Bucket list rides: Forest of Bowland

We take a look at the Bowland Fells Area of Natural Beauty and explain why you absolutely must visit

The summer to autumn border represents the perfect time for UK cyclists to get out and clock up some big miles. Why wouldn’t you want to maximise the effects of months of consistent pedalling and top off the season with a ride to remember?

Whilst you could of course leave your own front door and log a ride of epic proportions, exploring new roads can provide a healthy dose of motivation, and we reckon the rollercoaster ups and downs and sparsely populated fells of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland might be just the ticket.

If you want to visit and are determined to make sure you see the very best the area has to offer, check out the Forest of Bowland sportive run by our sister company UKCE, taking place on Sunday September 29 this year.

>>> Sign up: Forest of Bowland Sportive

‘The Switzerland of England’

In 1938, the Clitheroe Advertiser dubbed the area the ‘Switzerland of England’. Having visited the Swiss Alps on several occasions, any suggestion of a UK impersonation is more than enough to tempt me to the Bowland Fells.

Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1965, the deep valleys and peaty moorlands stretch across the North East of Lancashire, and dip into West Yorkshire.

There’s plenty of variation to keep cyclists entertained – with a high peak at Ward’s Stone of 1,841 feet (561 m).

To get there, you’d need a mountain bike, but key road going climbs in the vicinity include Jubilee Tower, Trough of Bowland and Lythe Fell – all of which are around two to three kilometres with average gradients of six per cent and stretches that are much steeper.

 

Uninterrupted valleys

The centre of Bowland is characterised by high grindstone fells and moorland. Lower down, villages spring up with drystone walls enclosing farm land.

Much of your riding can be covered off on quiet roads without too much interruption, and once you get up on the moors you can expect the natural input of the wind to add to your training load.

History buffs will be on cloud nine, too – with over 500 listed buildings and 18 scheduled monuments decorating the region, and you can rest assured that you’ll never be too far from the reviving effects of a cosy tea room.

Variety in every direction

The Forest of Bowland is far from alone in its Lancaster setting, just shy of the Cumbrian border.

A little to the North, Chorley throws up the Arnside and Silverdale AONB – the smallest in England covering 29 square miles.

The lowland area offers some flatter riding, joining Morecambe Bay. Scoot along the coast, and you’ll reach the Lake District National Park, the huge and well visited mountainous area in the North West of England.

Ride North East from Bowland, and you’ll meet the Yorkshire Dales National Park which represents another cluster of testing climbs and corresponding unforgettable views.

In short, visit Bowland and you could easily find enough roads to keep yourself entertained for a week or more.

>>> Sign up: Forest of Bowland Sportive

Way back when… Forest of Bowland with Ben Greenwood (April 2006)

Ben Greenwood in 2011, Image: Andy Jones

Cycling Weekly’s longstanding magazine feature “ride with…” saw us making tracks all over the country seeking UK riders to show us the best roads in their local area. In April 2006, we rode with Ben Greenwood – then a rider for Team Recycling.co.uk.

In 2005, Greenwood was National hill-climb champion, National U23 circuit TT and road race champion. The same year, he also represented Great Britain in the 2005 World Championship TT.

Having hung up his racing boots, Greenwood is now a GB Cycling Team Coach. But here’s an account of our day, way back when… 

Guide: Ben Greenwood
Distance: 47 miles (76km)
Climbs: Jubilee Tower, Trough of Bowland, Lamb Fell and Lythe Fell
Elevation: 1,593m
Beware: Some narrow roads so take care on descents and bridges. Road surfaces not fantastic in places

Leaden skies and a brisk breeze welcome us to the little village of Nether Kellet, home of Ben Greenwood. Situated just north of Lancaster and overlooking Morecambe Bay to the west, this quiet Lancashire village offers an ideal base for rides out to the Forest of Bowland, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District.

With rain always threatening, Ben is off and into the lanes quickly, past the Kellet Limestone Quarries just outside his village, as he heads in the direction of Caton.

Ben switches between the big ring and little ring on his carbon 172.5mm cranks as he takes on the rises in the road.

“Generally on the climbs it’s 39×21 or 19. If it’s a short climb on a tailwind section I’ll keep it in the big ring and just try and keep over it,” he explains.

Skirting west of Caton, it’s down towards Quernmore and a left turn at the crossroads. It’s here the real climbing starts and Ben is out of the saddle on his team-issue carbon Pinarello F4:13.

