Food and the Forest in Bowland
The Forest of Bowland in rural Lancashire (ok, with a toe in North Yorkshire too) is one of those areas of Britain where ‘unspoiled’ means just that. No wonder given the big local landlords include the Duke of Lancaster (i.e. the Queen) who once said it is where had she the choice she’d live, and the Duke of Westminster who has a shooting estate at Abbeystead. Approximately 400 square miles of upland fells and arable farmland, with swathes of the ancient forest that were once part of a royal hunting ground, Bowland offers great walking that provides the ideal excuse for indulgence in the area’s many foodie delights. And the same country supplies the ingredients for those very delights.
Bowland is roughly a pentagon with Lancaster , Settle , Clitheroe , Longridge and Garstang at its edges, the village of Dunsop Bridge at its (and purportedly Britain’s) geographic centre. Best spot to aim for to view the extent of the place is Beacon Fell Country Park on the south western edge. It houses the Bowland Visitor Centre to enlighten and a cafe to refuel you, and the walks are wonderful – mostly pathways through forest, but with some alternative boggy routes where boots are advisable. The panorama from the top of Beacon Fell stretches to the coast at Lancaster and endlessly across the hills. If you need a pint and pub grub after your exertions The Green Man near Inglewhite is a good bet, but its popularity means do book for food at weekends.
To combine the foodie and the physical a trot around Bowland Wild Boar Park between Chipping and Whitewell is worth the detour and small entrance fee. There are deer and other animals along with the boar, and a shop to buy sausages and suchlike, great for those self-catering. The best full butcher’s in the area though is surely Roy Porter at Chatburn near Clitheroe, with loads of top quality local meat and genuinely home-made pies to die for.
For those staying a few days in Bowland the accommodation options are plentiful. Unofficial capital of the area is the Inn at Whitewell , set above the River Hodder (where it owns some prime fishing rights), the rambling country inn of your dreams with great food from bar snacks to top restaurant – tweed, corduroy and brogues rather more in evidence than Armani. It even includes a wine merchant’s. The Gibbon Bridge Hotel near Chipping is renowned for its food, Chipping itself arguably the loveliest village in Bowland, all stone cottages and courtyards. This is a good place for a quiet stroll to justify your hearty lunch at the Dog and Partridge on Hesketh Lane.
Clitheroe with its formidable castle and independent shops is a recommended stop for exercise dodgers, though watch the steep streets which explain the Tardis-like extent of vintners D. Byrne & Co. on King Street: the shop-front is small, the cellars burrow beneath their neighbours, room after room packed with mouth-wateringly classy wines and spirits. About 100 feet above them on Castle Street you’ll find Cowman’s Famous Sausage Shop – guess what they make? Sizzletastic. Their sausages (far meatier than standard supermarket jobbies) from classics like Cumberland to some very creative tempters all include local ingredients.
If you fancy something equally local to wash the bangers down, or would like to further your gustatory education, Bowland Brewery in Bashall Eaves northwest of Clitheroe can do both with its tasty beers and visitor centre. Top tip: order their flagship Pheasant Plucker by pointing.
Refined leisure is the order of the day at the Eaves Hall Hotel just a short drive - partly along the delightfully named Twitter Lane – from Bashall. Not so grand but equally good is the Hark to Bounty at Slaidburn, a place for trenchermen. Or if you want to work a bit harder and catch your own supper, there’s good fishing nearby at Stocks Reservoir on Bowland’s eastern edge, and further afield at Bank House Fly Fishery at Caton in the north.
Wild countryside, lots of small rivers and reservoirs, and traditional farming mixed together provide a variety of habitats for many bird species. Foodies, however, will note the preponderance of pheasants, though the logo of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the somewhat rarer Hen Harrier.
Pheasant in season may well feature on the menu of Bowland’s great gourmet pilgrimage - Heathcote’s Restaurant in Longridge, surely returning to its Michelin-starred pomp but big on unpretentious local ingredients – expect to see black pudding and Goosnargh duck or chicken.
Nature is definitely bountiful in Bowland with both countryside and produce so get your boots on – but remember smart shoes for evening too. And pack a belt with room for expansion.
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