As anyone in the UK knows, this summer has been unprecedented for heat and lack of rainfall and Lancashire has been more extreme (relatively) than many other areas of the country. This made this an excellent time to explore the normally ‘moist’ upland of the Bowland Fells. The fear of moorland fires meant it felt like I had the whole AONB almost to myself as well. This only went to enhance the feeling of wild isolation which is a key facet of such a trip for me.
The route was to take me from Jubilee Tower where I could abandon a car, over the highest peak in Bowland, Ward’s Stone, across to and then along the Hornby Road, which also formed part of my first wild-camping weekend. From there my route was to run along the Hodder and across Waddy Fell to the farm of good friends of mine as a fitting end point. Having personal open-access across their land made up for the lack of footpaths to sensibly link Slaidburn to West Bradford.
The forecast for the weekend was hot, sunny and dry. Ironically the weight I lost in deciding not to carry any waterproof gear (just my excellent Paramo Showerproof Smock) was at least compensated for by the extra water I needed to carry.
The car park by Jubilee Tower had been locked to discourage people from walking on the moorland, but thankfully there was still space next to the road to abandon the car. Fire risk signs abounded which re-enforced the care I already planned to take when it came to using my stove that evening. The route initially took me to the top of Grit Fell, from which the views stretched to the Yorkshire Dales and the Kent Estuary as well as across Bowland itself. The Southern Lakes were shrouded in haze however.
I had the fell to myself as I walked along the ridge which gentle rises up to Ward’s Stone. It was entertaining to read the comments on how wet the ground is between these two fells on a day when all the scrub was so dry as to be crispy.
The path from Grit Fell is difficult: crossing Cabin Flat, it weaves its way across hidden pools of stagnant water, the presence of which is betrayed by a form of red grass. White markers supposedly point out the way, but more often result in leading the walker astray.
I really did count my blessings to have the chance to be here after such a dry spell. Ward’s Stone is a flat topped hill, not unlike Pendle in that respect, and has the unusual distinction of having two trig points on it, one at either end of the summit plateau.
Following a well maintained dry stone wall took me East to the grouse shooters track which had been my inspiration to refresh my acquaintance with wild-camping last year. Having made an early start and managed an excellent pace I wanted to make the most of the day. The beauty of walking alone is that after a hastily arranged conference with myself (over lunch) I decided it would be better to split the distance of my days (initially 10 / 14 miles) more evenly and also take in an extra peak. I find trig points hard to resist so after lunch I abandoned my pack for 30 min and headed up to the top of Wolfhole Crag. It may be a few years before you can just again head where you fancy on this fell-side without waders or a snorkel!
After the rewarding view I dropped down to a stream and collected some water. Then it was up to the Hornby Road. Initially I thought I’d use my original sheltered spot for that night, but rather than head SE to this I instead headed to the NW. I wanted to cover an additional two miles before stopping, and rather than looking for shelter I wanted a spot open to the breeze to help moderate the heat. After a total of 13.5 miles I spotted a small plateau on the side of White Hill, nestled below Great Bull Stones. I was very tempted to walk to the summit to get a site with great views, but the practical desire to be near some washing up water and fatigue led me to stick with the plateau.
I didn’t really need the tent and slept with the door open all night. After dinner I alternating a chance to read my novel and drinking in the view until I was too tired to keep my eyes open any more.
Day Two was to be as hot and sunny as Day One. My route took me down the Croasdale Valley, because this could take me into Slaidburn without recourse to any road walking. I would not recommend anyone take this part of my route in anything but extreme dry weather – the ground was badly poached by a group of Belted Galloway Cattle and clearly a very moist (calf deep) route in a normal year. I, however, was blessed to trace the brook down into Slaidburn with dry feet. It was too early for the fine institution which is the Hark to Bounty, but OK to use the boot washing taps to top up with some clean water to see me through the rest of my day.
The rest of the route was not wild, but it did have the satisfaction of allowing me to walk (all but) all the way home. After following the Hodder I headed up and over Waddy Fell. I did this far faster than I expected. It’s not as big as it looks, and after nine months farm work I am more ‘walking fit’ than I’ve been for 20 years. The top of this fell is normally boggy, but at the risk of overplaying the theme, today the moss was so dry it was crispy. This allowed a shortcut to my lunch spot with Pendle as my lunch companion.
I reflected on an excellent weekend: I’d had the higher Bowland Fells all to myself in glorious sunshine and the kaleidoscope of the colours of nature as the backdrop to my little adventure. Whilst I believe self sufficiency in life makes for a poorer existence, just for a weekend it does my soul no harm but instead makes it sing.
All I had to do then was to look for landmarks on my friends farm and get myself to the edge of their land. From there the going was easy. Having estimated I’d be with them by 1500 I beat this by a whole 100 minutes. There’s life in this old chemist yet!
Where next? I am pondering the Lake District and the chance to camp by an elevated tarn. All suggestions welcome…