Experience the beauty of the Forest of Bowland from the saddle, passing through ethereal rolling landscapes best explored on foot or on horseback
Orme Sight sculpture
The relatively quiet, unexplored corners of the Forest of Bowland make this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty one of Lancashire’s best kept secrets. Seen from above, the countryside is a canvas of emerald green with threads of silver woven throughout, rivers and reservoirs dividing bracken clad valleys.
Longridge Fell, Forest of Bowland
As wild as Bowland is, it is a haven for nature, with some of Britain’s rarer ground nesting birds making the region their home. Much of this wildlife is best viewed from horseback, an excellent way to get closer to nature without disturbing or scaring it away.
An hour or two on a trusty steed from Braedens pony trekking centre, on the south western edge of Bowland, is an excellent way to take in the scenery. We departed riding briefly along the country lanes before heading off the beaten track into the fields overlooking Longridge Fell, a ridge standing 1,148ft high. For novice riders a gentle pace is reassuring here, while the more daring may enjoy a lively trot or canter depending on the terrain. Our route descended into the aptly named Boggy Wood, where our horses squelched their way through the marshy ground, winding through the trees on a trail that they knew only too well. Wild garlic and bluebells provided a glorious carpet not to mention an unforgettable scent. At the River Brock we stopped to let the horses drink and splash before our convoy proceeded up and out onto the hillside of Beacon Fell Country Park, where morning mists were finally clearing, leaving far reaching views across the valley as far as Morecambe Bay and the Isle of Man.
With little more than the sound of hooves thudding on the track, we didn’t startle the roe deer until we were almost on top of them; rabbits gambolled feet away and as I turned in the saddle something resembling a weasel scuttled across the track. At 873ft up the breeze was welcome refreshment but we were bound for ice creams and cold drinks at the visitor centre café, as were many walkers and day-trippers who converged here.
Dismounting after well over an hour in the saddle was blessed relief, probably also for the long suffering Palomino pony that was enduring my weight. A few of our party limped off to buy supplies before exploring the park’s best known feature: Orme Sight, the squinting head sculpture which threatens to roll off its perch. Part of a wider sculpture trail carved by local artist Thompson Dagnall from materials found in the area, this slightly menacing feature is in response to the claims that on a clear day it is possible to see as far as the Great Orme on the North Wales coast, which Dagnall implies is tricky, even when squinting. Visitors can stand behind the sculpture and peer through the open eye to see for themselves. For us, the Orme was not in sight.
We finished our refreshments and attempted the most difficult part of the trek: climbing back into the saddle. From there it was all downhill with all of nature buzzing in our ears as we circled the fell and made our steady homeward journey back through the woods, across the river, pausing to let our leader open the occasional field gate, and enjoying the advantage of being high enough to peer over hedgerows. Braedens pony treks can be any length between one and four hours, in parties of up to 10. Be honest about your skill level in order to be paired with a suitable horse – some may prefer a more spirited mount while others will be content to plod, but even with the most placid horse it is important to stay alert. Ever the opportunist feeder, any horse will not hesitate to snatch a mouthful of tree or grass if given half the chance, or may suddenly object to the horse in front or behind.
The Lancashire countryside is a surprise to many. Far from the industrial landscape that might be expected of the North West are unspoilt miles without a smoking chimney stack, ugly cityscape or noisy road in sight. While holidaymakers bypass the county for the more obvious attractions of the Lake District just up the road, they little realise that the romantic fells of Bowland house a royal estate at Whitewell, Britain’s geographic centre at Dunsop Bridge village, and fantasy landscapes that stir the soul.