Forest of Bowland

Jonathan’s View

Unspoilt and Undiscovered, the Forest of Bowland awaits the enterprising walker.”

The Area

There is perceived rule of travelling that the more popular and well known a place the better and more worthwhile it must be. However this is often not the case and is certainly not the case as far as excellent walking is concerned. Occupying a triangle between the two trunk roads of the M6 and the A65 and north of the Lancashire mill towns lies the Forest of Bowland.

It is an area of unspoilt beauty with vast tracks of moorland split by wide valleys, pretty streams and a few (but only a few) attractive villages. Farming is the main land use (not tourism) although to the east forbidding Gisburn Forest is a bikers’ paradise and large Stock’s reservoir encourages considerable number of fishermen.

History of the Forest of Bowland

River Ribble
River Ribble

The History of the Forest of Bowland is dominated by the feudal system of land ownership introduced over 1,000 years ago. Lords and great families dominated the lands and small settlements grew up which became the villages of today. It was not a poor area and the king himself came up and enjoyed the hunting. As a result feudal land use has been preserved with the wholesale clearing of land (for sheep farming) that took place in the nearby Yorkshire Dales avoided. Industrialisation never encroached on the area in any significant way and life passed on unchanged.

Only the arrival of some tourists in the later 20th century changed some of the land usage. The area is rife with traditions and rumours from the past. Of particularly noteworthy detail was the trial and conviction of the Pendle Witches and their subsequent journey to the hangman in 1612.

More mundane (and recent) was the development of Gisburn Forest and the building of Stock’s Reservoir in the last century. However the Forest of Bowland still remains one of the most traditional and unchanged areas which exist in England today.


Quiet lane near Slaidburn
Quiet lane near Slaidburn

Slaidburn is recognised as the capital of the Forest of Bowland with Dunsop Bridge its trusted lieutenant. It is an attractive village in the middle of the Forest of Bowland with a deserved reputation for attracting tourists to the excellent walking nearby. There is a fine village green beside the River Hodder, which is home to a family of friendly ducks, and has lovely views over the surrounding fells. The village also boasts the wonderful old church of St Andrews and a pub of great character (the Hark to Bounty) named after the squire’s favourite hound.

There are many other fine old buildings in Slaidburn. Waterloo House, the old Methodist church, Glebe House and the Slaidburn Heritage Centre are all well preserved due to the slightly unusual history of the village. Since the late 19th century the village has been ‘owned’ by the King Williamson family who have preserved much of the character of the village. They have been able to avoid the modern developments that have blighted the outskirts of other picturesque villages.

Dunsop Bridge

Langdon Brook, Dunsop Bridge
Langdon Brook, Dunsop Bridge

Dunsop Bridge is situated on the apex of the Rivers Dunsop and Hodder (the centre of Britain?) from where the bridge takes its name. It is smaller than Slaidburn with fewer facilities but the tea shop called Puddleducks is an excellent place to buy your essentials. Bird watchers, cyclists and of course walkers will enjoy the peace of this attractive little village. The nearest pub is the famous Inn at Whitewell which is a mile and a half down river.

It is for the walking that people come to Dunsop Bridge. In particular the access to the lands around the Trough of Bowland and the fine moors to its west. It is lonely walking so you are unlikely to meet anyone here but that brings so many advantages.

Other villages in the Forest of Bowland

Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill

Other villages within or just outside the Forest of Bowland are Chipping and Hurst Green. Chipping is in an idyllic location under the moors on the western flanks of the Forest of Bowland. It is pretty and traditional with a good pub in its centre and is a place where I would be more than happy to spend a weekend.We even acquired Mist from one of the local farms!

Hurst Green is very different, smart and one of the most desirable places in the area. Hurst Green is typical of a village which has prospered by being the workers’ home for a large mansion. It is an attractive village with some excellent pub/restaurants. More interestingly Hurst Green is a pretty village where JRR Tolkein took inspiration for some of the Lord of the Rings books. His son was working at the college at the time and he roamed the lands nearby.

The hills of Longridge and Pendle are fine viewpoints to the west and south of the region. They stand out from the flatter lands around and entice the wary walker up them. It is worth it.

To the north of the Forest of Bowland is an area of wild moorland which gradually drops in to the pretty valley of the River Wenning and two neighbouring villages of High and Low Bentham. Now these two villages really are untouched and unspoilt with some excellent walking country on the doorstep. As a holiday base it is a quieter option to Ingleton yet only a few miles distance. Ingleborough however remains clearly and impressively in view.

Best Walks

Click on the links below for further details of my favourite walks in the area.


Nicky Nook from Scorton. An excellent short walk over an attractive hill and pleasant woodland.

Exploring Gisburn Forest. Following some of the cycle routes a good impression of a working forest can be gained.

Slaidburn – Croasdale Beck. A short walk around the foothills of the Slaidburn moors.

Bentham Riverside Walk. A quiet walk along the River Wenning on good paths which link High and Low Bentham.


Circuit of Stock’s Reservoir. A circular walk of 8 miles round man made Stock’s reservoir with some excellent bird life to be seen.

Villages of Clitheroe. Visit 3 of the idyllic villages near Clitheroe which lie on the River Ribble.

Sawley and the Ribble A 10 mile circuit exploring the villages and history of this section of the River Ribble.

Footsteps of Tolkein. Explores the landscape that inspired JRR Tolkein to write much of Lord of the Rings.

Longridge Fell. Pick your way up the forestry path from Hurst Green to experience the far reaching views from the summit.

A Round of Birkett Fell. A walk of great contrast within its 7 miles starting at Dunsop Bridge; farmland, rivers, woodland and moors all combine.

‘Barlick’ and Weets Hill. An isolated hill near Barnoldswick gives good views across Lancashire & the southern Dales


Fair Snape Fell. The stretch of hill between Fair Snape and Parlick is my favourite stretch of walking in the Forest of Bowland.

Fells above Slaidburn. A 7 mile round of the fells to the south of Slaidburn taking in moors, farmland and a lovely stretch of riverside.

Pendle Hill from Downham . A steep climb to the plateau is still my favourite way to enjoy Pendle Hill.

Witches of Pendle…hill. Pendle Hill can be seen from miles around in all directions and has a sinister history to explore.

Trough of Bowland. From Dunsop Bridge the walk follows a beautiful valley to the Trough before returning along the River Hodder.

Ruined Castles of Dunsop Bridge. Splendid walking in lovely scenery, just do not get excited by the castles!

Moors north of Slaidburn Wild walking across some rarely visited moorland and valleys.

Weather Forecast



Other Things to do

Slaidburn Heritage Centre. An excellent collection of memorabilia displaying the history of farming in the area.

Stonyhurst College. A grand old building often open to the public where amongst others Arthur Conan Doyle was a scholar and JRR Tolkein resided.

Bowland Wild Boar Park. Near the pretty village of Chipping the park offers a great day out for families including the ‘tractor and barrel ride’.

Browsholme Hall. The oldest surviving family home in Lancashire there are guided tours through the house and gardens.

Gisburn Forest For more information from the Forestry Commission visit their web site.

Sawley Abbey. The remains of a Cistercian abbey at Sawley offer a glimpse in to the past when religious orders were all powerful


Places to Stay

Cottages in the Dales

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