Far from the Madding Crowd – Bank Holiday Weekend in the Forest of Bowland

I booked a weekend in the Forest of Bowland rather impulsively towards the end of last year, as I’d heard that it was completely undiscovered, and it seemed like the perfect place to go for a ‘quiet’ bank holiday weekend. Cue the scenes of pandemonium which have frequented the British countryside this summer, and as our trip approached, I was feeling increasingly nervous that our quiet weekend away would be one of scrabbling to find a parking space and trying to artistically aim the camera to avoid families picnicking by a stream!

I was so wrong! The Forest of Bowland is going to be one of our new ‘go to’ weekend destinations: over the whole Bank Holiday weekend you could probably count the number of other people we saw on one hand. And what a beautiful, unspoilt part of the country! For somewhere so close to many large towns and cities, it was blissfully litter and crowd free, perhaps because people bypass it on their way to the Lake District. We had a wonderful time and cannot wait to go back – a weekend just wasn’t enough! Read on to find out more about the places which converted us to Lancashire (don’t tell any of our Yorkshire neighbours!).

The Forest of Bowland

For those who have never heard of the Forest of Bowland, you could be forgiven for thinking that the term ‘Forest’ suggests that this is somewhere with a lot of trees. This is actually incorrect, as the phrase ‘Forest’ harks back to the Middles Ages, and just means an area protected for hunting (i.e. no poaching allowed on pain of death!). Long ago the area was roamed by deer, wild boar and even wolves.

The Forest of Bowland was one such area – it was actually part of the land held by the earldom of Lancaster. Much of the land today is Access Land (rather than Public Right of Way) and therefore you will need to check before you take your dog with you – all of the walks we did were dog friendly, but if you head out on a different walk, check before you go. The North Western area (where we stayed) is where the majority of dog restrictions are but there are still plenty of walks you can do with your canine companion! The Cicerone Forest of Bowland and Pendle book has lots of walks and states explicitly in the information box which walks don’t permit dogs, which was really helpful.

The landscape of the Forest of Bowland is wonderfully varied. There are miles of rolling heather topped hills, lush valleys full of grazing livestock and pockets of green and vibrant woodland. The land is probably so vivid due to the amount of rainfall in Lancashire, but we were so lucky with the weather when we visited – sunny everyday and ‘coats off’ walking weather!

The Forest of Bowland is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, something I wholeheartedly agree with, especially in August when the heather is out! The Forest of Bowland is also one of the best places in the UK to spot Hen Harriers – so much so that the bird is the emblem of the AONB. The AONB also covers the nearby area around Pendle Hill, with a gap in the Ribble Valley between the two, although this is also a beautiful place to go walking.

Arnside & Silverdale AONB

On the first day of our visit we popped over to the neighbouring AONB of Arnside & Silverdale. This 8 mile circular walk from Where2Walk takes in all that the area has to offer: beach, woodland, rolling fields and a nice hill to finish off with! There is limited free parking along the shorefront in Arnside but we still managed to get a space at about 9.30am.

I just couldn’t get past the fact that we had the beach practically to ourselves for the whole time we were walking on it – and on a bank holiday too! I think I must have sounded like a broken record! The views across Morecambe Bay were absolutely stunning with the Lakeland Fells rising in the distance. The tide can come in extremely quickly here, make sure you stay near the shore path, so that you can scramble out of the way if necessary!

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. Merry and Coal had the time of their lives on this walk! You could almost hear them shouting ‘BEST. DAY. EVER!’ as they were zooming around on the beach. There is the opportunity for off-lead walks on the inland sections as well, with plenty of woodland paths, but please put them back on a lead if you encounter any livestock in the fields you pass through (we saw sheep and cows). There are poo bins in both Arnside and Silverdale, as well as a few in what must be popular spots with local dog walkers, so it makes a nice change not to have to carry any poos all the way around with you!

Central Moors

We were very lucky to witness the explosion of colour in the Central Moors, as when I booked this trip, I had no idea that there was even any moorland to explore!

