Considering the northwest of the UK is a shit hole, I’m pretty fortunate to live where I do. I live about 10 miles outside of Manchester city centre (if you’re wondering.)
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not what you would call a nice place. But for riding, I have the Lake District to the northwest, the Yorkshire Dales to the northeast, the Peak District to the southwest, and North Wales to the southeast.
And whichever way you look at it, I’m fortunate to have every direction covered!
As you can imagine, I’ve explored all of the above regions extensively, both on-road and off-road.
So why the hell am I talking about some obscure place called the Forest of Bowland?
The Forest Of Bowland
I’ll tell you why. It’s because the Forest of Bowland is where I go when I want to ride unencumbered.
It’s the place I go to clear my mind. And it’s the place I go when I want a blast or want to release all the pent-up tension of life.
But it’s also the place I go when I want to refine my riding – to ‘practice’, for want of a better word.
And the reason I go to the Forest of Bowland is because every other biker in the region makes their way to the ‘big’ places listed above.
So that usually means I have the Forest of Bowland to myself – just the way I like it.
What Can I Expect From The Forest Of Bowland
Well, the first thing you can expect is a game of two halves.
The Forest of Bowland isn’t a big area at around 803 sq km. For reference, that’s about a quarter of the size of the Lake District. And you’ll fit three Forest of Bowland’s into the Yorkshire Dales.
In terms of geography, the west side is in Lancashire, and the east side is in north Yorkshire – and the conditions change as you transition between the two.
On the west (the Lancashire side), you can expect straighter, faster roads that tempt you into doing something silly. It’s not what you would call picturesque – but that’s a good thing because it means you can wholeheartedly concentrate on the roads.
Over to the east, the scenery is prettier. You’ll see horses, sheep, cows, and some of that quintessential Yorkshire scenery.
Between them, it’s a lovely (and varied) place to spend a day.
You’ll find over 500 listed buildings throughout the area – including the Grade I listed 17th century Tudor country house, Browsholme Hall.
You’ll also see a few of the 18 scheduled monuments in the area.
If you bring a picnic, Langden Brook is the place to enjoy it, and it’s marked on the route for your convenience.
But for me, the area is all about the roads. From the fast straights in the west to the technical twisties in the east, the Forest of Bowland has every kind of road you could wish for – all in a pocket-sized region that most people ignore.
Where To Start The Forest Of Bowland Route
For ease, I’ve put the start and endpoint in Gisburn – a small village in the Ribble Valley.
Gisburn sits just outside the boundary of the Forest of Bowland and has a lovely little cafe/restaurant called Hindelini’s – perfect for a pre-ride breakfast.
Quick Tip: Avoid parking on the gravel car park if you can. It’s quite deep and can be a bit of a drama to push your bike through it if you need to turn it around. I speak from experience!
Oh, and watch out for peacocks. They have a tendency to mooch around like they own the place.
Once you’ve filled your belly, it’s time to ride. Turn left out of Hindelini’s onto Mill Lane and head towards the A59. When you get to the junction at the top (you can only turn left or right), turn right onto the A59 – signposted for Clitheroe.
The first 17-18 minutes are nice and easy. The A59 is a 60mph road and is relatively straight and easy to ride. Turn right at the roundabout and onto the B678 (Waddington Road.)
As you approach the traffic calming measures, you’ll enter the sleepy village of Waddington. On the right, you’ll see a few shops and cafes. And on the left, running through the village will be the river Ribble.
Once you pass the Higher Buck (a big white pub/bistro), the road opens up to a national speed limit, and the fun will commence!
The road is quick and easy to ride up to the cattle grid. Once you cross the grid, the road begins to sweep as you ride downhill. Just be careful – the bends have a tendency to egg you on. But they also have a tendency to catch you out!
At the end of the road, you’ll enter the tiny village of Newton-in-Bowland. You’ll be turning right at the Stop sign (signposted Slaidburn.)
Be careful at this junction. It’s on a steep-ish uphill, and wherever you stop, there is a nasty left-to-right camber that catches almost everybody out.
After a mile or so, you’ll enter Slaidburn – blink, and you’ll miss it. Be careful as you ride through the village – there are no pavements for pedestrians, and you can expect tractors and farm vehicles to be going about their business.
The road bears right, and then you need to follow the road to the left at the war memorial; a lone soldier resting on his rifle with his head down – a touching tribute to the world wars.
As you navigate the small bends, Lythe Fell Road opens up in front of you, and the technical riding begins!
