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The Ribble at Marles Wood

I’ve just come a cropper on the Ribble Way. I seem to have discovered the knack, this year, of navigating rights of way that no longer exist, other than on the OS map. I’m using the latest mapping, and GPS. X marks the spot, and yes, it looks like there was a path through here once. I see shadows of its former self in the lie of the land. But it’s adopted now as part of the expanding grounds of this big old house. Mystically speaking, I’m standing in a liminal zone, then. We’re somewhere between the deep past, and a future in which the path isn’t even a memory in the most venerable and crustiest of walkers heads. Technically I’m not trespassing on private property, because the map says I’m not, but I doubt the owner would see it that way. After some desperate manoeuvres in the undergrowth, all efforts end in barbed wire, and I concede defeat. This is becoming a habit.

The path has been unofficially rerouted. I’ve missed the opening, which I discover a little higher up the lane. So, I drop a pin on the GPS to remind me of the location where the path disappears, should I ever come this way again. I’ll not bother reporting it. It’s not my patch, and I’ve got a few reports on the County Council’s PROW website already. I’ll be getting a reputation as a pedantic nutter. Besides, the re-route is as plain as day if you know what you’re looking for, which I didn’t. But here we are. On we plod.

We’ve got a moody sky and light rain today. Pendle hill was the plan this morning, up the Big End from Barley. But it looked like it was promising a soaking, so we came off the A59 and worked our way along the little lane to the car park at Marles Wood. I was there in the summer, delighted by the stretch of the Ribble, upstream to Dinkley Bridge. It was the same today, very picturesque, though looking less autumny that I would have thought for the time of year.

Just down from the car park, we encounter the Ribble at its most lovely. It emerges from a rocky ravine overhung by woodland, before taking a wide bend into open country. There were cormorants and egrets fishing from a distant clutch of rocks this morning. I remember trying a photograph there in the summer, with the big camera, which didn’t come out very well. I’ve got the smaller Lumix today, which usually makes light work of murky conditions. We’ll see how it does.

The walk goes upstream, takes in the Dinkley Bridge, then downstream along this section of the Ribble way to Ribchester, before looping back to the car. I’d given up on it in the summer, in the heat, made do with the Marles Wood stretch, and I’m glad I did. I’m far less enchanted by this return leg on the Ribble Way, but only because my pride is dented. I don’t like mucking about in mud and brambles around farms, and posh houses. I’m sure the occupants don’t like it either. But a little friendly signage would go a long way towards helping everyone out. I have the impression the wealthy find the footpath network annoying, even a little socialist, and would rather have it done away with. Or is that the politics of envy talking?

Ribble Way signage, resting in the mud.

Speaking of signage, I come across a fallen footpath marker a little further on. I’m getting the impression the Ribble Way isn’t a well walked route, or not well liked by landowners. Anyway, we muddle through, make it finally to a line of fishermen by the bridge at Ribchester, where the air is suddenly funky. I’ve no idea what other narcotics smell like, but cannabis isn’t exactly discrete. If it’s ever legalised there’ll be an outcry against the smell alone. Odd, but I’d never have thought to combine whacky baccy with fishing.

The rain is coming on heavier now. I had planned to take the rights of way that cut up through the environs of New Hall, then up the valley side, into the woods – more new ground for me. This might be straight forward, or it might involve another mysterious re-route. With the weather coming on, I’m in no mood for that, so take a short-cut and brave the traffic along the Ribchester Road. A pleasant diversion for a wet day, about five miles round, and worth it for the section between Marles Wood and Dinkley bridge alone.

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The new Dinkley Bridge, Hurst Green, Lancashire

July swells to a deeper green.
Riot of wildflower,
pointillistic specks
of yellow and blue,
in meadows left unmown.
Lazy smudge of ancient trod
under the steam heat of a
sunless afternoon,
while balsam and nettle,
and long, drooping grasses,
cross their sleepy arms
over seldom walked ways.

A short run out today, Hurst Green, Ribble Valley, a walk down to the new Dinkley foot-bridge on the river and a visit to Marles Wood. This is not a seldom walked way, indeed this attractive stretch of the Ribble is understandably very popular, but for some reason those lines came to me while I was walking it, as if I was the last man on earth.

I park the car at the village hall in Hurst Green – suggested fee £2.00, but I’m 20p short. It’s an honesty box and no one’s counting, so I don’t suppose they’ll know, or mind. It’s a stubbornly overcast day, with a steamy heat that saps the energy from one’s bones. I’m not really in the mood for walking far – just looking for a change of scene, and a run out to somewhere pretty. There’s a good circuit you can do on foot, down the river to Ribchester from here, then back up the Ribble Way, on the other bank, but something about the day has me spurning all ambition.

I find the bridge and cross it, then sit on the riverbank for lunch, while watching herons wading in the shallows, fishing for theirs. Big camera today, but not much to point it at yet, other than the herons. I never saw the original Dinkley bridge, a suspension type, built in 1951. It lasted until the floods in 2015, when it was finally damaged beyond repair. Work on a replacement was completed in 2019. This is a wider structure, firm under foot. The original had a reputation for being a bit wobbly.

The Ribble is a fine river, but very little of it is accessible to the public. I have traced my finger along it on the map from source to sea, always disappointed by how seldom the green pecked ways are able to hug its banks. Indeed, I read only 2% of England’s rivers are accessible to the curious pedestrian. This is irrespective of the so-called right to roam negotiated as part of the countryside and rights of way act. That adds up to over 40,000 miles of river we politely defer for private use. Yet rivers are such relaxing places to walk by, I wonder people are not more angry about being excluded from them.

Anyway, lunch done, we follow the path downstream. It dips in and out of company with the river. Photographic opportunities are few, not helped by the flat light. Just before we enter the gloom of Marles Wood, I chance upon a likely spot, only to find the view is occupied, and I should say significantly improved upon, by a couple of young ladies enjoying a spot of wild swimming. I defer the shot, not wishing to intrude upon their privacy.

After a mile or so, the path parts company with the river, and leads up to the Marles Wood car park. From here the way suggests a narrow stretch of road, by Salesbury Hall, along which the traffic seems to be moving too fast. Alternatively, the OS shows a network of paths that would provide a safer and more pleasant passage to Ribchester, but by now the sweat is dripping from my hat, so I decide to leave that adventure for another day. We turn around and retrace our steps, take in the views we’ve thus far had our back to.

Near Salesbury Hall, the river takes a sudden 90 degree bend, westwards. There is a fine view of it by a clutch of tree shaded rocks. I rest a while, reeling off shots, none of which do justice to the beauty of it. Here, in the mud, I spy a shiny 20p coin. It bodes good fortune.

We’ll take it back, for the car park.

River Ribble, from the Dinkley Bridge

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