This six and a half mile circular walk from the Explore Bowland website around Haredon and Langden gave us the best views of the trip. We walked for about three miles and it felt like we had arrived somewhere you would need to walk for days to reach, as it was so utterly peaceful and wild, and felt totally remote from the rest of the world. The walk takes you past both Haredon and Langden intakes – much of the land is owned by United Utilities – and I was completely gobsmacked to read that the Forest of Bowland provides 110 million litres of water to homes in the North West EVERY DAY. I know it rains a lot in the North West but I still can’t quite get my head around that fact!

The weather was definitely on our side with this walk – much of the terrain crossed is peat moorland, which would be exceptionally boggy if it had been raining. You also need to traverse a section of pathless moorland, so navigation skills are definitely required, or a good GPS app like the paid version of Ordnance Survey maps which is what we use.

We also needed to cross Langden Brook, which was easier said than done, as recent rainfall had submerged the stepping stones completely. In the end I managed to get across on my tiptoes but Sam ended up wading through – so take a spare pair of dry socks just in case!

This was another day where we turned up relatively late (9.30am on Bank Holiday Sunday) and we were the first car in the car park. I just don’t understand why people spend hours driving around the Lake District trying to park when all this is only down the road!

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. Dogs on leads are permitted on this walk, but they do need to be on a lead, due to the ground nesting birds they may disturb if they go romping through the heather – much of this area is a SSSI. That being said, this is a great walk for exploring lots of interesting smells, and there is water along the way for your dog to have a drink or a swim.

Bradford Fell

On the Eastern edge of the Forest of Bowland, Bradford Fell is named after the nearby village of West Bradford, rather than Bradford in West Yorkshire! This was the final walk of our trip and we weren’t sure whether to head here or somewhere else (we thought about both Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest), but decided that as it was Bank Holiday Monday, heading for the hills would be the safest bet for a nice quiet walk.

We definitely made the right choice! We saw a grand total of 3 people in the 4 hours we were walking. We followed the route from the Cicerone book but a similar route map is available on AllTrails. We started in the very picturesque village of Grindleton, where there is limited free roadside parking, arriving at 9.45am on Bank Holiday Monday and getting a space with no problem!

This walk has something for everyone – starting on quiet country lanes (we saw one tractor and no cars), you head through fields and quickly end up on heather moorland, before briefly detouring along the edges of a forestry plantation. We then headed back onto a walled lane through the moorland, and eventually dropped down to a mixture of farmland and woodland, ending the walk in a lovely Woodland Trust wood. You get great views of Pendle Hill on this walk, and briefly walk along the Pendle Witches Way, a 48 mile long distance path which traces the historic journey of the infamous Pendle witches.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. While passing through farmland or open moorland we kept the dogs on their leads, but let them off on the walled lanes and woodland paths where they were able to let off some steam! There was surface water throughout this walk but it is probably worth taking some extra along on a hot day.

Where we stayed

We stayed at the fantastic Rooten Brook Farm, which is very well located for walks around the Forest of Bowland, with fantastic views over Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland Fells (we were glued to the sunsets every night!). The farm is a working farm with both sheep and cows as well as breeding and training sheepdogs.

There are three cottages available to book via cottages.com – don’t forget that you can use Tesco Clubcard vouchers to get up to £99 off! We stayed in Lakeland View and it was very cosy, with a large mezzanine bedroom, and an open plan kitchen/living room downstairs. There is plenty of parking and an enclosed outside space shared with the other two cottages.

The owner has gone to great lengths to make the property feel safe during the Covid-19 pandemic – all soft furnishings like throws and cushions have been removed and all cooking equipment is being washed in between guests. Most impressively, the owner isn’t cashing in on the massive demand for staycations, and is leaving 72 hours in between guests in each property. It felt super safe and we were able to relax completely.

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. When we booked this trip, we only had one dog, so our new addition could have put a spanner in the works! The owner very kindly allowed us to bring along a second dog and the cottage was perfect for them. The floor is flagged downstairs which is always a weight off a dog owner’s mind! The track down to the road from the cottage was also ideal for pre- bedtime walkies, with great views for humans and great smells for the dogs. I think Merry and Coal loved our stay here just as much as we did and we would love to come back one day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog today! The Forest of Bowland was an amazing place to visit and we can’t wait to go back – if you’ve been, let me know what you thought in the comments!

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