FEATURE ARTICLE BY MARK SUTCLIFFE:
Hop aboard the Bowland Explorer – the car-free way to experience the beautiful landscapes of the Forest of Bowland.
The Forest of Bowland is truly one of England’s hidden gems – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) tucked well out of the way off the beaten track between Clitheroe, Longridge, Lancaster and Settle.
The Forest of Bowland isn’t the easiest place to get to and its narrow single track roads can be challenging to navigate by car. But there is a solution that allows keen walkers and discerning day-trippers to explore the Forest of Bowland without a long drive at either end of the day.
The new 833 Bowland Explorer bus service links railway stations at the northern and southern gateways to the Forest of Bowland, providing easy access to the heart of the AONB.
Operating on Sundays and Bank Holidays throughout the summer months, the Explorer leaves Lancaster Bus Station and heads to the market town of Bentham, where it meets rail services from Leeds and Carnforth.
The Explorer then travels via Ingleton and Clapham through the AONB to wind up at Clitheroe, where it collects passengers from Blackburn, Bolton and Manchester before making two more trips into the Forest, ultimately returning via Bentham to Lancaster.
The route provides visitors from both Bentham and Clitheroe with several hours to explore some of the most scenic parts of the AONB before returning to catch the train home from the most convenient station.
And as well as offering access to some superb walking country, the journeys to and from the start point for your walk offer outstanding views of this spectacular landscape – and of the National Parks adjoining it.
With no need to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic, passengers can relax and admire truly stunning views of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and – on a clear day – the Howgills and the Lakeland Fells.
From the highpoints of Bowland Knotts and Cross o’ Greet, the spectacular views stretch for dozens of miles offering a tantalizing foretaste of the day’s adventures and a fitting finale to a perfect day.
Hop on the train at Leeds and step onto the platform of the immaculately kept Bentham Station a little over 80 minutes later.
Driver Dave Hill, says the service is attracting more and more passengers as word spreads among local walkers. “A couple of weeks ago, I had a couple of blokes who had come up from London,” said Dave. “They caught the train from Leeds did a walk from Slaidburn then caught the bus to Clitheroe and got the train back to London.”
Among my fellow passengers is writer and walking and transport enthusiast Colin Speakman, who is also chairman of the Dales Way Association and vice president of the West Riding Ramblers Association.
“We’ve come across the border from Yorkshire to explore some of the best walking country in Lancashire,” said Colin. “It really opens up the Forest of Bowland for us. We're doing a linear walk from Stocks Reservoir to Slaidburn that we wouldn't be able to do without this excellent new service."
John Eaton, who lives on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, was planning to do a circular walk starting in Newton and heading out to Dunsop Bridge before returning to catch the bus back home.
"I don't drive so it's wonderful to be able to get out into such beautiful countryside and walk,” said John. “I often walk in the Yorkshire Dales, but it's quieter this side of the border and it's great to explore new walks in new places."
I wanted to follow the eight-mile circular walk around Stocks Reservoir and after arriving at the main Stocks Reservoir car park, I study the interpretation boards to get my bearings.
Completed in 1932, Stocks Reservoir was a huge construction project that saw the intimate little community of Dalehead in the Upper Hodder Valley, become the scene of 10 years of feverish activity. The village of Stocks in Bowland, from which the reservoir derives its name, disappeared beneath the rising waters.
Hundreds of navvies were housed in a makeshift camp at Hollins and tough gritstone was quarried from the surrounding fells and shipped to the site by a temporary narrow gauge railway.
The car park occupies the former site of St James Church, which was demolished and rebuilt – albeit on a significantly smaller footprint – on its current site above the proposed high water mark. Some 150 bodies were exhumed and reburied in the new graveyard – including 30 unknown bodies which were buried in a special mass grave.
In the event, the waters never reached the original site as the interesting exhibition inside the chapel explains. It’s well worth a visit on the way back to the car park if time permits.
The Stocks Circular Walk was designed to be walked in an anti-clockwise direction and is well signposted from the car park. Walking the route this way round gets the climbing out of the way early on and offers expansive views back down the valley to the reservoir below. As with most walks in the Forest of Bowland, the Stocks walk traverses farmland with livestock, steep ascents and rough terrain, so it’s worth consulting the Forest of Bowland AONB’s website for advice on walking safely to make sure you’re ready for the challenge! http://www.forestofbowland.com/Walking-Safely.
Skirting the eastern bank for half a mile, the path passes the two wildlife viewing hides then climbs gradually up a farm track to the ruined barn at New House, turning left at an abandoned well and heading southwest across the Upper Hodder to Copped Hill Clough.
There’s then a long descent back to the western shoreline – offering more wonderful views of the water and the woodlands of Gisburn Forest beyond, before again skirting the shoreline into Hollins Bay, where the fishing lodge opens seasonally for refreshments.
The next section of the walk is dominated by the impressive architecture of the dam and the valve tower – built to last by an army of surveyors, engineers and navvies almost a century ago.
The path passes the elegant Fylde Water Board House before dropping onto the dam wall itself. Below the dam, landowner United Utilities has invested heavily in additional high-tech plant to improve the quality of the water harvested across this beautiful catchment still further.
At the end of the dam, the path again skirts the shoreline before plunging into a protected area from which the local deer are excluded. The impact on the flora is dramatic, with low-lying scrub and, orchids, wild meadow flowers and raspberries abundant in the summer months.
