Contact Andrew Bibby
Walking in the Forest of Bowland
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a shortened form, was first published in Country Walking , 2006
Access rights have transformed walkers' choices in the wild and little-known Forest of Bowland in Lancashire .
Bowland is a ‘forest' because it was once a royal hunting estate – so don't think trees, think instead of wide open grouse moors and millstone grit outcrops. Some people have said that the area should have been made a national park, and although this never happened the special nature of Bowland is acknowledged in its designation as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty'.
Bowland's honorary mascot is the hen harrier, the rare bird of prey once persecuted by gamekeepers which now breeds here, high up on the heather moors. Look out too for peregrine falcon, for the short-eared owl and for the diminutive merlin.
Walking the Bleasdale horseshoe
Fair Snape Fell and Parlick Fell have been deservedly popular with walkers for more than thirty years, even since an early voluntary agreement gave access to a small wedge of hilltop at the southern edge of Bowland. I'm on my way to these summits, but by a route which, until very recently, would have left me open to a gamekeeper's wrath. I'm taking advantage of the new access rights to enjoy the grouse moorlands of Hazelhurst Fell and Bleasdale Moor. I'm looking forward to a day of delightful ridge walking in a horseshoe around historic Bleasdale hamlet in the valley below.
The old delph (quarry) in Delph Lane south of Oakenclough offers space for parking, but it's at Stang Yule just to the north where I gain access to the open moors. A rough track winds its way up the hillside, running close to the boundary wall of Fell Plantation below. It isn't long before I'm enjoying the views: over to the south-east are Fair Snape and Parlick, my eventual targets, though at this point they're looking surprisingly far away. It's obviously time to put my best foot forward.
Nevertheless I can't resist the temptation to leave the track I'm on to make a short detour up to the trig point just to my north. The Forest of Bowland has some of the loneliest trig points going (the nearby one at poor old Hawthornthwaite Top, marooned on an eroded plateau of peat, surely would take the prize for the most desolate spot), but there's still pleasure in seeing the familiar white pillar of concrete ahead. I'm in the heart of the grouse moors managed by nearby Bleasdale estate, a stretch of moorland previously unknown to all except hardened trespassers.
A pleasant shooting track provides relatively easy walking for the next mile or so, down to little Clough Heads Brook and then up again, skirting the high ground of Winny Bank. But just beyond Calder Dyke, where the shooting parties park their 4x4s, it's time to leave the track and head for the rough stuff. There's a sign, recently put in by the Forest of Bowland 's excellent countryside team, to point the way towards Fiendsdale Head, and a series of small stones across the rough moorland vegetation to help me find the way. Still, I'm pleased that the weather is holding: this area of Bleasdale Moor feels remote and wild, and I pick my way with care through the peaty bogs.
The fence at Fiendsdale Head marks the boundary of the old access land, and from here things are just a little easier. I follow the fence boundary south-eastwards, negotiating the peat haggs as best I can. Over to the east, in the tributaries of Bleadale Water, are some of the breeding grounds for Bowland's most famous bird, the hen harrier. It's always a privilege to see one of these rare birds, though I can't help remembering the scary time a maternal hen harrier persistently dive-bombed me in another part of Bowland for accidentally approaching her nest – and I was on a proper right of way at the time, too.
The cairn at Fair Snape known as Paddy's Pole is the next target, and then I'm striding along the path to Parlick Fell, its conical shape making it a familiar Bowland landmark. Here I head off the hills, down to Blindhurst Farm and then by field footpaths to Bleasdale church. But there are still some delights ahead: close to the church (mysteriously dedicated to a tenth-century Northumbrian monk called St Eadmer) is the Bleasdale circle, an archaeological site dating back to the Bronze Age. A dig here in the late nineteenth century found a central burial mound with two urns, surrounded by a ditch and a circle of eleven large oak posts. I stop, too, beside the old packhorse bridge over the Brock river, before taking the footpath past Bleasdale Tower back to Delph Lane .
Turn off Delph Lane at Stang Yale, walking up the driveway towards the house. Turn left up the track which leads to the open moors. Follow this track as it makes its way up the hillside, running close to the moorside wall above Fell Plantation.
Continue along the track past the end of the plantation on to the slopes of Hazelhurst Fell. Enjoy the views south towards Beacon Fell and Parlick.
When the start of Coolam Wood lies directly to your south, look for the little path heading up the hill to the left. This leads almost directly to the trig point at the hill top.
2. 3.5kms/ 2 ¼ miles
Retrace your steps from the trig point to pick up the shooting track again. Turn left, and stay on it as it loses height to cross Clough Heads Brook. The track now climbs again, meeting another estate track coming in from the direction of Hazelhurst. Once more follow the track up, heading around the high ground of Winny Bank.
Shortly beyond here, look for the little sign which will point you in the direction of Fiendsdale. A series of unpainted stones mark the line you need to follow but there is no obvious path and the ground is rough and peaty. This is an area of Bowland which was previously barred to the public, and it's easy to feel a pioneer at this point. Persevere through the peaty water channels and haggs and eventually you will arrive at the fence line near Fiendsdale Head.
3. 6.5kms/4 miles
The ladder stile at Fiendsdale Head marks an important crossroads for walkers. A footpath from Hazelhurst comes in from the right, continuing over the stile to head down Fiendsdale Water towards the Trough of Bowland. Ignore this path, however, and instead follow the line of the fence south-eastwards. There are boggy paths on both sides of the fence; arguably the one on the further side of the fence makes marginally easier walking.
The fence leads in due course to a set of cairns , marking the highest point of Fair Snape Fell .
4. 8.2 kms/5 miles
Continue briefly alongside the fence, but leave it shortly to make for the large cairn a little lower down the hillside. The cairn is known as Paddy's Pole, and gives its name to an annual fell race from Chipping to Fair Snape and Parlick.
Between Paddy's Pole and the nearby OS trig point is a curious stone-built shelter made up of four cubicles: ideal for walkers who want to eat their sandwiches without having to make conversation with their neighbours.
5. 9 kms/5 2/3 miles
From Paddy's Pole, the walking is easier. Take the well-walked path which runs off across the grass towards Parlick. This is a pleasant stroll, with five views down to the valley of the little river Brock below. Parlick, however, can be a slight disappointment, as the summit is bisected by boundary fences.
6. 11.2 kms/7 miles
Now the descent begins. Drop down the hillside, making for the large farm of Blindhurst. Pass through the farmyard, and take the field footpath which runs north-westwards towards Bleasdale school. At the school, turn right to walk up to Bleasdale Church .
7. 14 kms/ 8 ¾ miles
A display board near the parish hall gives more information about Bleasdale's main claim to fame, the Bronze Age ‘circle' a little to the north-east.
Unless you're choosing to make the slight detour to visit the site, turn left at the church past Admarsh Barn and follow the field path towards Brooks Farm. The old packhorse bridge over the river Brock makes a pleasant place for a short rest. Continue to Brooks Barn, turning half-left at this point to cross in front of Bleasdale Tower and take the footpath to Broadgate and High Moor, eventually emerging on to Delph Lane near Delph car park.
The walk highlighted in this feature is taken from the book Forest of Bowland (with Pendle Hill and the West Pennine Moors) by Andrew Bibby, one of the guides in the Freedom to Roam series published by Frances Lincoln and the Ramblers' Association.