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Down to the Summit on Clougha Pike

A wild walk to a deceptive 'summit', which proves an unrivalled viewpoint overlooking the sweeping Bowland Fells.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,050ft (320m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Mostly very rough moorland, sometimes rocky, 5 stiles

Landscape Moorland with some rocky outcrops, above green valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL41 Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale

Start/finish SD 526604

Dog friendliness Access Area - dogs not permitted

Parking Access Area car park at Birk Bank

Public toilets Nearest at Crook O'Lune (PWalk 43)

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1 Follow the track above the car park, then fork left. It becomes a green path, running generally level, to Ottergear Bridge.

2 Turn left and walk along a level track, then bear right at the next junction. The track climbs slightly, descends into a narrow valley, then climbs steeply up the far side before it finally eases and swings round to the right.

3 Go left on a narrow path, running almost level above a steeper slope. After 500yds (457m), it angles back down into the valley. Follow the base of the steep slope and cross a small stream. After 30yds (27m) a green track climbs to the right.

4 Wind up steeply to near-level moor. The path follows a slight groove, then skirts leftward around a boggy patch. The grassy path ahead is initially very faint. Keep just left of the continuous heather and it soon becomes clearer. There's another grooved section then a clear stony path rises leftward across steeper ground.

5 As the slope eases the path remains clear, passing a few sketchy cairns, then a 'Limit of Access Area' sign. Follow a groove, through or past tumbledown shooting butts. As the ground levels, trend right past cairns and marker stakes to an ugly new track. Cross and follow a thin grassy path with more marker stakes. Bear right up a slight rise and join a wider path at a cairn. Go right on a broad ridge, crossing a fence, to the summit trig point.

6 Descend a clear path on the right past a large cairn. There's a steep drop near by on the left, with some small crags. A fence converges from the right, eventually meeting a well-built wall.

7 Scramble down rocks by the end of the wall. Continue down its left side for about 300yds (274m). Bear left at a levelling above scattered boulders. Descend through a gap flanked by wrinkled rocks then across gentler slopes to a gate by the corner of a wall.

8 Head straight down until the ground steepens, then swing right and weave down towards Windy Clough. From a stile go left down a grooved path to an area of young trees. Fork left, closer to the stream, rejoining wetter alternative routes above larger oaks. Descend through gorse then follow duckboards skirting a bog. Turn right along a track then keep left over a slight rise to the car park.

Clougha Pike is the finest viewpoint in the Bowland Fells, possibly in the whole of Lancashire. There's lots to see at closer quarters too and the walk is always rewarding, but on a clear day it's nothing short of magnificent. Although the ground is sometimes very rough, the ascent is rarely very steep and the views expand with every stride.

The opening stages are almost level. After crossing the little aqueduct called Ottergear Bridge, the route swings round and climbs a little, then drops into a small, sharp-cut valley. This is the first of several curious channels, some of which cut right through the ridge of Clougha. These are relics from the end of the ice age. The edge of the ice sheet was stationary for a while in this area, dammed up behind the ridge. Torrents of meltwater pouring off the ice, and probably sometimes running underneath it, carved the network of channels. The most striking example is Windy Clough, seen near the end of the walk.

Now the walk begins its steady ascent across the broad flanks. Apart from a few wet patches marked by rushes and cotton grass, the dominant vegetation is heather and bilberry. Heather moorland is widespread in Britain but rare in most of the rest of Europe. Geology, climate and soils are partly responsible, but the management of the land is equally significant. Controlled burning of areas of moor encourages the heather to produce new shoots, the main food for the red grouse. Like it or not, grouse shooting for sport is part of the ecology of these moors.

When the rocky crest of the ridge is reached, the climbing is over. The last stretch is generally level and when the summit of Clougha appears it definitely is slightly below you. This hardly detracts from the view, even though a sector is blocked by the higher ground of Grit Fell and beyond it Ward's Stone, the highest summit in Lancashire.

The old trig point now bears a new view indicator, which will help you identify what you're looking at. The Clwydian Hills in Wales are apparent much more often than the higher, but more distant, peaks of Snowdonia. The distinctive profile of the Isle of Man, over 60 miles (97km) away in the Irish Sea, is also visible on a clear day. However, what grabs most of the attention is the sweep of the Lakeland skyline and the continuation of high ground eastwards, over the Howgill Fells and into Yorkshire, where the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent are dominant.

As you descend, the nick of Little Windy Clough appears over your right shoulder, and then the much deeper Windy Clough appears. The stream draining Windy Clough runs underground where we cross it but surfaces again a little lower down.

Where to eat and drink

Woody's tea wagon is as handy as anything, and Lancaster is just over the hill too. Alternatively, especially if you're heading southward, the Fleece Inn, on a crossroads just outside Dolphinholme, is an unpretentious but welcoming place, with a pleasant local feel despite its slightly isolated position. There's a small beer garden, a very cosy public bar and a dining room.

While you're there

In view from the summit, Lancaster University has various facilities open to the public, including its sports centre (the swimming pool might be a good way to unwind after the walk). On the cultural side it offers the Peter Scott Gallery and the Ruskin Library, a striking new building which contains a collection devoted to Victorian writer, artist and aesthete John Ruskin, an important figure if you're interested in landscape.

What to look for

The red grouse is found only on the heather moors of northern Britain, but here they are plentiful. They often look black, apart from red 'eyebrows', but in good light a deep reddish-brown hue is apparent. Grouse will rise suddenly from close underfoot, with a loud whirr of wings and frantic alarm calls. It's hard to tell whether they're more startled than you are, or vice versa.

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