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The Bowland Traverse

Alfred Wainwright described the Hornby Road between Wray and Slaidburn as ‘the best moorland walk in England’ and this two-day trek across the Bowland Fells, follows in his footsteps to showcase some of the area’s scenic highlights like Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest.

Spanning 28 miles of lonely uplands, punctuated with an overnight stop in the pretty farming village of Slaidburn, this trek takes in some of the most spectacular views in the Forest of Bowland National Landscape. The daily distances are manageable year-round and navigation is fairly straightforward and with railway stations at either end of the route, the logistics are easy, too.


Roeburndale in the Forest of Bowland

26.6km (16.5 miles)

750m of ascent

8 hours

START: Arrive by Train at Wennington

Regular services along the Bentham Line from Leeds, Skipton and Lancaster. Timetables at

From the station car park, cross the railway bridge and walk up Old Moor Road, crossing rich pastureland with views extending across the Wenning Valley to Ingleborough and down the valley to Hornby Castle. Continue climbing out of the Wenning Valley and descending into the next valley, crossing the River Hindburn and following the riverside footpath heading upstream to Wray. 


Go left over bridge to stock up with food and drink at the Bridge House Tearooms or the Wray Village Community Store . This is the last refuelling point before your overnight stop in Slaidburn. The next section involves six miles of sustained ascent before crossing an elevated plateau with no settlements, so make sure you’re well provisioned. 

From Bridge House, cross into Harterbeck and follow the lane upstream before descending into the densely wooded valley of Roeburndale.


This densely wooded gorge is one of the few remnants of Littoral Atlantic Rainforest in Lancashire. It’s the closest thing we have to ‘jungle’ in Western Europe and a precious ecosystem with a rare microclimate. Roeburndale is home to rare woodland birds such as redstarts, wood warblers and pied flycatchers. There’s also a rich diversity of flora – from extensive drifts of ramsons and bluebells in spring to mosses, lichens and ferns, which all thrive in the damp, temperate microclimate.

Navigate this secluded valley with care to emerge at Barkin Bridge. Continue along the road for another mile to High Salter Farm, then through the gate onto the Hornby Road. 


The Hornby Road between Wray and Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland

Also know as the Salter Fell Road, this ancient trackway has its origins in Roman times and has been used variously as a salt road and drovers trail for centuries. Alfred Wainwright described this lonely high level track as ‘the best moorland walk in England’ and on a bright spring morning, with only the skylarks and curlews for company, we’d have to agree.

Follow this track for the next seven miles as it traverses the gritstone heart of Bowland, before descending along the lip of the remote valley of Croasdale, then into the Hodder Valley and the farming village of Slaidburn.


Dine at the Hark to Bounty in the village or wander beside the River Hodder to the village of Newton in Bowland for dinner at the renowned Parkers Arms – consistently rated one of Britain’s finest gastropubs.

Total distance walked: 16.5 miles


Stocks Reservoir in the Forest of Bowland

19.2km (12 miles)

425m of ascent

6 hours


Stock up on provisions at Slaidburn Central Stores in the middle of the village and head left past the war memorial and continue over bridge, following the River Hodder upstream to Stocks Reservoir. 

Follow the path along the eastern shore of the reservoir and over the causeway and into the dense coniferous woodland of Gisburn Forest. Keep to the signed footpaths and logging tracks, following Bottoms Beck then climbing through the woods to the craggy outcrop of Whelpstone Crag for some of the most expansive views in the whole of Bowland.


The gritstone outcrops of Bowland Knotts in the Forest of Bowland

Whelpstone Crag and nearby Bowland Knotts are prominent gritstone outcrops where the complex geological formations of the Bowland Fells emerge from the peat uplands on the eastern boundary of the National Landscape. Expensive views extend across the upper Ribble Valley and the stark geological fracture of the Craven Fault, above which the limestone terraces and pavements of the Yorkshire Three Peaks dominate the horizon.

If you’re lucky – especially in May or early June – you might catch a glimpse of a hen harrier soaring above the ridgeline, or perhaps a peregrine falcon or mercurial merlin hawking meadow pipits above the moorland.


The last section of the Bowland Traverse heading towards the Yorkshire border

Follow the well-worn path to the right of the Whelpstones and through the gate to reach the trig point before following the ridge for half a mile then starting the long gradual descent through the rich pastureland of the Ribble Valley to reach Giggleswick Station.


The Craven Arms is just across the A65 (very busy road – cross with care!) from the station and there is a wider selection of cafes, pubs and restaurants in the pretty Dales town of Settle – just a 15-minute walk from Giggleswick Station.

Total distance walked: 12 miles


Cicerone Guide to Walking in Lancashire

This is an abridged version of a walking route published in the Cicerone Guide to Walking in Lancashire. For a more comprehensive route description and detailed maps, the guide is available to purchase online from the Cicerone Online Shop



Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn Forest are worth taking extra time to explore in more depth. The reservoir has wildlife hides dotted around its shoreline and is home to a wide variety of birdlife. Gisburn Forest is one of England’s most popular mountain biking destinations with miles of challenging traffic-free forest tracks to explore.


There’s plenty more to see and do in the area to extend your break a while. The entire Forest of Bowland National Landscape is criss-crossed with footpaths and cycle trails. Picturesque villages like Chipping, Waddington and Downham are all worthy of exploration, while the towns of Clitheroe and Bentham have more shops and entertainment to offer and are linked with good onward public transport connections. Click here for more ideas and itineraries.