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Forest of Bowland
Ward's Stone, the highest point in the Forest of Bowland
Country England
Counties Lancashire, North Yorkshire
Districts Ribble Valley, Lancaster, Wyre, Craven, Pendle, Preston
Location Northern England
Highest point
 - location Ward's Stone
 - elevation 561 m (1,841 ft)
Founded 1964
The Forest of Bowland shown (in green) with the district boundaries of Lancashire
The Forest of Bowland shown (in green) with the district boundaries of Lancashire

The Forest of Bowland, also known as the Bowland Fells, is an area of barren gritstone fells, deep valleys and peat moorland, mostly in north-east Lancashire, England. A small part lies in North Yorkshire, and much of the area was historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. It has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1964, and is used for grouse shooting, walking and cycling, though it is relatively unfrequented by tourists. One of the best known features of the area is Pendle Hill, which is separated from the main part of the Forest of Bowland AONB by the Ribble Valley.

13% of the AONB is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its important areas of heather moorland and blanket bog. The area is nationally and internationally important for its upland bird populations – the hen harrier is the symbol of the AONB. There are over 500 listed buildings and 18 scheduled monuments within the AONB.

The name 'forest' is used in its traditional sense of 'a royal hunting ground', and much of the land still belongs to the British Crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. In the past wild boar, deer, wolves, wild cats and game roamed the forest.

Heather moorland on Clougha, in the north west of the Forest of Bowland, looking towards the Yorkshire three peaks

Bowland remains as the northwestern remainder of the ancient wilderness that once stretched over a huge part of England, encompassing the Forest of Bowland, Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire), the New Forest (Hampshire) and Savernake Forest (Wiltshire). While the Trough of Bowland (the valley and high pass connecting the Wyre (at Marshaw) and Langden Brook and dividing the upland core of Bowland into two main blocks) represents the area, to many, on account of its popularity, it is in fact only a small part of the wider Forest of Bowland area.

The hills on the western side of the Forest of Bowland attract walkers from Lancaster and the surrounding area. Overlooking Lancaster is Clougha Pike, the western-most hill. The hills form a large horseshoe shape with its open end facing west. Clockwise from Lancaster the hills are Clougha Pike (413 m, 1,350 ft), Grit Fell (468 m, 1,540 ft), Ward's Stone (561 m, 1,840 ft), Wolfhole Crag (527 m, 1,730 ft), White Hill (544 m, 1,780 ft), Whins Brow (476 m, 1,560 ft), Totridge (496 m, 1,630 ft), Parlick (432 m, 1,420 ft), Fair Snape Fell (510 m, 1,700 ft), Bleasdale Moor (429 m, 1,410 ft), and Hawthornthwaite fell (478 m, 1,570 ft).

The area contains the geographic centre of Great Britain which is close to the Whitendale Hanging Stones, around 4 miles (6 km) north of Dunsop Bridge.

The Bowland Challenge is an annual event in which teams of walkers navigate around a series of grid references over a ten hour period. Proceeds of the event go to support the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team[1].


A region of the British kingdom of Rheged, Bowland was absorbed into Northumbria in the seventh century. In turn, as Northumbrian influence waned, the westernmost areas of Bowland became part of Amounderness, a territory forged by the Norse hold Agmundr in the early tenth century.

In 926, Amounderness was annexed by Aethelstan, king of the West Saxons, as a spoil of war. In 934, he granted it to Wulfstan I, Archbishop of York. According to Aethelstan's grant, Amounderness at that time stretched "from the sea along the Cocker to the source of that river, from that source straight to another spring which is called in Saxon Dunshop, thus down the riverlet to the Hodder, in the same direction to the Ribble and thus along that river through the middle of the channel to the sea".[2] As such, Amounderness encompassed a significant portion of western and south-western Bowland.

Ekwall thus describes the eastern boundary of Amounderness as "being formed by the fells on the Yorkshire border";[3] a description which places the ancient boundary firmly within the modern-day Forest of Bowland. While it is difficult to pinpoint Dunshop, the confluence of the rivers Dunsop and Hodder at Dunsop Bridge seems a likely locale, situated as it is close to the eastern mouth of the Trough of Bowland whose Grey Stone marks the line of the pre-1974 county boundary.

Contrary to the popular histories, the origins of the name Bowland have nothing to do with archery (“the land of the bow”) or with mediaeval cattle farms or vaccaries (Old Norse, buu-, cow). The name derives from the Old Norse boga-/bogi-, meaning a “bend in a river”. It is a tenth-century coinage used to describe the topography of the Hodder basin, with its characteristic meandering river and streams.

