Memories, Water & Wildlife
Historian Andrew Stachulski puts the spotlight on Stocks Reservoir, an impressive feat of civil engineering that, over the years, has become a natural wildlife haven
Stocks Reservoir, easily the Forest of Bowland’s largest sheet of water, lies at its nearest point just one and a half miles north north east of Slaidburn and stretches into Gisburn Forest in the east of Bowland. Yet Stocks shares the same elusive quality as Slaidburn itself, generally lying out of sight until the last moment and difficult to spot. Motorists have a good glimpse from the B6478 near the Clapham road junction, where the wide basin of the catchment area is evident. For the walker, one of the best viewing stations is found at a wall junction on the path climbing to Bowland Knotts, offering a fine bird’s-eye aspect.
The reservoir was completed in 1932 and is Bowland’s largest element of infrastructure. It is an impressive piece of civil engineering, one of many such developments in the inter-war years. Today, over 80 years on, it has blended most pleasingly with its surroundings and its scenic features are certainly worthy of Bowland. The many inlets and wooded bays would by no means look out of place in the Peak District. The reservoir supplies the needs of the Fylde, and in recent years, when the rains have generally been more than sufficient, its ‘tide-mark’ of a shoreline has usually been inconspicuous. It was a different story in 1995, when after a long dry spell, the water level plummeted to only 10 per cent of capacity.
In some ways, Stocks is Bowland’s parallel to Lakeland’s Haweswater. True, Haweswater was a pre-existing natural lake, but in both cases, a valley was flooded, a former village was lost and the remains lie many fathoms down. Apparently, the original plans envisaged four smaller reservoirs but these plans were discontinued. The building of the reservoir began in 1921, and for some years there was a substantial shanty town, housing the construction workers, complete with amenities including a cinema. The official opening took place in 1932, conducted by Prince George, Duke of Kent. Although the former village of Stocks in Bowland was relatively small, it did have its own church and rectory and there were a number of other dwellings within a few miles’ radius. The church of St James, Dalehead – formerly of Stocks in Bowland – has been preserved. It was translocated to its present spot, about a mile from the original site, and is a little gem. It is a beautifully kept building which I have more than once appreciated for quiet meditation during a walking outing. Recently, with the upgrading of the main reservoir car park, new excavations have made a feature of the original church foundations, adjoining the car park at School Lane, and worthy of study.
Memories old enough to be new! Inevitably, only a few can now remember the old village of Stocks. There are good written records, nevertheless, notably two booklets by the late W R Mitchell, which include a number of personal reminiscences of the old villagers and some good photographs. The construction work left other telltale signs, especially the old railway tracks used for heavy material transportation. You can see one of these very clearly by Cross of Greet Bridge, on the Slaidburn-Bentham road, taking a rising line west north west from the road.
Walkers are most definitely welcome. The immediate surroundings of Stocks are enchanting, and its circuit has become a very popular walk, of about eight miles, well waymarked. Although barely 10 miles from Clitheroe as the crow flies, there is a truly remote feel to these parts – tucked away in that deep bowl, you could be almost anywhere. Some sections, notably in the west by Eak Hill, make for heavy going in a wet spell. By the south west corner near the reservoir dam stands the Board House, the official headquarters of the United Utilities enterprise, and a little to the north, on a most attractive sheltered bay, a fishing lodge where boats can be hired and refreshments bought in season.
As a natural wildlife haven, especially for birds, Stocks truly excels and it is credit to United Utilities to have encouraged this aspect. Recently a second bird hide has been added, close to the earlier one on the north inlet near the main car park.
Unsurprisingly, it is in water birds that Stocks specialises, with many sightings of rare ducks and geese, but there is great variety. A number of osprey sightings are recorded, with other birds of prey including the Bowland hen harriers. All kinds of passerines may be seen too – alongside commoner finches and tits, you may see siskins near the hides, and crossbills, normally regarded as only a Scottish species, may be a prize sighting if you are fortunate.
What began as a necessity, then, through the growing demand for assured supplies of water has turned into one of the district’s most attractive features. Stocks Reservoir is truly a model of how urban need, countryside planning, recreational activities and wildlife can happily coexist.
Additional bibliography including The Lost Village of Stocks-in-Bowland and Stocks Re-visited, both by W R Mitchell and Lesser Railways of Bowland Forest and Craven Country by Harold D Bowtell may be available from the Slaidburn Archive, please enquire
Andrew Stachulski is the joint author, with Helen Shaw, of ‘The Forest of Bowland’, published by Merlin Unwin @£14.99