Historian Andrew Stachulski takes us on a charming walk featuring the best of the Hodder valley, with some excellent viewpoints en route including Stonyhurst College
Distance: Seven miles
Recommended map is OS 1:50,000 no.103
Granted, the tremendous popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in print and in film, it was inevitable that there would be growing interest in J R R Tolkien’s background and the scenes he depicted. In common with other literary greats including Conan Doyle and Manley Hopkins, Tolkien was also associated with Stonyhurst College and many areas in the surrounding countryside have been linked with ‘Middle Earth’. But in truth, the walk I shall describe here is simply an excellent outing in itself, displaying especially some of the finest river scenery in North West England.
You may conveniently start in Hurst Green, with good parking space and plenty of refreshments on offer in the village. From the war memorial, take a minor lane leading away right and soon emerge from a gate into a field. Turn left initially, but after the next gateway go right across the following field; as you approach the fence on the left, a reasonable tread emerges. Follow this, soon passing through a dip then go up a field to the left with striking views of some of the college buildings including the chapel. On reaching a gate, pass through, turn right onto a lane and go past the observatory. Follow clear signs and refer to the map – you keep the college close on your left and soon emerge at the settlement of Woodfields.
Turn right down the road, and watch carefully for the stile on your left, less than half a mile ahead, where you cross and go down the often rather muddy field ahead. At the bottom of the field, pass through a gate and go left down the B6243 for a short distance until you reach Lower Hodder Bridge, with the old bridge associated with Oliver Cromwell to its right. Turn left off the road and follow a clear track by the Hodder, beginning a beautiful section of river walking, enjoyable at any time of year. Bird spotters can expect to see grey wagtail, dipper and heron with a sporting chance of seeing a kingfisher too. Follow the river closely upstream through a major left bend, eventually meeting rising ground and entering a wood. Climb the steep bluff following, reaching more college buildings at the top of the rise and looking down on the river from an impressive height.
Descend slightly on the main track, away from the college buildings, and soon cross a side stream. The steep climb ahead is now clearly indicated by a set of wooden steps; take the first set of these, then turn off right, reaching a cross, which marks a bathing fatality near this spot. Continue through a brief scrambly section then go on through more woodland until you emerge by the river again. Follow its course, soon taking a major left bend, then re-entering the woods with a fine prospect of Higher Hodder Bridge upstream. Beyond a splendid, recently restored riverside house, climb stone steps to the road. Take a moment to enjoy the lovely view, both up and downstream, from the bridge.
Go left along the road, soon turning sharply uphill along Birdy Brow. When you reach Kemple End you will be glad of a breather, but the view has opened out splendidly. The road turns right here, but go left along a track passing scattered houses. Pendle shows one of its best aspects from here, seen across the Ribble Valley greenery. Proceed down the lane, often muddy after you pass the farm, then follow the tread easily, through a gate and shortly over a stile. The view to the south remains excellent. Eventually you lose a little height and cross a stile by an old barn onto a road, soon passing the neat group of cottages at Stockbridge.
Easy going now! Ahead, and downhill, turn right at a junction and take the road for Hurst Green, now about one mile ahead. You will be entranced by the views of the college, especially the spectacular frontal aspect with the long driveway and flanking ponds leading the eye to the buildings, which date from 1794. Proceed down the unfenced section of road, and when you turn left at the top the houses of Hurst Green are soon visible. A gateway marks the boundary between the college grounds and the village; beyond, note the almshouses on the left, with the names of contributing parishes recorded. In a few minutes you will complete your circuit, with time to relax and enjoy the village hospitality – a drink, afternoon tea perhaps, or a full meal, according to taste.
Middle Earth? It’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but as a walk this one takes some beating – the delightful and varied scenery is a feast for the eyes.