imposing Dunnow Hall. I had been walking for a couple of hours and seen not another soul, but came now upon my first encounter with fellow man – a muddy Landrover patrolling the fields.

I got a wave and a friendly nod as I made way through thickening mist and a light rain. Tough life, farming, summer sun and winter rain, here as anywhere and enough to do without having to maintain a footpath network as well, so the occasional blundering pedestrian can cross your land without getting lost. Loneliness is a state of mind. We are all lonely. Looking for connection, for a friendly face.

I appreciated that wave. Good to know Slaidburn is still a friendly place. Seek it out sometime; take a picnic on a sunny summer’s day, some bread for the ducks. But walking?


Now, driving on the other hand:

mazda slaidburn 2014

Mazzy – Slaidburn, Late November 2014.



Yes, as a touring stop-off, a quick coffee in the cafe and even a look at the Church of St Andrews (est in the 1400’s) and which I highly recommend, Slaidburn’s your place. But unless you’re coming here in a Mk2.5 Mazda MX5, designed in Hiroshima, Japan,… I’ll wager you won’t enjoy the drive half as much as I did!


Goodnight all.

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The News told me it was Black Friday – insisted actually. Today is Black Friday, it said. Everyone is buying stuff! Cameras point to scuffles in ASDA and Tescos to demonstrate the collective decline in morality as devoted consumers fight over discounted televisions and other tat. But I was already on my way somewhere else. I was going to Slaidburn, taking to the hills for a walk in the mud and the fog of the Forest of Bowland. This is a remote and impressively bleak part of Northern England. By the time I came home it was all over and I’d missed it. Never mind there’s always Cyber Monday!

I don’t think so.

If you did watch the video, thanks very much. Glad to have you along for the ride!

Goodnight all.

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