WALKING IN BOWLAND
The Hornby Road: Up and Away
Andrew Stachulski takes us on a long New Year walk through the Forest of Bowland encountering some stunning scenery along the way. This walk is considered by many to be the finest moorland walk in England. Photography: Helen Shaw
Recommended map: OS 1:25,000 no. 41 (Forest of Bowland and Ribblesdale)
The Hornby Road, or Salter Fell track, offers a special treat for the walker, revealing the very essence of the Forest of Bowland. It is a walk of 15 miles through the heart of Bowland, from Slaidburn to Hornby, considered by many to be the finest moorland walk in England – a view endorsed by no other than A Wainwright. There are no technical difficulties, just stride out and enjoy the far-flung views, the solitude, the echoes of history, the wildlife – especially birds – and the charming settlements and villages met en route.
You will need to plan the walk carefully, however, because of its ‘A to B’ nature. Now that there is virtually no public transport to Slaidburn, a friendly driver to drop you off in the village would be best. There are still buses from Hornby to Lancaster, where you rejoin the rail network, or at the cost of a slight detour you can finish the walk at Wennington where there is also a station. I used to regard this walk gladly as an all-day expedition, by public transport and on foot, when I lived in Greater Manchester.
From Slaidburn, go up Back Lane past the health centre. Further on, turn right down Wood House Lane and go on until you reach the terminus of the public road beyond Higher Wood House at (692548). A pleasant alternative uses the path by Croasdale Brook and Myttons Farm – formerly a noted craft centre – rejoining the road just beyond. Pass through a gate at the road terminus then the walk begins in earnest. For the next nine miles the only traffic you should expect to see is an RSPB van, and on many days you may not see another soul until reaching High Salter. The track is excellent, unloseable in mist, moderately steep and rough in places.
The origins of this old track are intriguing. For over three miles beyond the public road terminus, the Hornby Road is coincident with the Roman road from Ribchester to Burrow in Lonsdale, and it is likely that the Romans adopted an ancient way. Salter Fell gives a clue – most probably the road was used in the transport of salt from Morecambe Bay. Beyond the rise by Croasdale quarry, you meet a recent metal post, which records that the Lancashire witches were led this way on their fateful 1612 journey to Lancaster.
This is the place to look for Bowland’s iconic bird, the hen harrier, which I have seen quite a few times around Croasdale, and what a splendid sight the silvery-grey male harrier is! Once, after meeting an RSPB warden, I was privileged to look through his telephoto lens with a clear sight of a nesting female harrier. The harriers still have a precarious existence, as their food requirements necessarily clash with the management of these grouse moorlands.
Nevertheless, bird lovers will have been delighted by their breeding success in 2018. You can also hope to see peregrines and merlins, as well as buzzards, which are quite abundant in Bowland, many kinds of waders and unusual passerines. Ring ouzels may be seen in summer, and I have seen both stonechats and whinchats.
Beyond the quarry, marching on, you pass a gate at the head of Croasdale, then, after a branching path dropping into Whitendale to the left, you come to the former county boundary fence. Since 1974, all is Lancashire, but this point is geographically significant as here you cross the watershed from the Hodder – Ribble catchment to streams draining into the Lune. Already you may glimpse Morecambe Bay from this point. Shortly the Roman road diverges to the right, though not easily spotted on the ground. For a long time the path seems reluctant to leave these wonderful high fells – you are surrounded by them, around the 1300 ft contour, for mile after mile.
‘Lingering on, as loth to die,’ quoting Wordsworth, with some licence. All good things come to an end! Eventually, beyond Alderstone Bank and the small hill of Hawkshead, you emerge into a more open section and begin the slow descent into Roeburndale. As the ground drops away in front of you, on a clear day you will appreciate some wonderful views. The Three Peaks show up as giants, Ingleborough looking every inch a mountain. To the north west you can glimpse Morecambe Bay and the Howgill fells, but the Lakeland peaks only show up later, Black Combe and the Coniston fells prominent.
Eventually you reach the outpost farm of High Salter, back now on a public road. You may consider arranging for a car to meet you here. At Low Salter you pass the very remote Roeburndale Methodist Church, and just beyond there is a charming crossing of the Roeburn at Barkin Bridge, the river gliding smoothly over slabby rocks. The hill ahead inevitably seems steeper than it really is, but once over it you are truly on the final stretch. Soon you come to a division of roads to Hornby and Wray (Wennington lies beyond Wray, if that is your terminus). Easy going now down a quiet country lane, in retrospect your moorland track is already becoming lost in that mysterious heart of Bowland. You pass a wayside cross with an adjacent seat, then cross the B6480 and shortly enter Hornby.
Fifteen miles will seem a long way for most, but the special qualities and challenge of this walk more than repay your effort. Hornby offers a pleasant relaxing finish and sufficient creature comforts for your refreshment. Do check bus times if relying on them for your return (www.lancashire.gov). Long sweeping skylines, briskly driven clouds, remote side valleys, grouse whirring over the moors with their haunting cries and an occasional passing traveller – these are the memories you will keep. There is no other walk quite like this!
With thanks to Helen Shaw for permission to reproduce the images used in this article
Helen Shaw and Andrew Stachulski are joint authors of The Forest of Bowland, published by Merlin Unwin books (2015) at £14.99 and now in its third printing