As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Forest of Bowland, Nicola Forsyth explores the fells, green valleys and heather moorland of this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in northwest England. Wild and remote, it is a haven for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and birdwatchers located in north-east Lancashire - with the exception of a small area that spills into North Yorkshire.
Where to stay
All of the accommodation featured in this guide have received grading by the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) in recognition of their actions to conserve their natural environment.
Larger parties - particularly those wanting to be within easy reach of the Three Peaks, Pendle Hill and Malham Tarn - may want to savour the experience of staying in a 400 year old camping barn. Family owned Dale House Barn and B&B on the edge of Gisburn Forest can house up to 14 people in the barn - as well as B&B options in the main house.
Not too far away, you’ll find another B&B option in Cobden Farm, where you can enjoy the (literally) warm welcome of freshly baked scones with butter and jam on arrival. Its two spacious bedrooms overlook the sprawling Sabden Valley. A home cooked breakfast of locally sourced produce can be enjoyed in the conservatory to views of the pond and valley. With easy access to two public footpaths, three golf courses within five miles and horse riding and fishing available nearby, you won’t be short of activities.
Nestled in the Ribble Valley, you’ll find Middle Flass Lodge - a converted barn and former cow byre that is now a hotel and restaurant serving up a menu of fresh local produce whenever possible. Just eight miles from Clitheroe, it’s a great spot for exploring the surrounding area by foot or bike.
If you’re visiting with your dog, consider the Craigwell Hotel - an 11 bedroom guest house which allows dogs in certain rooms, but be sure to call to book in advance. Sitting on Morecambe's East Promenade, its location overlooks Morecambe Bay and offers much fabled views of the sun setting as well as the Lake District mountains. The hotel offers locally sourced fairtrade food as much as possible.
Often neglected in the accommodation stakes, solo travelers will be happy to stumble across the ‘Piggery’ at Malkin Tower Farm Holiday Cottages, which offers a cosy stay for individuals wanting to get away from it all. There are two luxury self catering holiday cottages - Demdyke Cottage and Device Cottage - for parties of two or more. Malkin Tower is ideally located for walking holidays and has won a number of awards for its dedication to sustainable travel and preserving the environment.
Where to eat
Traditionally a sheep and cattle farming area, you’ll find lots of local lamb and beef on the menu, as well as pork and even wild boar. Dairy highlights include classic and modern varieties of Lancashire cheese as well as ice cream. Foragers can keep their eyes peeled for wild, seasonal fruits including bilberries on the moors and damsons, sloes and elderflowers in the hedgerows.
For an award winning menu of local meat, game, cheeses and vegetables washed down with real ales and fine wines against the glow of a log fire, head to The Red Pump Inn in the pretty hamlet of Bashall Eaves. One of the oldest inns in the Ribble Valley (rumoured to have been built before 1756) it has won various awards and recommendations for its food over the last few years, including Taste Lancashire, the Michelin Guide and Alaistair Sawday to name but a few. Ingredients are as locally sourced as possible - with herbs fresh from the garden. There’s onsite B&B accommodation if you can’t bring yourself to leave.
To dine in another traditional pub, stop by The Highwayman Inn - an 18th century inn thought to have been the haunt of a notorious Lancashire highwayman. In 2007, it was subject to a £1.2m renovation and now considers itself the 21st century version of ‘a local’. The menu consists of classic British dishes accompanied with more far flung influences, served with a selection of ales, ciders and guest beers. The menu is uploaded to the website daily before noon so you can whet your appetite in advance.
For a luxury dining experience in a country hotel head to Gibbon Bridge near Clitheroe. Set in 23 acres of award winning gardens, it offers a variety of dining areas, from the Cavalier Lounge with its open fire and comfy chairs, to the new contemporary Orangery which opens out onto a spacious terrace. Locally sourced produce doesn’t come much more local here - many herbs, fruit and vegetables come direct from the kitchen garden, greenhouses and polytunnels, freshly picked each morning. The in-house bakery produces a daily selection of fresh breads, confectionery, jams, ice cream and desserts for the hotel, restaurant and surrounding villages.
Weary walkers may seek refuge and the opportunity to refuel in the Cabin Cafe located next to Barley Picnic Site - which happens to have been nominated one of the ten best picnic sites in the North West. Sitting at the foot of the Pendle Hill, it is a convenient pit stop for those climbing the hill or trekking the Pendle Witches Trail or the Pendle Way. The cabin offers sandwiches, cakes and drinks.
Bashall Barn Food Visitor Centre houses an award winning restaurant serving up breakfasts, traditional lunches and afternoon tea - against the beautiful backdrop of the Ribble Valley, and if you’re lucky, to the sounds of a live pianist. If you can’t get enough of the local produce, be sure to stock up in the farm shop, which offers ready meals, cakes, jams and preserves and hampers - all made on site.
Where to visit
If you’re looking for wild countryside, colourful gardens, local art exhibitions, chocolate box villages and quaint tea rooms you’ve come to the right place. There is a range of cultural and natural attractions for adults and children alike.
