Andrew Stachulski takes us on a walk from Tosside through Gisburn Forest which has a significant and interesting history

Gisburn Forest, the largest forest in Lancashire, lies to the north and east of Stocks Reservoir and is one of the most significant features of eastern Bowland. Latterly, its rapid development as a recreational area has been a model of good understanding between a major landowner and the general public. Once this was a very quiet corner of Bowland, with the Slaidburn to Long Preston road, on its south border, the only classified road link with the outside world.

Now Gisburn Forest has become a centre for mountain bikers par excellence, and with the general public interest in cycling so high these days, the timing has proved perfect. The Forestry Commission have played their part in encouraging this development.

Yet Gisburn Forest is fine territory for the walker also. In contrast to many afforested areas, there are a number of wide clearings offering excellent viewpoints. Furthermore, the more ambitious cyclists’ routes are kept separate from the main tracks through the forest, allowing enjoyable, uninterrupted walking. As well as a number of short circular walks, you may conveniently extend your walk to include Bowland Knotts or Whelpstone Crag, both excellent viewpoints which offer prospects deep into the Dales. The car park at the sharp bend of School Lane (BB7 4TS) offers good access to both Gisburn Forest and Stocks Reservoir as well as information about local trails.

Cyclists will doubtless aim for Stephen Park and the adjacent Gisburn Forest hub for their expeditions into the forest. The hub is easily accessed from the minor road, which leaves the B6478 road north north west at a junction about three miles north east of Slaidburn. Stephen Park today offers both bed and breakfast accommodation and a café to visitors, but it has a long and interesting history.

Dr Graham Cooper has undertaken a thorough study of its lands and origins, and you can read his report in detail at the Slaidburn Archive. He concludes that this was not one of the ancient deer parks of Bowland – unlike Radholme Laund or Leagram – but it is ancient and may go back to the 13th century. It formed a part of the Hammerton estate, which was dissolved in the 16th century following the reprisals for the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Another entry to Gisburn Forest, frequently used by the author, is from the quiet village of Tosside, also situated on the B6478, roughly equidistant between Slaidburn and Long Preston. Do give yourself time for a visit to the splendid old vicarage tearooms (BD23 4SQ), where you can enjoy anything from a light tea to a full meal. At the T-junction in the village centre is a well-used community centre, which hosts a number of events through the year – take a look at the website for more details.

From Tosside, an excellent walk into Gisburn Forest begins along the unmetalled road leading north west, by the Dog and Partridge, soon passing a sawmill. A little further on, the track divides beyond a gate. Go straight on, follow the forestry tracks and descend with Hindley Head just below and on your left almost a mile further on. Continue down the track, passing an old barn, which has been renovated and made safe with benches providing a good spot for a bite to eat, or welcome shelter on a wet day. A little further on, you reach a bridge crossing Dob Dale Beck.

Here you can pick up a thin path going left (south west initially), soon crossing a side stream, then rising through fields until you meet a farm track coming from Halsteads. This fine old building carries a date of 1687 on the doorway, but the original building may be some 300 years older.

From here, continue along the farm road, meeting the Bowland Knotts road in another half mile. Turn left, soon re-entering Gisburn Forest in a recently felled area. When the road makes a sharp right-angled turn, keep straight ahead and you will pick up a reasonable if rather wet path, turning steadily left. Follow this through the forest and emerge into a clearing at a major track crossing your path. Turn left, soon crossing Bottoms Beck over a bridge, then simply follow the track, or rough road as it is now. Soon you will pass Hesbert Hall on your right, then climb steadily until you regain the outward route by the junction of tracks near the gate. Tosside is now about three-quarters of a mile away. A satisfying and varied walk, with good views, and you have the comforting knowledge that the easy tracks on the final section give confidence even in fading light.

Mountain bikers will no doubt regard such pursuits as rather tame! In fact the cyclists’ routes are all clearly graded, and even relatively inexperienced cyclists can enjoy a visit here. Consult the website, from which you can download a map. For the more ambitious, there are routes such as Hully Gully and Bigfoot Slab to challenge and excite.

Gisburn Forest has plenty of interesting wildlife, too. A number of birds of prey are likely to be spotted, I have seen redstarts and crossbills have been spotted here. Finally, photographers should note that this area enjoys spectacular lighting effects, especially beautiful sunsets and sunrises. The prospect of the forest from the Slaidburn-Bentham road at Merrybent Hill is one of the best vantage points. In short, this quiet and rather remote part of Bowland has a great deal to offer the visitor and its haunting quality will call you back.

Andrew Stachulski is the joint author, with Helen Shaw, of The Forest of Bowland, published by Merlin Unwin @£14.99



Tedd Walmsley

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