Lancashire walk - Sawley, Ribble Valley

Bridge at Sawley

Bridge at Sawley - Credit: Keith Carter

Keith Carter steps through Lancashire’s heritage on a walk from Sawley to Bolton by Bowland

View of the Ribble near Sawley

View of the Ribble near Sawley - Credit: Keith Carter

There are certain places in this fair county of ours that seem to hold a sense of history in spite of modern irritations such as satellite dishes and parked vans. By this I mean that the past seems to linger in the very pavements and alleyways as though any minute the sound of cartwheels and clop of horses’ hooves will be heard and perhaps the ring of the bell on a butcher’s boy’s bike as he delivers the week’s order to the Hall.

Perhaps the influence of Downton Abbey is all-pervasive and our view of the past is influenced by heritage dramas on the box. Bolton by Bowland is one such place where history hangs in the air. Strangely enough Pevsner ignores it in his monumental Buildings of England volume on North Lancashire, surely an oversight, given the obvious age of the dwellings and the importance of the church and what you find in it.

Many of the pews have the date 1694 carved into them and the communion rail 1704, and what of the massive tomb of Sir Ralph Pudsay who restored the church and died in 1468? On no account miss the chance to have a look at this magnificent memorial showing his three wives and their children, 25 in total. The church is not locked and visitors are welcome, their comments recorded in the visitors’ book.

Our walk begins in Sawley a short distance south of Bolton by Bowland, notable for the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey and for The Spread Eagle, a popular inn. Park near these and walk on the road to where the bridge crosses the River Ribble, taking a footpath just across the bridge on the right hand side where a signpost points up-stream, the route accompanying the river through three fields. The last of these has had the way marked by road cones incongruously placed to keep walkers on the right track.

Pendle from the north

Pendle from the north - Credit: Keith Carter

At the far end of the third field a stile leads into a conservation area planted with young trees then to a field which in early October was sown with a healthy crop of maize. In fact this was in the process of being harvested, a huge cutting machine crashing through it, mashing up the stalks, plants, corn cobs and foliage and shooting a stream of chopped-up cattle feed into a following trailer. The farmer, stopping to check how his men were doing, told us that cows would be eating this crop inside 24 hours. The cobs are not suitable to be eaten as sweet corn, being unpalatable for human consumption. It takes a different variant of maize for us to eat.

Leaving this field which the farmer said would be sown with winter grass by the following day, we cross a track and head for a footbridge that crosses Holden Beck, a tributary of the Ribble, the path then rising up a bank beside a fence to a well-made stile at the top. With a wood to the right, go forward through a narrow field and on being confronted by a choice of two gates, take either and continue across another field to the right-hand corner where a further stile is found close by the trees.

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This brings us into another field of maize which the harvesters had not tackled yet when we were there and we exit this field by a kissing-gate in the crossing hedge about twenty yards from the field corner. Climb a bank next, the ground falling away gradually to a wall corner where a gap-stile brings us out onto a metalled lane. Turn left along it and at the end you meet its junction with the Bolton by Bowland road.

If you decide to visit the village turn right, cross the bridge and you find yourself in the main street. On the right is a car park with a toilet block and just a little further on the village shop does teas. The church is further on as you leave the village. Returning across Skirden Bridge, stay on the road for half a mile to a junction where a right turn is signposted to Holden while the left fork leads back to Sawley. Here you find a pub called the Copy Nook, right at the roadside. 

Lychgate at Bolton by Bowland

Lychgate at Bolton by Bowland - Credit: Keith Carter

From the Copy Nook follow Holden Lane then fork left where the signpost says Holden Clough Nursery. Cross a stone bridge and immediately afterwards go left through the gate to Higher Laithe. Don’t take the footpath signposted to the left. Our path keeps past the buildings on the right and leads us between hedges to emerge into a field that rises to cross a lane and continue rising in roughly the same direction, slightly leftwards, towards a lone tree. A gate leads into the next field and in the top left hand corner at a gap in a holly hedge, a gate then a stile leads into the next field.

Climb a bank to a metal gate then continue towards an isolated barn, aiming to the left of it to a wall with a gap stile in it which we use. The land rises sharply to an escarpment but we don’t mount to the top, instead following on the contour lower down and passing through several gates until we are confronted by a sunken lane crossing our way forward. This is called Rodhill Lane, an ancient hollow way that would have been used to bring the sheep down from pasture. At the earliest opportunity drop into this lane and follow it downhill as far as a gate and emerges at a metalled lane. Turn left, continuing downhill until we meet the road from Sawley. Turn right and walk on the verge back to the village.

This walk took us nearly five hours although that does seem slow. We stopped for a pint and spent some time in the church in Bolton by Bowland but even so our pace must have been quite slow. Remember though as with all my walks, time is not important. Take as long as you want. I’d allow at least four hours but above all, enjoy it.

Bolton by Bowland

Bolton by Bowland - Credit: Keith Carter

Compass points

Area of walk: Bolton by Bowland from Sawley and return.

Distance: 5 miles

Time to allow 4-5 hours

Map: OS Explorer OL 41 Forest of Bowland

Refreshments: Café in Bolton by Bowland, The Spread Eagle

Not suitable for wheelchair or pushchair users.

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