The Domesday Bogeuurde is an instance of this usage – the placename thought to designate Barge Ford (formerly known as Boward), a ford that sits on the wide, pronounced bend of the Hodder at its confluence with Foulscales Brook, due southwest of Newton.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Bowland was held by Tosti, son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. However, as feudal entities, the Forest and Liberty of Bowland were created by William Rufus sometime after Domesday and granted to his vassal Roger de Poitou, possibly to reward Poitou for his role in repelling the invading Scots army of Malcolm III in 1091-2. In all likelihood, it was this grant that subsumed the eastern portion of Amounderness into the Lordship of Bowland for the first time.

By the end of the eleventh century, the Forest and Liberty came into the possession of the De Lacys, Lords of Pontefract. In 1102, along with the grant of the adjacent fee of Clitheroe and further holdings in Hornby and Amounderness, they came to form the basis of what became known as the Honor of Clitheroe.

In 1311, the Honor of Clitheroe was subsumed into the Earldom of Lancaster. Between 1351 and 1661, it was administered as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. By the late thirteenth century, Bowland comprised a Royal Forest and a Liberty of ten manors spanning eight townships and four parishes and covered an area of almost 300 square miles on the historic borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The manors within the Liberty were Slaidburn (Newton-in-Bowland, West Bradford, Grindleton[4]), Knowlmere, Waddington, Easington, Bashall Eaves, Mitton, Withgill (Crook), Leagram, Hammerton, and Dunnow (Battersby).

In 1661, the twenty-eight manors contained within the former Honor of Clitheroe, including the Forest and Liberty of Bowland, were granted by the Crown to General George Monck as part of the creation of the Dukedom of Albermarle. Monck had been a key figure in the restoration of Charles II.[5] The Lordship of Bowland then descended through the Montagu, Buccleuch and Towneley families.

Bowbearers of the Forest of Bowland have been appointed since the twelfth century. A Bowbearer was originally a noble who acted as ceremonial attendant to the Lord of Bowland, latterly the King, by bearing (carrying) his hunting bow, but over the centuries the Bowbearer's role underwent many changes. At an early date, the Bowbearer was a “forester in fee”, holding his own feudal lands within the Forest. The first record of such a Bowbearer, Uchtred de Bolton, dates from sometimes after 1157 (claims for an earlier holder of the office, Edwin, Comes de Bolton, in the late eleventh century cannot be substantiated). At this time, the office covered the Forests of Bowland and Gilsland in Cumberland.[6] The Boltons were Bowbearers across five generations until 1311 when the Forest of Bowland was inherited by Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster as the result of a marriage settlement.

While the Bowbearer retained his forest fee well into the sixteenth century, he became subordinate to a Master Forester appointed by the Crown and his responsibilities grew nearer to those of a chief verderer – an unpaid official appointed to protect vert and venison and responsible for supervising and assisting in the enforcement of forest laws.[7] Perhaps the most notorious Bowbearer during this period was Nicholas Tempest, executed at Tyburn in 1537 as one of the northern leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Catholic uprising against Henry VIII.[8]

By the second half of the seventeenth century, two Bowbearers were being appointed as officers of the Bowland Forest courts.[9] Over the course of the next three decades, as the last remnants of the ancient forest vanished, the office of Bowbearer was reduced to little more than an honorific.[10] The Parker family of Browsholme Hall today claim to be "hereditary Bowbearers of Bowland"[11] but this claim cannot be supported by the historical evidence. While the Parkers certainly served as Bowbearers over a number of generations up until 1858, they were always subject to grants made by the Lord of Bowland and hold no hereditary right.

The Forest of Bowland had its own forest courts – woodmote and swainmote – from early times. These appear to have been abandoned in the 1830s around the time of Peregrine Towneley’s acquisition of the Bowland Forest Estate. The halmote court at Slaidburn was disbanded following the abolition of copyhold by the Law of Property Act in 1922. General forest law in Britain was finally repealed by statute in 1971, more than 900 years after its introduction by the Normans. The original Bowland Forest courts appear to have been held at Hall Hill near Radholme Laund before moving to Whitewell sometime in the fourteenth century.

St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, is also patron saint of the Forest of Bowland and has a chapel dedicated to him in Dunsop Bridge.[12] This chapel was founded by Richard Eastwood of Thorneyholme, land agent to the Towneley family. Eastwood was the last known Bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland. An acclaimed breeder of racehorses and shorthorn cattle, he died in 1871 and is buried at St Hubert's.


