From the moment you step foot in the Forest of Bowland, you know you’re somewhere pretty special. Set mostly in Lancashire, with a small slice stretching into North Yorkshire, this enchanting pocket of England is defined by wooded river valleys, barren peat moorland and rocky gritstone fells. It’s truly earned its place as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is one of North West England’s premier walking destinations. While the Forest of Bowland shares similarities with other upland parks like Yorkshire Dales and Peak District, the landscapes are noticeably grander. Many of the gritstone fells feature peaks of more than 450 metres high, while some of the open moorlands seem to stretch on endlessly. Ready to hit the trails? The Forest of Bowland offers walks for every occasion, ranging from family-friendly strolls to challenging hikes. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite Forest of Bowland walks for 2021.
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Stretching for more than 8 miles and covering some serious elevation, the Roeburndale Walk is reserved for experienced hikers. It takes you through some of the oldest woodland areas in Lancashire, with the towering oaks, ashes and alders guaranteed to bring your ego down a notch. Birdwatchers are rewarded with easy sightings of Wood Warblers, Green Woodpeckers, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts.
The trail starts by meandering through farmland and meadows, before leading you into the centuries-old forest. You’ll start and finish in Wray, a tiny village set on the River Roeburn. The trail takes you right past the Bridge House Farm Tearooms, the perfect excuse to stop for scones, jam and cream after a long hike.
Length: 8+ miles
Average time to complete: 4 hours
Starting point: Wray
Newchurch Short Circular
Starting in the historic village of Newchurch, this short but sweet walk unlocks fantastic views over Pendle Hill and the Pennines. You’ll follow a series of footpaths and trails that take you through flower-filled fields and meadows. At its highest point, the trail takes you up above the village where the views stretch for miles. Keep an eye out for the ancient drystone walls that criss-cross the landscapes. The low-lying footpaths can get muddy so it’s best to wear waterproof, grippy shoes even in the summer.
The village has special appeal for history buffs thanks to its connection with the Lancashire Witch Trials in the 17th century. If you have time, it’s worth taking a stroll around the St Mary’s Church graveyard, where one of the alleged Pendle Witches is rumoured to be buried.
Length: 3 miles
Average time to complete: 1.5 hours
Starting point: Newchurch in Pendle
Looking for something a little longer? While the Ribble Way doesn’t pass through Forest of Bowland it comes pretty darn close. Stretching from Preston on the Lancashire Coast to Yorkshire Dales National Park, the 70-mile long-distance walking trail showcases some of the most epic scenery in England.
Hiking the trail from end to end is incredibly rewarding, but if you’re short on time or not ready for a week-long backpacking trip it’s also easy to walk in sections. In fact, the trail is divided into seven easy to tackle sections. All can be walked in a day or if you want to hike the entire trail but aren’t keen to camp, consider staying in villages like Preston, Ribchester, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Settle and Horton along the way.
Length: 70 miles
Average time to complete: 1 – 7 days
Starting point: Preston or Grove Head
Roeburndale Woods Bluebell Walk
When the bluebells are in full bloom in May there’s no place more magical than Roeburndale Woods. This trail meanders for just under 4 miles through the woodlands, starting just north of Barkin Bridge. A gate takes you into a field, where you’ll follow a grassy bank and pass through a few more gates before venturing into the ancient woodland. Parts of the walk open up and treat you to beautiful views over the countryside. You’ll also pass by some centuries-old farm buildings along the way. The paths through the woodland can get a little boggy so we’d recommend wearing waterproof boots. While this is a relatively short walk, we’d definitely suggest taking your time as the bluebells are gorgeous and there are some postcard-perfect picnic sites along the way.
Length: 4 miles
Average time to complete: 1.5 hours
Starting point: Barkin Bridge near Hornby
Pendle Hill is a great ramble for walkers looking for something challenging but not too tough on the knees. It starts in the agreeable village of Barley, where you’ll follow signs for the Pendle Way. It’s easy to spot, just look out for the yellow witch. After following some cobbled country lanes you’ll start gaining elevation as you march through a field. Once you reach the summit, you’ll see why Pendle Hill was once part of a medieval beacon chai used to carry messages across the country. The views are incredible and stretch all the way to the Yorkshire Dales on a clear day.
On the way down you’ll pass through Downham, arguably one of the prettiest villages in Lancashire. It also happens to be home to one of the best ice cream parlours in the county, a real treat if you’re hiking on a hot day. The blackcurrant sorbet is out of this world delicious. Take your time strolling through the village and admiring the beautifully kept stone cottages dating to the 17th century. From here it’s a short walk to the bus stop that will take you back to Barley. If you have access to two cars you can always leave one vehicle at either end of the track. Or, you can double your mileage and walk back the way you came.
Length: 5 miles
Average time to complete: 3 hours
Starting point: Barley
Dark Sky Sites
While not technically walks, we’re listing these Dark Sky Discovery Sites as they really are worth staying up late for. The Forest of Bowland AONB boasts some of the darkest skies in England, making it a stellar place to stargaze. There are five designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites within the park boundaries, all easy to access in the dark. As well as the Milky Way, stargazing at the Forest of Bowland gets you up close with mythical beasts like Pegasus the winged horse. Depending on the time of year, you could also spot planets, astrological constellations and of course, shooting stars.
