Classic Bowland Hillclimbs
Day 1: Cycle 46km | 28.5 miles | 1069m of ascent
Day 2: Cycle 67km | 41.5 miles | 1283m of ascent
Day 3: Cycle 54 km | 33.5 miles | 1268m of ascent
The quiet rural roads of the Forest of Bowland have been a magnet for serious road cyclists for decades. Sir Bradley Wiggins used the tough hill climbs of the Bowland Fells to prepare for his Tour de France campaign and the area is a popular destination for sportive riders seeking to challenge themselves on some of the most demanding road routes in England.
This itinerary combines some of the Forest of Bowland’s iconic climbs in three classic routes which explore the highlights of this National Landscape in one long weekend. Together, they involve more than 3500 metres of ascent in just over 100 miles of cycling.
Take your time and take them on individually or combine them in one epic tour of the Forest of Bowland. For the ultimate cycling Challenge, the Bowland 100 is a 100-mile circular route starting and finishing in Lancaster and incorporating all the classic hill climbs in more than 3500m of ascent
DAY 1: Cross of Greet – Bowland Knotts
Start: Bentham or Slaidburn
46km | 28.5 miles | 1069m of ascent
Starting from Bentham or Slaidburn, this wild ride tackles the twin passes of Cross of Greet and Bowland Knotts – the only roads to cross the lonely uplands of the eastern side of the Forest of Bowland.
Both fell roads are effectively single track for much of the length, crossing lonely moorland offering outstanding views of the Forest of Bowland and Yorkshire Three Peaks with the Lakeland Fells also often visible on the north-western horizon.
Cross of Greet is a classic Bowland climb up one of the many steep-sided valleys or cloughs that perforate the edges of the Bowland plateau, passing the base of the cross after which the pass is named before a long and sometimes sinuous descent across the moors to Bentham.
After contouring round to Keasden, the climb back up to the gnarly outcrops of Bowland Knotts is steady and graded, followed by a steep and sometimes technical descent through Gisburn Forest and past Stocks Reservoir back to Slaidburn.
Starting from Bentham Station makes this a potentially car-free ride, but starting from Slaidburn and heading clockwise avoids the steepest gradients. At less than 30 miles, this is the easiest of the three routes to ease riders into the saddle and acclimatise to the hilly terrain of Bowland.
Stock up on cakes and snacks at Slaidburn Central Stores and enjoy coffees and snacks at the Riverbank Team Rooms in Slaidburn or the Black Pig in Bentham. Gravel bikers might want to detour to Gisburn Forest for a look at the off-road trails and call in at Gisburn Forest Hub for refreshments.
Consider catching the train to Bentham and riding direct from the station. Regular service from Leeds and Lancaster. Timetables at www.northernrailway.co.uk
DAY 2: Lancaster – Chipping – Dunsop Bridge – Trough of Bowland
Start: Lancaster or Dunsop Bridge
67km | 41.5 miles | 1283m of ascent
This ride incorporates the classic ride through the Trough of Bowland after exploring the western boundary of the Forest of Bowland. Start from Lancaster (for an exhilarating car-free day ride) or Dunsop Bridge if you’re basing yourself locally to explore the Forest of Bowland over a few days. In the latter case, this route can be shortened by following the minor roads from Abbeystead to Street or Lee to Dolphinholme.
From Lancaster, head southwest out of the city into the foothills of the Bowland Fells, climbing to the ‘shoulder’ of Harris End Fell, Oakenclough and Bleasdale before reaching the pretty little village of Chipping, where refreshments are available.
The route continues into the Hodder Valley, following the river upstream to Dunsop Bridge – gateway to the classic climb through the Trough of Bowland. Tackling it from this side involves a short but steep ascent through Sykes, followed by a scenic descent alongside the headwaters of the River Wyre. There’s another extended climb to the viewpoint at Jubilee Tower, followed by a steep descent and one final sharp climb at Conder Mill before the final leg into Lancaster.
Chipping Farm Shop, Cobbled Corner Cafe and Brabins Café welcome weary cyclists requiring sustenance and there is Puddleducks Cafe at Dunsop Bridge. Riders taking a more relaxed approach might want to consider a leisurely lunch stop at the Fleece Inn at Dolphinholme.
DAY 3: Tour of Pendle and the last Clarion House
54 km | 33.5 miles | 1268m of ascent
This testing 33-mile circular explores both flanks of the picturesque Ribble Valley and visits the last remaining Clarion House in Britain before taking on Pendle Hill in a challenging finale.
Starting from the busy market town of Clitheroe, the route heads out into the Forest of Bowland, following quiet singletrack lanes into the Hodder Valley before swinging back over Grindleton Fell and into the Ribble Valley.
After crossing the Ribble, the route climbs to 350m over the north-eastern shoulder of Pendle Hill, passing the last surviving Clarion House near Newchurch, before tackling the sustained climb up to the Nick of Pendle and a fast final descent back to Clitheroe.
Bowland Food Hall, just a few minutes from the station, offers an array of sweet and savoury delights to keep you fuelled up and excellent coffee is available from Exchange Coffee House. After the Bowland section, Hudson’s Ice Creams in Chatburn or Downham Ice Cream Shop make convenient pitstops before starting the first 300m ascent of Pendle.
Short cycling breaks in Bowland
For a car-free three-day cycling break, riding all three routes, base yourself in Slaidburn at either the Hark to Bounty or Dale House Barn.
We’ve also developed a slightly less scary 80-mile version of the route with 2700m of climbing which takes in most of the big climbs and starts and finishes in Slaidburn. Take a look at our Bikepacking in Bowland Itinerary for inspiration.
The easiest way to get to Slaidburn by rail and cycle is via the world-famous Settle-Carlisle line from Leeds. Alight at Hellifield or Long Preston – just south of Settle – then cycle 10 miles along the B6478 to Slaidburn.