  1. ^ Bowland Challenge
  2. ^ Dorothy Whitelock, English Historical Documents, c. 500-1042 (Eyre & Spottiswoode: London 1955), pp.504-8
  3. ^ Eilert Ekwall, The Place-names of Lancashire (Manchester University Press: Manchester 1922)
  4. ^
  5. ^ TD Whitaker, "An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe" (Routledge & Sons: Manchester 1872)
  6. ^ R Bolton, "Genealogical and Biographical Account of the Family of Bolton in England and America" (John A Gray: New York 1862)
  7. ^ R Cunliffe Shaw, "The Royal Forest of Lancaster" (Guardian Press: Preston 1956)
  8. ^ RW Hoyle, "The Piligrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s" (Oxford University Press 2001)
  9. ^ J Porter, “A Forest in Transition: Bowland 1500-1650”, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 125: 40-60 (1974)
  10. ^ M Greenwood, M & C Bolton, "Bolland Forest and the Hodder Valley" (Landy Publishing: Blackpool 2000; orig. pub. 1955)
  11. ^
  12. ^

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Forest of Bowland is a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty covering 312 square miles in the north of Lancashire and part of North Yorkshire, north-west of Clitheroe and south-west of Settle. The main villages in Bowland include Chipping, Slaidburn, and Dunsop Bridge.


The Forest of Bowland is a nationally protected landscape and internationally important for its heather moorland, blanket bog and rare birds. The 'Forest' refers to its ancient status as a hunting park rather than a wooded terrain.


Bowland today is remarkably unchanged since the late medieval period. Across the area there are many fine examples of the stone buildings that were built to replace timber houses between the 16th and 18th centuries, with their characteristic stone mullions, lintels and datestones. There are also sites that survive as isolated reminders of the medieval heritage of the Forest of Bowland, for example the Cistercian monastery at Sawley.


Bowland is upland country which forms part of the Pennines, and shares many of the characteristics of other upland areas like the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Park. The area is dominated by a central upland core of deeply incised gritstone fells with summits above 450m and vast tracts of heather-covered peat moorland.

The fells’ fringe of foothills is dissected by steep-sided valleys which open out into the rich green lowlands of the Ribble, Hodder, Wyre and Lune Valleys. Well-wooded and dotted with picturesque stone farms and villages, these lower slopes, criss-crossed by drystone walls, contrast with and complement the dramatic open sweep of the gritstone heights. On its south-eastern edge lies Pendle Hill.

Flora and fauna

The heather moorlands of the fells are exceptionally important as a habitat for upland birds and have been designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the European Birds Directive in recognition of this.

The Bowland Hen Harrier Project is centred on the Bowland Visitor Centre, Beacon Fell. Continuous footage of a Hen Harrier nest in the Bowland Fells can be viewed seven days a week at the Visitor Centre on Beacon Fell Country Park near Preston.

  • The use of public transport, cycling and walking is encouraged with the Forest of Bowland. The roads are mainly single-track, and parking is limited.
  • There are buses from Clitheroe, Garstang and Lancaster.

Get around

In 2004 parts of Bowland became open to walkers for the first time as a change in the law gave general right of access to the public to ‘Access Land’ for the purposes of open-air recreation on foot. The Forest of Bowland now offers great walking through some of the most beautiful and remote areas of the country.


Slaidburn is a picturesque grey stone village set on the banks of the Hodder. The 10th century ‘Angel Stone’ carving can be seen at Slaidburn Heritage Centre. The centre provides tourist information and houses displays, artifacts and an audio-visual presentation about the village’s heritage and the Forest of Bowland.

Dunsop Bridge has been declared by the Ordnance Survey 'the official centre of the British Isles'.

  • Bowland Wild Boar Park, Chipping, 01995 61554, [1]. At a pleasant site and with cafe for home made and produced foods. Lots to do for kids, plus wild boar, deer, llamas, goats etc.  edit
  • Bowland Visitor Centre, Fell House car park, Beacon Fell, 01995 640557. Summer 9.30am - 6.00pm (6.30pm weekends); Winter 10.00am - 5.00pm.. The centre provides displays and information about Beacon Fell Country Park and the Forest of Bowland. As well as a general display area, a separate education / conference room can be used by organized groups. Throughout the Summer months the cafè facility serves a variety of beverages, hot and cold food, light snacks, all day breakfasts, sweets and ice creams. free.  edit
  • Walking -see above.
  • There are 5 cycle routes within Bowland including the Gisburn Forest Cycleway and Lancashire Cycleway.
  • There are opportunities for fishing, birding, gliding and horse-riding in the area.
  • The Inn at Whitewell, nr Clitheroe, 01200 448222, [2]. The Inn at Whitewell is a characterful and very special inn, originally lived in by the keepers of the Royal Forest, and still retains Royal connections as it is part of the Duchy of Lancaster Estate. Serves excellent food that can be eaten on the terrace overlooking the River Hodder.  edit


The Inn at Whitewell (see above) serves good, organic beers and ciders, and contains its own vintner.


The Inn at Whitewell (see above). Has 23 bedrooms, 14 with open fires.

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