A circuit from Slaidburn with 10 miles off road
03.09.2010 20 °C
There are several easy rides to be posted here but this is not one of them. A 31 mile tour of the wildest parts of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a third of the route off road and 2 high passes makes for a fantastic day out but make no mistake - it's a tough one!
From the free car park behind Slaidburn village hall, I rode through the small village centre - I'd stayed at the Youth Hostel here so the stone built houses and tiny village square were familiar - and turned right alongside the pub soon leaving the village behind. A short way up this lane there is a sign on the left for Pain Hill Farm - I wondered whether this was a sign of things to come but if this was Pain Hill it was fairly short and relatively painless to ride up. The route turns right up a lane called woodhouse lane and follows it around past several farm entrances drawing steadily higher towards the vast swell of the high moorlands ahead.
The end of the tarmac is marked by a gate and beyond this I turned sharp right along a gently rising track of broken concrete. I was happily riding under a false sense of security blissfully unaware of what lay ahead.
The track gradually swung back around to the left and lost the concrete surface becoming a rough and stony track that climbed across the heather moors. Ahead lay a vast swathe of lonely open hills into which the way led unerringly while across the valley to my right I spotted a deserted stone hut and an ancient sheepfold. The presence of the building simply accentuated the isolation.
My route now descended towards a river which was crossed by a single stone span which was adorned with a sign declaring it a weak bridge. These words do not encourage one to linger mid-stream and I was soon on the far side riding up the hardest section so far as the track rapidly veered towards mountaineering territory. This in fact turned out to be the toughest part of the whole route with large rocks and a loose surface conspiring to unseat any unwary rider on a gradient that must have been 20%. The grassy edge of the path here proved to offer the best chances of remaining on my bike.
The track soon became more rideable and after passing an old stone farmhouse on the left I stopped for some lunch at an obvious and comfortable rock by the path. Beyond this rock the track does become rough again for a while with large stones but it never quite reaches the bike wrecking level of the bit after the bridge and I was soon on the (relatively) level ground that marks the top of the Bowland Fells - a high moorland plataeu in places 500m above sea level but which still looks nothing like a forest on account of the lack of trees. The name of the Forest of Bowland comes from deer forest which was basically a hunting reserve in days gone by. Ahead lay the rough top of Ward's Stone - the highest point of the region and I had a sense of crossing the summit of Salter Fell and heading down the other side though there was no clear pass and the descent doesn't really start properly until after the gate is reached.
After the gate views opened out more the further I went with the wilderness-like landscape to the West forming a wide and deep valley through the hills leading towards the West Lancashire plains. The track this side is called Hornby Road and runs more or less north westwards through the hills though there is little chance of getting lost as long as you ignore the few tracks branching off.
Soon a beautiful vista began to widen ahead with the green lowlands rising steadily up to the Penninesin the East and the Yorkshire 3 Peaks dominating the view; Whernside the highest, Ingleborough with its familiar flat top and Pen y Ghent around to the right. Ahead lay the fields and woodlands of the Lune Valley backed by the jagged skyline of the Lake District mountains far off in the haze. It was towards these distant views that I rode - a long effortless freewheel that more than made up for the hardships endured in getting up here.
This section involved one or two rough parts but soon I was on a wide swathe of grass like a fairway on a golf course that led swiftly down between slopes of heather. The fairway comparison may be an exaggeration but there were no rocks or big bumps to negotiate and it was simply a case of relaxing in the saddle and enjoying the big skies and far off views.
Presently after a minor rough section I was suddenly back in civilisation - a gate led to a tarmac road and there was a farmhouse in front - High Salter it's called. Here a fast descent and a steep but short climb led me to a right turn leading steeply down through woodland to the old stonebuilt village of Wray.
The return route after turning right at the first junction in Wray leads along a pleasant quiet road that follows the valley floor towards Lower Bentham. After crossing the River Hindburn turn right - this is the main road direction anyway - and climb up again passing the farm of Four Score Acres on the left. The name is clearly visible. A mile or so after here turn right up the hill and follow the signs to Slaidburn rather than go to Lower Bentham which would be further to ride. If you do miss the turn and end up there, just folow for Slaidburn anyway.
On this road I met no traffic but had cause to stop and get my camera out in a hurry when I spotted a tiny roe deer stood stock still in the field by the road. Needless to say the deer ran off before I could take its photo. I soon came to a crossroads and followed the right turn to Slaidburn which led over the infamous Cross O' Greets Pass which at 468 metres or over 1500 feet is one of the major challenges on such bike races as the Tour of Britain.
The climb to the summit is gradual with the steepest section at the end though if you had gone via Lower Bentham the start would have been long and steep - this way it was more gradual. The views improve with altitude and the summit - unlike Salter fell - is a clear ridge leading back to the southern side of the Bowland Fells. The last bit was tough though near the end of the day and it was a relief to be speeding like the wind down the far side.
There is however a sting in the tail to this route - after the descent from Cross O' Greets, you cross a river and enter woods where the road abruptly climbs up again. This last hill is steep but not too long and once you are up it is downhill virtually all the way to Slaidburn to complete the circuit of the Forest of Bowland 31 miles later to end a hard but enjoyable and varied ride.
The off road sections are my favourite but a mountain bike is recommended for these - my hybrid fared OK but a road bike would struggle. It isn't a graded mountain bike trail but it would be a red route if it was. There are hills throughout - not just the 2 main passes so if you see riding up hills as a challenge you'll love this but if you only like cycling on the flat - don't do it!
Pete Buckley July 2010
Essentials >>> How far is it? 31 miles >>> What's it like? Hilly with some rough parts - a third off road >>> Start and finish in Slaidburn village
More routes in the itable of contents below