A tough walk that gives a chance to taste the freedom of the high moors.
Distance 9.2 miles (14.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 1,247ft (380m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Field paths, rougher moorland paths, surfaced road, 9 stiles
Landscape Rough pasture, exposed moorland, sheltered valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL41 Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale
Start/finish SD 660501
Dog friendliness Grazing land, keep dogs on leads
Parking Public car park at Dunsop Bridge
Public toilets At car park
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1 From the public car park in Dunsop Bridge, go up a surfaced track, just to the left of the post office and tea room, for about 800yds (732m). When you reach the end of the track, by some houses, follow a public footpath for another 100yds (91m) then go right, up a steep bank.
2 Cross the large field, bearing slightly left to meet power lines. Continue to a stile just before Beatrix farm. Follow the track round the farm until it swings back right again. Go left, through the second of two gates. Climb the slope right of a small stream, over a stile, then follow a wire fence across the hillside. Drop into Oxenhurst Clough then climb out through a plantation, rejoining the fence as the gradient eases. Keep straight on to join another track.
3 Follow the track for ¾ mile (1.2km) to Burn House, where it swings right. Bear away left, across an open field, towards the middle of a young plantation. Follow the path through it, bearing right to a stile. Aim just right of another young plantation in a dip, then across a field towards some houses (Laythams). Go left on the lane for 300yds (274m).
4 Turn left up a metalled track. Clearly marked gates guide you round a house. About 50yds (46m) above this, drop to the stream and continue up to its left. From the top of the enclosure a path rises to the right alongside an obvious groove, then swings back left. Climb steadily up a ridge and then swing rightwards above the upper reaches of Dunsop Brook. Cross a broad plateau, roughly parallel to an old wall, to a circular patch of stones.
5 Turn left and cross the wall at a stile. The path ahead is rough but always clear. After a slight rise it starts to descend, gently at first but gradually getting steeper. As the ground really steepens, descend in big zig-zags, with a gate halfway down. Just above the farm at Whitendale go left.
6 Follow a conspicuously level track for ¾ mile (1.2km) until it swings round a little side valley, over a couple of footbridges. Go over a stile and wind down to a track by the river. Follow this down to a bridge by some waterworks.
7 Cross the bridge, join the road and follow it steadily down the valley for 1½ miles (2.4km), past Bishop's House.
8 Just after a cattle grid, cross the river on a substantial footbridge. Just beyond this you rejoin the outward route.
There aren't many places where a phone box is a tourist attraction, but the one at Dunsop Bridge is deemed to stand at the centre point of Great Britain. This apart, Dunsop Bridge lacks amusements for less energetic visitors, but it lacks nothing for magnificent surroundings and is the starting point for many great walks. This route uses something which is quite a rarity in Bowland, a public footpath crossing the tops.
To reach it you cross a stretch of upland pasture. This gives straightforward walking, rarely steep, except where it dips into Oxenhurst Clough. The clough frames a view of the small conical hill called Knot or Sugar Loaf, which began as a coral reef around 250 million years ago. The ascent to the plateau is by a well-defined ridge, giving wider views than from the level top. The prospect takes in the Hodder Valley, Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest, the broader sweep of Ribblesdale and the Yorkshire hills.
The heather moors of Bowland have traditionally been managed principally for grouse shooting. In recent years, for reasons that are not fully understood, grouse numbers have declined substantially. This has affected the livelihood of many local people and has had a knock-on effect on other species. Hen harriers, for instance, prey in part on grouse chicks.
In the past walkers, conservationists and shooting interests have sometimes viewed each other suspiciously. Gamekeepers have been accused of poisoning birds of prey. Today, however, there is a new spirit of co-operation. The Birds of Bowland Project involves the RSPB, United Utilities (a major landowner) and receives funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Ribble Valley District Council. The aim is to encourage sympathetic management of the distinctive habitat and to protect the bird populations. One result should be to encourage more visitors to the area, something which should be further helped by the much wider access to open country which is due to be achieved by 2005.
The moorland crossing may seem all too brief before the descent into Whitendale. Here there are reminders that Bowland is a significant water catchment. Although there's only one large reservoir (Stocks), water is extracted from many of the streams and rivers. The track which you join near Whitendale Farm is actually the line of a water pipe: BCWW stands for Blackburn Corporation Water Works. The main waterworks intake is a little further down the valley and from there you follow the access road most of the way back to Dunsop Bridge.
The hen harrier is the symbol of the Forest of Bowland. Numbers have declined, but the area remains their best breeding ground in England. Males have greyish backs, females are brown, but both sexes have a white patch at the base of the tail, which helps distinguish them from the similarly-sized buzzard.
Puddleducks' Tearoom at Dunsop Bridge has teas, cakes and scones but for more substantial fare head east for 2 miles (3.3km) to Newton. The 18th-century Parkers Arms has a large beer garden with great views across the Hodder Valley to Easington Fell. The food, served from 12 noon until 9pm, has won awards, and the beer lives up to it.
Wander through the Hodder Valley to Slaidburn, a tidy village of old stone houses. The church, with its box pews and sanctuary pole, is a principal feature. The old grammar school is now a junior school, while the pub, the Hark to Bounty, contained a courtroom, still in use until 1937. Beyond Slaidburn are Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest, offering many walks and cycle routes.