Winter is the best time if year to admire the twinkling night sky, with December to March promising the darkest skies and the brightest stars. As well as Beacon Fell Country Park, Gisburn Forest Hub, Slaidburn Village Car Park and the Crook o’ Lune Picnic Site, Clerk Laithe Lodge has also been awarded Dark Sky status. Nestled in rolling farmland, the lodge is a unique way to experience the Forest of Bowland and sleep under a blanket of stars. You don’t need to walk far at any of the Dark Sky sites, with all accessible by car. That said, with a torch, a good pair of boots and a little nerve you can definitely hike some of the easier trails at night. Or at least enjoy a midnight stroll through a field if you’re staying at Clerk Laithe Lodge.
Average time to complete: 1 hour
Starting point: Beacon Fell Country Park, Gisburn Forest Hub, Slaidburn Village Car Park, Crook o’ Lune Picnic Site and Clerk Laithe Lodge
Bluebells and Woodland Delights
A favourite with families, the Bluebells and Woodland Delights is an easy 2.5-mile stroll through forests and fields. The walk starts at Cobble Hey Farm & Gardens, where sheep and cattle have been raised for more than 150 years. The trail is easy to follow, with a handful of stone way markers showing you the way. They were created by locals in a stone carving workshop and celebrate the creativity and community-minded spirit of Lancashire that we know and love. Finish up with coffee and a slice of homemade cake at the atmospheric tearooms. You’ll also find it hard to resist saying hello to the friendly goats.
Length: 2.5 miles
Average time to complete: 1 hour
Starting point: Cobble Hey Farm & Gardens
Another gold class long-distance walk, the Pendle Way spans for 45 miles and passes through storybook villages like Newchurch-in-Pendle, Barnoldswick and Earby. Yes, this means there are plenty of opportunities for pints along the way if you’re that way inclined. Passing through villages also gives you the option of finishing up the day with a hot shower and a comfortable bed. Of course, if you prefer to sleep under the stars and cook your own food camping is always an option. If you’re going to attempt this mammoth walk, you’ll need a map, which you can find here.
Creamy Lancashire Cheese Walk
A walk inspired by cheese? Sign us up. This tasty stroll starts in the village of Chipping, where you’ll be charmed by heritage-listed buildings and a 13th-century church. But of course, what you’re really here for is the cheese. Follow the signs out the village towards Longridge, then turn left when you reach the old stone arched bridge. After crossing the bridge you’ll pass through some fields before crossing a brook and following the track onwards to Leagram Organic Dairy. This is the site where Lancashire cheese was first mass produced, with the famous dairy farm now supplying artisan cafes, delis and restaurants across England. The cheese is beyond delicious, with all products handmade using local sheep, cow or goat milk.
After stocking up on your favourite cheeses, follow the signs to the main road and continue for around 600 metres until you see the signpost for Dairy Barn Farm. The trail takes you back to Chipping, where you can fill your bags with even more cheese at the Chipping Farm Shop. On the way back to the village you’ll pass right by the Gibbon Bridge Hotel, which serves up a seriously good Sunday lunch if you’re planning a weekend ramble.
Length: 3.5 miles
Average time to complete: 2 hours
Starting point: Chipping
Nicky Nook sounds like a treat and it is. Despite the relatively modest elevation gain, the trail features fantastic views over Lancashire, right across to Morecambe Bay and beyond. On a bluebird day you might even be able to spot the Isle of Man and the North Wales coast. The trail starts in the village of Scorton, climbing up Snowhill Lane and taking you past picturesque Wyresdale Lake.
After passing through Clifton’s Farm, you’ll cross a field, continue on past Sykes Farm and follow the path to the top of the hill. It’s worth packing a picnic lunch as the views are spectacular and you’ll want a good excuse to stay a while. Keep an eye out for skylarks and meadow pipits as you walk, as well as rarer birds like yellowhammers and tree pipits.
Length: 4.5 miles
Average time to complete: 3.5 hours
Starting point: Scorton
A warning on ticks
A word of caution – Forest of Bowland is tick territory so be sure to take precautions and stay safe on the trails. As well as animals, ticks love to feast on human blood and can easily latch onto your skin and clothes as you brush past plants. Organisms in the saliva of ticks can lead to illness for both humans and pets so give yourself and Fido a good once over after walking in Forest of Bowland, especially if you’ve come into close contact with plants. This will help prevent tick-borne diseases like Borreliosis, also known as Lyme disease.
If you do notice a little bloodsucker hitching a ride, they’re relatively easy to remove with tweezers or a purpose-built tick removal tool. And of course, if you start to feel ill or show and symptoms of Borreliosis such as rash, fever, headache or chills head to your GP as soon as possible.
Ticks aside, Forest of Bowland really is a stunning pocket of the UK. The folks who run the Forest of Bowland website have done an incredible job of compiling walking and hiking routes within the AONB, with most uploaded to the ViewRanger App. We’d highly recommend downloading it to your smartphone as it makes planning, navigating and tracking your adventures a whole lot easier. Not to mention safer. If the risk of ticks – however minor – isn’t your thing, you could always check out our list of Lancashire walks. Alternatively, if you’re over the other side of the Pennines, our Edale walks list might be the one for you.