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Holiday trip: discovering the Bowland Forest in Lancashire, a hikers ‘and cyclists’ paradise

Dark Satanic Mills, Racing Pigeons, and Rollers in the Box – If this is your Lancashire idea, you really need to watch less TV and go out more.

There is no better place to do that than in Bowland Forest. Think rolling green hills dotted with sheep and babbling streams. It is a hikers and cyclists paradise with excellent pubs along the way. Mind you, it’s hard to know what to believe in Bowland Forest.

There is no forest to begin with, at least not since the Middle Ages, when the term was used to denote a royal hunting ground.

Bewitching: a farm in the forest of Bowland.  Will says the area is littered with 'rolling green wastelands dotted with sheep and babbling streams'

Bewitching: a farm in the forest of Bowland. Will says the area is littered with ‘rolling green wastelands dotted with sheep and babbling streams’

Lofty: Pendle Hill, pictured, is 1,827 feet tall at its top and is one of the most famous landmarks in the Bowland Forest.

Lofty: Pendle Hill, pictured, is 1,827 feet tall at its top and is one of the most famous landmarks in the Bowland Forest.

Lofty: Pendle Hill, pictured, is 1,827 feet tall at its top and is one of the most famous landmarks in the Bowland Forest.

On the other hand, if the locals tell you about witches, well, those stories are definitely true.

In the early 17th century, Pendle Hill, the most famous landmark in the area and, at 1,827 feet, a good climb to remove cobwebs, was home to two families headed by elderly widows, Old Demdike and Old Chattox, who charged themselves mutually witchcraft. The dispute ended in hanging for ten: most of the members of the two clans, but also other neighbors.

Back then, the area was described as ‘legendary for its theft, violence and sexual laxity’, but these days it attracts walkers who come for the fabulous views.

If you want to tour the area in your car, there is a Pendle Witch Trail brochure to download from the Visit Lancashire website, which takes you from Barrowford, past Pendle Hill and through the Trough of Bowland, ending in Lancaster, where most of the accused the witches were tried.

JR R Tolkien spent time here at Stonyhurst College in the 1940s. He was so inspired by the scenery that it’s easy to link some places to his descriptions in Lord of the Rings.

Pictured is Cromwell's Bridge on the Bowland Canal, which is located on the Pendle Witch Trail

Pictured is Cromwell's Bridge on the Bowland Canal, which is located on the Pendle Witch Trail

Pictured is Cromwell’s Bridge on the Bowland Canal, which is located on the Pendle Witch Trail

Lord of the Rings author JR R Tolkien spent time at Stonyhurst College, pictured above, in the 1940s.

Lord of the Rings author JR R Tolkien spent time at Stonyhurst College, pictured above, in the 1940s.

Lord of the Rings author JR R Tolkien spent time at Stonyhurst College, pictured above, in the 1940s.

JRR Tolkien, pictured, loved the area.  According to Will, 'the landscape inspired him so much that it is easy to link some places to his descriptions in The Lord of the Rings'

JRR Tolkien, pictured, loved the area.  According to Will, 'the landscape inspired him so much that it is easy to link some places to his descriptions in The Lord of the Rings'

JRR Tolkien, pictured, loved the area. According to Will, ‘the landscape inspired him so much that it is easy to link some places to his descriptions in The Lord of the Rings’

You can see it for yourself on the five-and-a-half mile Tolkien Trail loop trail, which begins at little Hurst Green.

Details are on the website for the Shireburn Arms hotel, which serves dishes such as Lancashire cheese and slow-roasted onion pie and leg of lamb.

On an eerie weekday afternoon, with the low fog tickling the hills, I ate fish cake and sticky caramel pudding at The Inn at Whitewell, a charming country hotel and pub that was buzzing with locals and visitors.

Then I spent a pleasant few hours walking, with hardly anyone else, exploring the hills and wildflower meadows below.

Almost 6,400 acres of land around here are owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, that is, the Queen. You can stay in the two-bedroom, dog-friendly vacation cabin at the Duchy’s Root Farm.

Nearby is Clitheroe, a beautiful place with a ruined medieval castle.

The city is a good base if you want to explore with more amenities available.

It is mentioned around 1050, when the area was under the control of Earl Leofric, husband of the more famous Lady Godiva.

Pausing at Holmes Mill, a former textile mill from the 1820s, now a posh place with a hotel, cinema, bar, restaurant, and food hall, I pick up snacks for a fancy picnic on my hike.

I visit D Byrne & Co, a wine merchant with an impressive choice, and choose a Californian Zinfandel for my next outing.

I decide to save it for the top of Pendle Hill, a fitting reward for a steep climb and Dutch courage in case I run into any witch.

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