Fans of Lord of the Rings have long identified ‘The Shire’ of the famous trilogy with this tranquil stretch of Lancashire countryside. The Ribble Valley is where the books’ author, JRR Tolkien, spent much time walking while visiting his son at a Jesuit seminary, now part of Stonyhurst College near Clitheroe. He wrote much of the drafts of his books here, perhaps drawing on the bucolic scenery as inspiration for his imaginary landscape.
Unassuming Hurst Green – possibly Hobbiton in the books – lies amid hay meadows and woodlands; all flowery cottages, welcoming inns and rural serenity.
Take the gated footpath at the back of the Shireburn Arms car park and drop alongside a hedge line, then between brooks, to reach the River Ribble. Turn upstream, meandering beside the river – the Brandywine River of the epic tale – as it snakes between the looming mass of Pendle Hill to your right and Longridge Fell to your left. In a mile or so, a substantial old manor house is visible beyond the far bank.
This is Hacking Hall, identified as Brandy Hall, family home of Merry Brandybuck, one of Frodo’s companions on his quest to destroy the ring of power. Here the fleeing hobbits escaped the pursuing Black Riders by jumping on the Bucklebury Ferry; the ancient Hacking ferry was still working here when Tolkien visited in the 1940s.
Continuing upstream, the walk passes opposite Mitton Wood, a contender for the Old Forest, before diverging up the River Hodder, shortly passing through Winckley Hall Farm before rising on a lane past Winckley Hall.
Use the rusty iron hand gate on the right at a bend before a small barn; the well-used path continues across fields to a lane.
Turn right and descend to view the memorable arched packhorse bridge over the Hodder, named Cromwell’s Bridge as the General is said to have crossed this with his army before the Battle of Preston in 1648. This may be Tolkien’s Brandywine Bridge.
Return up the lane to the second footpath on the right (up a hollow), rising to another road left of the cottage. Turn right; in 700yds go left to Hall Barn Farm. Pass right of the barns, then turn right on a tarred track.
At the domed observatory, go left at the way-marked gate, walk alongside the woods, then bend right across the top of three fields. Slip past cottages to a lane at the top of Hurst Green, where you began your walk.
HOW TO GET THERE
Hurst Green is 4 miles south-west of Clitheroe on the B6243. Park with consideration along Avenue Road or use the village hall near the Bayley Arms.
FIND OUT MORE
Clitheroe Visitor Information Centre
Clitheroe, BB7 2RA
EAT & STAY
The Shireburn Arms
Hurst Green, Clitheroe BB7 9QJ
Comfy accommodation at a peaceful inn where Ribble Valley food producers are avidly supported. Try the shepherds pie, made with local lamb and cheese.
Alden Cottage B&B
Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe BB7 9QY
Secluded, pretty 17th-century cottage near Hurst Green.
Atmospheric part-ruined Cistercian Abbey beside the River Calder. Adults £2, children 50p.
Cowmans Sausage Shop
Clitheroe, BB7 2BT
Over 50 home-made varieties – try the smoked beef or pork and chestnut.