The fly fisherman stood waist deep in Skirden Beck, so intent on his line that he didn’t look up as I went by. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The fields along the river lay half flooded by the morning’s cloudburst over the Forest of Bowland, but if either anglers or walkers cared about getting wet around the knees they’d never go out of doors in this famously moist corner of Lancashire. Bowland is green and lush, its moors wide and wild, its lowlands around Sawley and Bolton-by-Bowland smelling as rich as damp fruit cake after a shower. ‘Right slutchy, the fields,’ remarked a woman I met in the lane near Bolton Mill, and that just summed it all up.
Beyond the grey stone huddle of Bolton I followed the shallow Skirden Beck up its valley – sheep country, with bleak farmhouses of grey-green stone on the ridges and the beck running below a steep cliff it had bitten out of the fields in flood times. The stony farm tracks rose around Hungrill and Lower Laithe, their banks studded with ancient holly trees neatly pollarded by the teeth of countless generations of sheep. Through the hamlet of Holden with its little scatter of houses, and on up across a succession of sheep pastures by stone stiles and tiny wicket gates, with Swaledale ewes flouncing off in a fluster across the wet grass as though I was the first human they had ever clapped eyes on.
The map told me what should have been out there in front, the magnificent prow of Pendle Hill, famous for witches and wandering preachers. But the afternoon sky, while not actually raining, was so thick with moisture that the great hill lay half in sight and half on the edge of fancy, a silky grey whaleback like something in a dream.
On top of the ridge I dropped down into the deep-sunken holloway of Rodhill Lane. It was a stony, narrow stumble down to the old Methodist chapel on the outskirts of Sawley, half-hidden in the lane behind a screen of hollies and hazels. The evening sky stretched in bands of lemon-peel yellow and silver over the Skirden Valley, and Pendle shaped itself out of the gloom in the south like a promise for another day.
Start & finish: Spread Eagle Inn, Sawley, Clitheroe, Lancs BB7 4NH (OS ref SD 777466)
Getting there: Bus (www.traveline.info) Service C2 Clitheroe-Sawley. Road: Sawley is signed from A59 Clitheroe-Gisburn road
Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL41):
From Spread Eagle Inn, left along road; cross bridge; right through wicket gate (775466; fingerpost). Follow stiles, yellow arrows/YA, traffic cones (!) through fields. In 5th field cross Holden Beck footbridge (780480) and on (YAs). In ¼ mile, field narrows between 2 woodlands (779486); keep close to right-hand wood. Through kissing gate where paths diverge (781488); ahead across ridge by tree and base of ancient cross, down to sheepfold (782490). Through stile with gate (YA); ahead along drive to cross road near bridge in Bolton-by-Bowland (784493). Over stone stile (fingerpost); continue along left bank of Skirden Beck. Through gate; half right through next gate; follow escarpment edge. Pass house to your left and aim for another ahead. Cross stile in its garden fence (782502); cross lawn; cross stile by gate onto road. Left along grass verge for ¼ mile; right off road past farmhouse (780499; fingerpost); through kissing gate (YA); down field with hedge on right. Cross Bier Beck (778499); aim half right for kissing gate (777500; YA); bear right up track.
Before you reach Hungrill Farm, hairpin back left at nearest corner of walled paddock through first of 2 gateways (777502), ignoring a white arrow pointing on along track towards farm – your southward path is marked by a white arrow on the inner jamb of the gate. Keep on left bank of stream; in 300m, turn right across it at stony crossing (776499). Ahead to cross stile (776497). Follow hedge on left; through gate; on to cross stile and descend steps to road in Holden (775495).
Left round corner; in 100m, right (‘Lane End’). Cross mill stream; left through gate; don’t go through next gate on left with fingerpost, but go up house drive as far as a gate. Right here (774497) up laneway on right of house; through wicket gate (YA); on up fenced path. Over wooden stile; cross grassy lane by stone stiles (772494; YAs). Follow left fence uphill; through gate in hedge (770492; YA); up field, then through wicket gate and over stile (769491). Follow gully uphill; through gate; on over stile to left of Lower Laithe barn (768490). Through next 2 gates (766488 and 766486); diagonally right to cross stile near fence on top of ridge. In 100m cross stile (764482; YA); left along sunken, stony Rodhill Lane. Descend for ½ mile past Rodhill Gate (768477); ahead down drive to cross cattle grid (770476). Farm drive bends left past house, but you keep ahead, passing wooden gate on right (blue arrow). Ahead through field gate; ahead with hedge on left. In 100m, left through gate; right along hedge to cross footbridge over stream (771474). Up steep bank; follow fence to Lawson House farm hedge (772471). Follow footpath signs and arrows right through gate, and on up hedge; then hairpin back left, descending towards barn. Through gate; right past end of barn (arrow); ahead with fence on right. Through gateway (773470) and on. 30m up from far left corner of next field, cross stile (773467); ahead through trees for 20m; left past ‘Rod Hill’ sign. Through gate (YA); descend ramp; forward along lane. Left at bottom to road (774467); right over bridge into Sawley.
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Lunch/Accommodation: Spread Eagle Inn, Sawley (01200-441202; www.spreadeaglesawley.co.uk); Coach & Horses, Bolton-by-Bowland (01200-447202; www.boutiquedininghouse.co.uk)
More info: Clitheroe TIC (01200-425566)
Readers’ Walks: Come and enjoy a country walk with our experts! Dates, info etc.: http://www.mytimesplus.co.uk/travel/uk/1867/times-walks.
Next walk: Lindisfarne, Northumberland, 13 May
Breast Cancer Care’s Pink Ribbon Walks:
0870-145-0101; www.pinkribbonwalk.org.uk. Next walks: Scone Palace, Perthshire, 12 May; Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, 19 May
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