Book review: The Forest of Bowland by Helen Shaw & Andrew Stachulski

The Forest of Bowland by Helen Shaw & Andrew Stachulski
The Forest of Bowland by Helen Shaw & Andrew Stachulski

The North of England boasts some of the country’s richest pockets of beautiful countryside… but there is one area that remains a little-known gem.

While the glories of the Lake District, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales are familiar to most, the Forest of Bowland, which lies at the heart of Lancashire, is still one of Britain’s most unfrequented wild places.

Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as far back as 1964, Bowland’s 300 square miles of magnificent crags and moorlands, idyllic small villages, rural farmlands and hamlets offer spectacular views and boundless inspiration for walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers, historians and nature lovers.

A firm favourite with the current Queen, this remnant of an ancient wilderness which once stretched over a huge part of England today covers an area from Lancaster to Preston to Skipton, and was famously the woodland hunting ground of generations of kings.

In a captivating and fascinating new book, packed with stunning images from the camera of professional photographer Helen Shaw, who lives near the picturesque village of Slaidburn, many of Bowland’s secret places are uncovered in spectacular fashion.

The gorgeous gallery of photographs complements a lively and informative tour through an impressive landscape courtesy of Dr Andrew Stachulski, a senior research fellow at Liverpool University who lives near Blackburn.

‘There is nothing whatever touristy or brash about Bowland,’ he tells us. ‘It has been allowed to evolve slowly in natural ways, and that is undoubtedly part of its great charm.’

The centre of Bowland is the compact mass of fells with its many streams draining into the Lune, Wyre and Ribble valleys. The wooded lands, which can be traced back to Saxon kings, proliferated outside the area’s once thriving medieval parks and halls and were kept for hunting.

The views are unmissable… indeed, the outlook from Hall Hill, which takes in the Hodder valley between Whitewell and Dunsop Bridge and its delightful backdrop of fells, is considered one of the finest in the north.

Through both words and pictures, readers can enjoy quiet pastoral scenery, panoramic views, the intriguing history of villages like Chipping and the majestic high fells, including notorious Pendle Hill, ‘sweeping, untamed, distinctive and lonely.’

Walkers in Bowland can wander for hours in near isolation on the fells, taking in the unique habitats and rare birds of prey. There is also the opportunity to see some of the area’s handsome and historic country homes like Abbeystead House, near Lancaster, rural retreat of the Duke of Westminster, and Browsholme Hall, near Clitheroe, the ancient home of the Parker family who were park-keepers of the Forest of Bowland.

The book also reveals the long and varied Saxon, Norse and Norman history of Slaidburn which lies in a fold of hills by the River Hodder and is one of the most interesting settlements in northern England.

And for those inspired to stride out in the valleys and hills of Bowland, there is a selection of some of the best walks the district has to offer, all of varying lengths, at the end of the book.

The area’s haunting attractions draw visitors back, time and again, once they have seen it at its best, declares Dr Stachulski, ‘but Bowland’s qualities are best appreciated in quietness.’

So find a peaceful corner, dip into this enchanting new book and enjoy Bowland in all its unforgettable splendour.

(Merlin Unwin Books, hardback, £14.99)