Visit Forest of Bowland: Places to stay, things to do

Mark Sutcliffe goes in search of the secret valleys of 'The Shire' in the beautiful Forest of Bowland


The Forest of Bowland has a legitimate claim to be at the centre of the Kingdom and is thought by some to be the inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.


This rugged landscape is dominated by heather-clad moorland, isolated hill farms and pretty little stone villages – just perfect for walking, cycling or simply winding down and tuning into the slower rhythms of nature.

Some geographers actually pinpoint this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as the centre of the Kingdom, so it’s perhaps not surprising that in an unguarded moment, the Queen mused that she might like to retire here.

It’s a sparsely populated area of moorland and verdant valleys between Clitheroe and Lancaster where hen harriers tumble on the breeze and hardy fell sheep graze among the heather.

Bowland was among the first areas of Britain to be opened up to public access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2005 and you can lose yourself in thousands of acres of deserted moorland.

For an easy walk which takes you right into one of Bowland’s secret valleys within a few minutes of leaving the car, stop off at the parking space at Hareden and wander up the track into Haredendale, one of the many hidden valleys hereabouts where you may catch sight of Hen Harriers performing their spectacular ‘sky dance’.

Where to eat

They take food and beer very seriously in this part of the world and the Forest is blessed with some fantastic village pubs and interesting local brews. Head for the Lower Buck or Waddington Arms in Waddington, the Hark to Bounty in Slaidburn, or The Sun Inn in Chipping.

Those who like their nosh with a gourmet twist should try the Three Fishes at Mitton, near Whalley or the Freemasons Arms at Wiswell.

Where to stay

It really has to be Inn at Whitewell – a historic coaching inn right on the banks of the River Hodder. This traditional country hotel sits in an utterly magical setting that recalls a rural Britain which has been all but lost across huge swathes of the south.

The rooms are individually decorated and quite eclectic and the food and the beer – both of which are predominantly locally sourced – are excellent. Try to grab the table which overlooks the river and enjoy the sunset while tucking into hearty local favourites like Bowland lamb, rabbit terrine or local sausages.

Tell us a local secret

JRR Tolkien was educated at Stonyhurst College on the edge of the Forest and many Hobbit-fans believe the surrounding scenery inspired his vivid descriptions of the Shire in Lord of the Rings.

Not convinced? Well take the precipitous B-road from Cow Ark northwards to Whitewell and watch as the scenery suddenly unfolds before you. If this landscape did indeed inspire his magnum opus, surely it’s this view that Tolkien had in mind when describing the Shire.

Did you know?

On nearby Pendle Hill, in 1652, one of the founders of the Quaker movement, George Fox, is said to have caught a glimpse of heaven. Hike to the ‘big end’ of Pendle on a cool, clear, spring day, and you’ll understand exactly what he meant.

Click here for a beautiful cycle route in the Ribble Valley.

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