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Rural Revelations in Witton

Not just a country park but real countryside in the heart of urban Lancashire.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 558ft (170m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good paths and tracks, some open fields, 9 stiles

Landscape Woodland, pasture and river bank

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors

Start/finish SD 662271

Dog friendliness Can run free in country park, but on leads on farmland

Parking Large car park just off A674

Public toilets Adjacent to The Pavilion and at visitor centre

1 Walk past the athletics track and The Pavilion in the Park, then go left, below the woods, following the cycle track until it swings left. There's a sculpture - is it a crow or a rook? - perched on a tree on the right. Just before this there's a track on the right. The sign says 'No Horses' but some muddy patches show evidence of mountain bikes. Follow the track up through a wooded dell. Cross a small bridge over a side stream then up some steps. Go left at the top of these then round to the right, climbing an ever-narrower belt of woodland to a kissing gate at the top, near Billinge Nook farm, which has a fine barn.

2 Go a few paces right on the lane then through a short tunnel and up the track rising to the right, past some magnificent beech trees. Cross one path on a counter-diagonal and continue until ours doubles back - here are two marker posts, one bearing No 4. As the gradient eases, birch and scattered pine rise above the rhododendrons. Stick to the principal path and you soon reach a small open area with a concrete plinth and plaque. This is the summit of Billinge Hill. The views are limited to strategic gaps in the trees: south to Darwen Tower and Winter Hill, east to Blackburn cathedral and Pendle Hill, north to Mellor and the Bowland Fells.
Go down left to a broader path and left along it. The descent becomes steeper, but not excessively, to a T-junction with another path. Go right, uphill for a few yards, then the path trends right before swinging back left to a small parking area. At one corner of this, where wall meets fence, is a stile and a Witton Weavers' Way sign.

3 Go straight across the field, a little right of the crest, to a stile by a small clump of trees (there are larger patches of trees both to the left and to the right). Just ahead is a knoll above a small old quarry; this is actually a much better viewpoint than Billinge Hill. This area is known locally as Yellow Hills because of the stands of gorse. Gorse bears a few flowers throughout the year - hence the old saying, 'when gorse is in bloom, kissing's in season' - but is at its best in spring and early summer. Carry on down a rough spine, passing walls of single upright stones. Hoghton Tower on its wooded hill is dead ahead. Trees shield the depths of Butler Delf, an old quarry (the Butler family owned Pleasington Hall). Go down to the right, over a stile alongside. A second stile takes you over into the woods and down towards some houses.

4 Go left a few paces on the track that leads into the quarry, then right at a public footpath sign. Follow this path down and keep straight on, past a Witton Weavers' Way marker post pointing right, over a stile into open fields. Keep straight on in the same line, passing midway between two power line poles, then down to the right edge of the wood ahead.

5 In the bottom right corner, just right of Pleasington Old Hall, there's a stile and 30yds (27m) beyond it a drive. Go right for 200yds (183m) then left along the cycle track, past an ornate milepost. Go past a pool with a view of Pleasington Old Hall, then right down the drive below the cemetery. The gates may be locked to vehicles but pedestrians can still get through. Bear left across football pitches to a metal footbridge, cross it then go left just above the river, dropping down further on to follow the bank through woods.

6 The next bridge has decorated 'gateposts' and another fancy milepost further on. The mileposts are two of 1,000 placed on the National Cycle Network during Millennium year. Cross this bridge then continue along the river bank and so back to the start.

Glance at the map and you may think this is an urban walk, but that's not how it feels. The busy urban backdrop is mostly unseen, though it may come to your ears over the birdsong in Billinge Wood.

Witton Country Park covers 480 acres (194ha) and was formerly the estate surrounding Witton House. The house is now demolished though the stable block remains and is now the visitor centre. The park has a network of paths and nature trails, but this walk ventures out into real, open country.

What to look for

Specimen trees abound on the wooded slopes of Billinge Hill, many still bearing identifying signs, albeit a little faded. Keep an eye out for the the nuthatch, sparrow-sized but with a slaty-blue back, which clings to the bark of the trees.

Where to eat and drink

The Old Stables Tearoom at Witton Park visitor centre is open from 1pm to 4:45pm (4:30pm in winter), opening at 11am on Sundays and bank holidays. For pub food try the Clog and Billycock, just 'over the hill' on Billinge End Road.

While you're there

Hoghton Tower, glimpsed during the walk, is a late 16th-century house with a fine hilltop setting, open to the public in the summer. Legend relates that it was here, in the banqueting hall, that James I 'knighted' a particularly fine joint of beef, giving rise to the name 'sirloin'.

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