Lythe Fell Road
I have a love/hate relationship with this road! When I’m on form, it’s a glorious road to ride – twisty and technical rather than fast and flowing.
But if I’m having an off day, it can be hard work and easy to get wrong. The bends aren’t always clearly marked, and they have a habit of creeping up on you.
You can also expect to see sheep and lambs (and farm vehicles) on the road or the occasional car coming the other way on this single-track road.
Other things to watch out for include gravel and debris mid-bend. And the wind. The wind gets pretty gusty up here!
If you’ve brought a flask of coffee with you, this is the place to enjoy it.
Wray To Quernmore
As you begin to approach the end of Lythe Fell Road, you’ll see a left turn signposted for Lowgill and Wray.
The road is tiny and can be a nightmare if traffic is coming in the opposite direction. Fortunately, you hardly ever see anybody here, so it’s generally hassle-free.
Also, be careful of the road surface – you’ll almost certainly see gravel. After a short while, you’ll come to a crossroad where you’ll turn left onto Mewith Road.
If you don’t fancy this little gravelly road, you can go past it on Lythe Fell Road and take a left onto Mewith Road at the junction. This will bring you to the same place minus the drama.
Once on the main road, enjoy the gentle, flowing road to Wray and the surrounding region.
Caton And Quernmore
Following the main road, you’ll see a biker cafe on your left. You can’t miss it on weekends – dozens of bikers stop there, although I tend to go straight past because I’m a miserable turd.
Go over the mini roundabout and take the left just before the speed camera (signposted Quernmore and Trough of Bowland.)
Quernmore Road is one of my favourite roads – the bends are twisty and fast. Just be careful as some of them like to tighten up unexpectedly.
After a while, the road will bear to the left. But you want to take the left turn just before it (signposted for Quernmore, Bay Horse, and Trough of Bowland.)
Keep an eye out for the Give Way sign halfway down! It’s a fast road, and the crossroads in the middle can creep on you. There’s a Stop sign at the junction – and I would advise you to take heed, stop, and have a check before accelerating over the junction.
Quernmore To Langden Brook
As you turn left onto Quernmore Brow, the road continues to be fast and flowing, all the way to Dunsop Bridge.
Here you’ll see the scenery change from the stark emptiness of Lancashire back into the pretty scenery of the Yorkshire.
Passing through woodlands, you’ll ride in and out of the sunlight as you head towards the stunning area of Langden Brook.
These are some of my favourite roads on the route. And if you’re lucky enough to have the roads to yourself, you can really have some fun.
The scenery is epic as you blast through the hills that surround you on either side.
Be wary of the dips and troughs – if you hit them at speed, they can quickly unsettle your bike.
Midway through, you’ll see signs (and a little car park) for Langden Brook. If you park up and walk across the iron bridge, the path will lead you to a beautiful spot in the hills for a picnic.
Langden Brook To Dunsop Bridge
The roads in this part of the run continue to be fast and flowing. The road is generally good, traffic is usually light, and you’ll see very few people.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter if you follow the route or make it up as you go along at this point.
You’ll enjoy the roads around tiny villages such as Whitewell, Cow Ark, Chipping, and Bashall Eaves. Either follow the route or choose whichever roads take your fancy.
When you’ve had enough, simply follow any signs you see back to Clitheroe.
The End Of The Ride
Once you reach Clitheroe, your blast in the Forest of Bowland is at an end. It’s only a short route (around 65 miles), but it’ll take you maybe 2.5 hours without a break.
Add in a few coffee and cake stops or a picnic at Langden Brook, and it can easily be a day’s ride. The other thing to factor in is the ride there (and back home again), as the Forest of Bowland is somewhat out of the way!
Once you get to Clitheroe, you can follow the A59 southwest to Preston, the M6 motorway, and/or the M61.
Head southeast towards Burnley, and you’ll pick up signs for the M65.
For more routes like this one, be sure to check out our Routes category!
Forest Of Bowland: Conclusion
If you live at the other end of the country and are embarking on a UK tour, would I recommend the Forest of Bowland?
No, I wouldn’t. If you come up to the northwest from afar, your time will be spent enjoying the Lake District, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and Wales.
And rightly so.
But if you want somewhere away from the tourist traffic or somewhere to test your skills, you know where to come.
If you want peace and tranquillity and a place to see just how good you are, the Forest of Bowland is a diamond in the rough.
That said, I secretly hope you won’t come. Because then I can continue to have it all to myself!