The path emerges onto the road and it’s just a short detour right to reach St James’ Chapel. Otherwise, continue north on the path adjacent to the road to cross the causeway, where Bottoms Beck flows into Stocks.
The final section is a delightful half-mile amble through dense woodland whose wildflowers and berries create a riot of colour from April through to autumn.
Ducks, geese and waders return to Stocks in the early spring, when the occasional osprey passes through on migration in April and cuckoos can be heard from early May. All manner of warblers make their home among the woodland and raptors like kestrels, merlins and buzzards are regularly spotted on this walk.
The rugged views from the higher level terrain north of the reservoir echo the farmland of the Yorkshire Dales just a few miles away to the east while the views north from the wooded eastern shoreline evoke a remote Scottish loch nestling among the remnants of the Caledonian Forest.
And yet this enchanting landscape is readily accessible in less than two hours by train and bus from across Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
Stocks is a unique place – a wild outpost offering hints of the Scottish Highlands and the Yorkshire Dales hidden away in the most beautiful corner of Lancashire.
Lace up your boots, pack a picnic and escape to an oasis of outstanding natural beauty without the hassle of a long drive at either end of what is guaranteed to be a grand day out in the Forest of Bowland.
ABOUT THE BOWLAND EXPLORER
Part-funded by the Seed-Corn Fund of Arriva Rail North Ltd (Northern), the Bowland Explorer bus service is a joint initiative between the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership, the Forest of Bowland AONB and the Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company, which manages most of the Sunday DalesBus network in and around the Yorkshire Dales.
BOWLAND EXPLORER TIMETABLE
The Bowland Explorer runs on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays throughout the summer until September 24. The 16-seater bus connects with Bentham Line rail services from Leeds and Morecambe at Bentham Station and with Clitheroe Line services from Manchester, Bolton and Blackburn at Clitheroe station.
Full details available here: http://www.forestofbowland.com/files/uploads/pdfs/BE%20Final%20Bus%20Timetable.pdf
Don't forget to check the Bowland Explorer timetable as some routes are only accessible in one direction of bus travel.
The Dale Head Ramble may only be three miles or so, but it involves some sustained climbs to earn great views out over Stocks and the woodland. Extend your route via the Hub Link Trail to Gisburn Forest Hub for refreshments and stop off at Dalehead Chapel on the return journey. Alight at Stocks Reservoir East. Maps available online at https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-9pqhnf
Slaidburn Hay Meadows
The traditional wildflower meadows around Slaidburn are mown by mid-summer but this leisurely wander through the verdant pastureland beside the River Hodder is still a lovely walk. Afterwards, why not treat yourself to tea and cakes or lunch in the village? Alight at Slaidburn. Map and directions at: http://forestofbowland.com/files/uploads/pdfs/walks/bellsykeswalk0613hires.pdf
Allow at least three hours to complete the entire circuit – more if you plan to picnic or detour to the café at Gisburn Forest Hub for welcome refreshments. Drinks and snacks also available at the fishing lodge most weekends in the season. Start from the Stocks Reservoir East Car Park from Bentham or the request stop at Copped Hill Clough north of the Stocks Reservoir West stop from Clitheroe.
GUIDED WALK: STOCKS RESERVOIR, SUNDAY, AUGUST 13
Join United Utilities Catchment Controller David Oyston for a walk around Stocks, exploring the history, wildlife and landscape of Lancashire's largest reservoir.
Please book your place on the walk in advance on 01200 448000 or by emailing email@example.com and arrive at the bus stop early as seats on the Bowland Explorer Bus are allocated on a first come/first served basis.
Events accessible using the Bowland Explorer service are planned for the second Sundays of August and September (details below).
Booking is essential for each event and places can be reserved by contacting the AONB office on 01200 448000 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately, seats on the Bowland Explorer service cannot be guaranteed and some events may not be accessible in both directions of bus travel.
Sunday 13th August, School Lane Car Park (Gisburn Forest & Stocks), 11:00am – approx 4:00pm
Stocks Circular Walk
Join us on a walk around Lancashire's largest reservoir. Guided by David Oyston, United Utilities Catchment Controller, we'll explore the history, wildlife and landscape of this fascinating and beautiful area. Constructed during the early part of the nineteenth century, the reservoir was built on the site of the village of Stocks in Bowland, in Dalehead, and there are still clues to remind us of this once busy farming community.
Sunday 10th September, Gisburn Forest Hub, 11:00 - 11:45am or 12:15 - 1:00pm
Bowland in Miniature
Take inspiration from this fantastic forest and paint your very own Bowland picture on a tiny glass tile, with artist Karen Redmayne. Karen will then fire them back at her studio in Barrowford and we'll arrange the best way for you to collect your masterpiece! Suitable for adults and accompanied children four years and over. £2.50 per person.
The walks listed below link with the Bowland Explorer route and can be downloaded from http://www.forestofbowland.com/walking_routes
If intending to use the Bowland Explorer service, please check the timetable and make sure you have enough time to complete the walk. Unfortunately, seats on the Bowland Explorer service cannot be guaranteed.
Please note that not all routes are accessible in both directions of bus travel.
Gisburn Forest Tramper Trail, Approx 1.3 miles
Stocks Reservoir Circular, Approx 8 miles
Linking the Meadows: Gisburn Forest & Black House Circular, Approx 3.5 miles
Bell Sykes Hay Meadow Walk, Approx 2 miles
The new service is a partnership project between the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership, the Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company and the Forest of Bowland AONB and has been made possible thanks to Arriva Rail North Limited's Seed-Corn Fund.