The scenic Ribble Valley is one of northern England’s best kept secrets being an area of outstanding natural beauty noted for its rural landscape and welcoming hospitality. How do we find this hidden gem, you may well ask? Well, it’s quite easy actually as the Ribble Valley is located in Lancashire and accessible from the M6 motorway, Junction 31. For those travelling by train direct rail services operate to Clitheroe from Manchester Victoria.
The area, nestled between the Yorkshire Dales to the east and the Lake District to the north is equally beautiful but without the crowds and problems of driving around finding somewhere to park. It’s also a foodies paradise so I couldn’t wait to explore.
Our first stop was to the Trough of Bowland, a valley and high pass reaching 295m above sea level. Driving along the road it is steep and narrow with passing places but it’s worth the drive up as this sparsely populated area is idyllic with spectacular scenery and heather moorland.
We stopped at Langden Brook where we found some off-road parking and a food truck offering light snacks and drinks. A ‘Welcome to Langden’ signpost leads down a tree lined track to a lovely stretch of riverside along the valley into the Forest of Bowland.
The path took us past the Langden Intake waterworks which has been in use since 1871. It’s a collecting point for the unpolluted clear water, enabling it to be channelled along pipes to where it is needed.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t at its best and although the views were still stunning, I’m certain you can imagine how beautiful it looks when the sun is shining. We were happy just to stretch our legs with a gentle stroll but there are opportunities to continue further and enjoy a scenic hike.
Returning to the car we stopped a couple of times to admire the breathtaking views before dropping down into Dunsop Bridge which has two car parks, one of which is free and located just over the bridge to one side of the cafe.
Dunsop Bridge is a very pretty little village with a big claim to fame as it is noted for being the very centre of the United Kingdom. We’ve all heard of John O’Groats and Lands End at either end of the country but I suspect very few will have heard of Dunsop Bridge slap bang in the middle. The BT phone box even has a plaque in it marking it as the one closest to the geographical centre of the British Isles.
The rain showers were still persisting so it was a good excuse to pop into the Puddleducks Tearoom overlooking the village green for a bite to eat. I definitely recommend their cakes as our slices of Lemon Drizzle and Victoria Sandwich were homemade and delicious. Alongside tasty snacks the cafe also sells duck food to feed the local webbed feet community on the village green opposite.
Feeling energised after our coffee stop we were ready for some more exercise, this time on an e-bike from Ribble Valley E-Bikes who are based just a few doors from the cafe.
After getting kitted out with our bikes we discussed a suitable route with a member of staff, put on our helmets and were ready to go. The Forest of Bowland is an historic Royal Forest and an ancient hunting reserve with its rural trails being popular for both cycling and walking.
It had been suggested that we start off by pedalling along the private road (no cars) beside the River Dunsop for 2.5 miles each way until it splits for access to two farms (5 miles total) as there were some beautiful valley views. The scenery was so beautiful it still looked impressive under leaden skies.
From there, we cycled along the relatively quiet main road before turning up the steep Hall Hill which extends for 1.4 miles until just before reaching Cow Ark. The beauty of riding e-bikes is that you can exert as little or as much effort as you wish and believe me, they are perfect for hilly terrain.
We then continued along the hill tops on a country lane where there were no cars before descending through Newton-on-Bowland (4 miles) and then taking the relatively quiet main road back to Dunsop Bridge (2.7 miles). The total distance we covered was 15.4 miles (5 miles along the private forestry road and then 10.4 miles on the loop to Whitewell, Cow Ark and Newton), taking us just under two hours allowing for photo stops.
This is just a suggested route as if you hire bikes for longer periods you can of course explore more of the surrounding area. The hire shop are able to arrange for bikes to be delivered to numerous hotels in the Ribble Valley and can also organise guided cycle safaris taking in the local beauty spots.
After thoroughly enjoying our e-bike ride despite the inclement weather, we hopped back in the car to visit the Bowland Wild Boar Park around 20 minutes drive away, just outside the village of Chipping. Standard adult admission £7.50.
The park is set in 65 acres surrounded by fells and woodland and bordered by the River Hodder. There are numerous family orientated walks and nature trails of varying lengths to follow from where we came up close to a variety of animals from wild boars to meerkats, goats, deer and eagle-owls. It’s very well organised with friendly and welcoming staff and educational too as children can pick up a map, follow its route and search out answers to questions on the park’s animals, trees and other wildlife.
The park also includes an indoor petting area where we found rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. and nearby a picnic area, shop, cafe and ice cream parlour. As our visit was late in the afternoon a quad-bike was being driven around the park supplying food to the animals who were all eagerly running to the edge of their pens to start eating. I’d recommend visiting the park as a family activity as with the addition of an adventure playground and tractor rides, there is ample to keep young children amused for several hours.
After a busy day of walking, cycling and visiting the Wild Boar Park it was then just a few minutes drive to the Gibbon Bridge Hotel and Restaurant on the edge of the village of Chipping where we had been invited to stay. This privately owned hotel is nestled in 23 acres of beautiful gardens surrounded by the Forest of Bowland. On arrival, we were shown to our spacious split level suite where we relaxed in the jacuzzi bath before having dinner a little later in the hotel’s restaurant.
From our window table in the restaurant we had splendid views of the beautiful gardens. The restaurant has a reputation for its excellent cuisine and each of our dishes were beautifully presented and tasted delicious, coupled with faultless service.
After enjoying a stroll through the gardens we returned to our suite and over cups of coffee and slices of the hotel’s irresistible homemade shortbread, we reflected on what a lovely first day we had spent in the Ribble Valley.
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