The road rises sharply through the hairpin at the bottom and then drags on up to Jubilee Tower at the summit. Ben tells us here how he can judge his form: “Normally on any climb I can tell how the form is by just how it feels and what gear I’m riding in. Jubilee Tower has an open hill-climb and I’m course record holder. I know how to ride that and I know what it feels like to ride it fast.”

It’s also a point in the ride where Ben enthuses over the views: “I like Jubilee Tower on a nice day. If you’re not going too hard up it you can see across to Blackpool Tower and see right across to the sea.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of those days as Ben descended out of the light mist on the tops and down towards Marshaw and the Trough of Bowland. A great bit of road added to the scene as rays of sunshine started to break through the grey clouds racing overhead, throwing swathes of light across the fields and hillsides ahead.

The bubbling Marshaw Wyre runs alongside the road in the Trough of Bowland, a favourite point that Ben mentions later when we talk about the ride. The road out of the Trough of Bowland offers the second stiff climbing test of the ride.

It’s all worth it on the other side, though, with the thrilling, narrow, roller-coaster descent down towards Dunsop Bridge at the heart of the Forest of Bowland. The village is a picture postcard. With a sharp left and then a right over the bridge and the river Dunsop, Ben is away and onto Newton and Slaidburn beyond.

Out of Slaidburn and the third climb looms over Lamb Fell. It’s a draggy ascent, passing through walled and fenced farmland. Then there’s the descent off the top, before the road follows the contour of the hill and starts to turn and drop to a forested corner where the road crosses the river Hodder. It’s here you see the valley open up and the meandering single track road ahead up the Lythe Fell climb.

“Lythe Fell, I love that climb, not too much today when it’s a headwind,” Ben jokes. He adds with a grin: “I like it when you come round the corner and you see it going up.”

“It’s a really nice climb to take people on when they haven’t been on it. They think they’re at the top when it goes down the descent; and then they go round the corner and it goes up again!”

The area is very reminiscent of Ireland. “It’s the little roads, that are a bit rough and the same sort of climbs,” Ben says with his experience of the Ras.

It’s a great ride over the top of Lythe Fell out over open moorland. A couple of swooping descents are followed by a gentle drop down to the crossroads at Forest of Mewith. We head left here to take the road to Wray. The road steps down to the valley bottom where it follows and then crosses the river Hindburn. Then it’s out of Wray to Butt Yeats crossroads to take the right to Hornby. The village is overlooked by Hornby Castle, which dominates over the village from its lofty position.

The weather is closed in on this last leg and Ben put on his cape as we head out of Hornby and over the impressive Loyn bridge across the river Lune and on towards Gressingham. The Lune is the major river in the area and lends its name to Ben’s cycling club, the Lune Racing Cycling Club. Ben tells me: “Over the winter I go out with the club. It’s good when you are not training seriously just to go out with your friends and stop off in a cafe. But after Christmas, then I’m training properly, I don’t normally get chance to do that.”

From Gressingham, Ben takes a few more of the back lanes with a few nasty drags, which are a good test of weary legs at the end of the ride before you are back into Nether Kellet.

After the ride I ask how that kind of ride fits in to his training programme. “I’d do that route, but slightly longer to get it up to five hours. I’d put in a few extra climbs, like Waddington Fell, and extend it a bit. I normally do two hours pretty flat and not too hard, then five hours really hilly. I don’t normally do two and a half hours hard and hilly like today.”

It becomes clear that Ben is very motivated about his training regime. “Pretty much all the training I do is by myself. Round here there aren’t any other elite riders.”

“With the speed I like to use on the climbs I like to give it some, so there’s not normally anyone I can train with. I don’t mind it so much. It’s only if you are going slow for five hours it’s boring, but if you are riding it hard and attacking it then you don’t really get too bored, and if you are by yourself there is nowhere to hide in the wind, so it makes you stronger,” he says with a wry grin.

The route…

From Nether Kellet take unclassified lanes past Kellet Quarries in direction of Caton. At junction with A683 turn left (TL) and then turn right (TR) to Quernmore before entering Caton. At Quernmore crossroads TL up hill in direction of Jubilee Tower. Continue to Marshaw and Trough of Bowland. Continue to Dunsop Bridge and Newton. At Newton take B6478 to Slaidburn. Take second left out of Slaidburn onto unclassified road over Lamb Fell and towards Mewith and High Bentham. At Mewith crossroads TL to Wray. TL on to B6480 to Butt Yeats. TR to Hornby. Just out of Hornby village TL to Gressingham. Continue through Gessingham to T-junction with B6254. TL direction Over Kellet. Take first left along unclassified lanes back to Nether Kellet.