Don’t know where to start on getting here? Make the Bowland Visitor Centre in Beacon Fell Country Park your first port of call. Here you’ll find a wealth of information about the Fell, Forest of Bowland and surrounding area, as well as a team of volunteers to help you on your way. If you choose to explore Beacon Fell, you’ll find a network of paths for walkers, cyclists and horse riders as well as a sculpture trail, for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, but you can go off-piste if you’d prefer the freedom to roam and find your own path.
Horticulturalists will find a slice of heaven at Waddow Lodge Garden. Head Gardener Peter Foley has been collecting the many hundreds of plants to be seen (and smelled) here for more than 40 years. Members of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, he and fiancee Liz use environmentally friendly gardening techniques and compost all available waste material. As well as the many varieties of plants, fruits and vegetables, there’s an orchard, wildflower area and a wet meadow, designed to attract wildlife into the garden.
If you're visiting with children you may want to check out Bowland Wild Boar Park, where the little ones (and the big ones!) can see and feed the llamas, deer, goats, lambs and chicks. Living up to its namesake, the park also offers opportunities to watch the wild boar and Longhorn Cattle to be found grazing around Ribble Country Park. Stay overnight in one of the camping pods and spend the days riding tractors and trailers and learning more about your new furry friends at the educational eco lodge.
Embedded in the Forest of Bowland, you’ll find Browsholme Hall. Home to the Parker Family since 1507, it hosts a programme of events across the year, including garden workshops, displays of local art, ghost tours and for a fortnight in December the Hall is elaborately decorated for Christmas. The house and expansive gardens are open to the public on certain days throughout the year and there’s even a private nature trail. Don’t leave without sampling the locally produced cakes or sipping the own brand Bowland Bowbearer coffee at the award winning Tithe Barn café, which was converted from a 300 year old barn. It also makes for a unique wedding venue for up to 120 guests.
Surrounded by 180 acres of woodland, rivers and lakes, Forrest Hills is a relaxing and inspiring setting for meetings and events - as well as offering a number of leisure activities including a 10 hole golf course and fully stocked fly fishing lake. The family grow and use as much produce from the land as possible - from wood and stone for building materials to fruit and vegetables for catering. [Feels geared more towards corporate visitors]
Another events venue with heritage and character is Slaidburn Village Hall. A former Chapel it is now a hub for community life in the stone village of Slaidburn, and caters to a variety of events - from weddings to stage performances. The main hall overlooks the village green with the River Hodder running alongside. The building was renovated in 2006 with conservation at its heart. Natural and locally sourced building materials were used wherever possible, and the venue is conscious to keep its carbon footprint as small as possible - with many simple touches such as low energy light bulbs and water saving devices. There is also an innovative air to water heat pump to keep visitors warm during winter.
Things to do
For lovers of the great outdoors, the Forest of Bowland is a natural playground. Walkers, cyclists, nature lovers, bird watchers, adventure seekers and fishing enthusiasts will be at home here. Walkers were granted access to additional parts of Bowland in 2004 for the first time.
A relatively new collection of 'Access for All' routes make it easier for those less able to get around to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. You'll find a list of accommodations and other businesses dedicated to helping you enjoy your time here, whether that's by offering up a great bird-watching spot, or providing all necessary facilities for walkers and cyclists.
Star gazers will be pleased to know the skies over Bowland are some of the darkest in England - and the AONB is home to five Dark Sky Discovery Sites. As well as constellations, planets including Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus can be visible during clear nights at certain times of the year. Many businesses are also certified 'Dark Sky Friendly', which means they've attended a training workshop and are doing their bit to reduce light pollution.
How to get to the Forest of Bowland by public transport
Clitheroe Interchange is the most central rail station for Bowland. Others include Giggleswick, Clapham, Bentham, Wennington, Settle, Blackburn, Burnley, Preston and Lancaster. Visit National Rail Enquiries for journey details from your starting point. The Bentham Line links Leeds and Skipton in the east with Lancaster and Morecambe, skirting the northern edge of the Forest of Bowland. The Clitheroe Line links Manchester, Bolton and Blackburn with Clitheroe.
Getting around by bus
Buses 66 and 67 run Monday to Saturday skirting Pendle Hill, providing links between Clitheroe, Waddington, Grindleton, Chatburn, Barley, Barrowford and Nelson. To the west of the Bowlands lies the market town of Garstang, a perfect gateway to Bowland, and easily reached every day by bus 40 between Preston and Lancaster. In the Lune Valley, buses 80 and 81 provide connections, Monday to Saturday, from Lancaster to Caton and Hornby, with some services going through to Wray, Wennington and Low Bentham en route to Kirkby Lonsdale or Ingleton. For uptodate timetables, visit lancashire.gov.uk/roads-parking-and-travel/public-transport/bus-timetables.aspx#.
For more ideas of green holidays in the Forest of Bowland, see our: