The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of the most breathtaking areas in the UK. Often overshadowed by the nearby Lake District (coming soon) and Yorkshire Dales, the Forest of Bowland AONB is an underrated natural haven with brilliant historical and natural attractions as well as picturesque villages to explore.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about 25 brilliant things to do in the Forest of Bowland. After telling you about where to visit in the Forest of Bowland, we’ll cover some practical tips and information about visiting the area.
Before reading this guide, feel free to watch our Forest of Bowland Walks YouTube video below (coming soon).
Have a look at our guide about the best walks in Lancashire
Table of Contents
What Is the Forest of Bowland?
You might be surprised to read that the Forest of Bowland (AKA the Bowland Fells and Bowland Forest) isn’t actually a forest. The area mostly features heather moorland, grassy fells, flower-rich meadows, rolling pastures, streaming rivers and quaint villages. You’ll only find small pockets of forest and woodlands.
So, why is it referred to as a forest? Well, the area was given the title of the Royal Forest of Bowland during the medieval period, when the word ‘forest’ referred to hunting rights. By giving the area this title, it prevented people from cultivating the land and enabled the king and his court to hunt without interference!
Today, the Forest of Bowland is a unique area with exceptional wildlife value. In 1964, the area was formally designated to assist with co-ordinated protection, conservation and management of the area. Interestingly, the Forest of Bowland has many threatened species of birds, including the hen harrier, which is the bird found on the logo of the AONB. Partly owing to the presence of threatened species, the Forest of Bowland is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA).
So, exactly where is the Forest of Bowland located?
Where Is the Forest of Bowland On a Map?
Located in the geographical centre of the UK, the Forest of Bowland is found in the county of Lancashire in the northwest of England. To help you get your bearings, we recommend looking at the map below, which shows the locations of the 25 best things to do in the Forest of Bowland. Simply click on the image to access the interactive map.
Now that you’ve familiarised yourself with the area, let’s look at what to do in the Forest of Bowland!
Forest of Bowland Things To Do
There are plenty of great things to do in the Forest of Bowland. To keep things simple, we’ve broken down the best things to do into four sections. First, we’ll look at the best historical attractions in the area. Then, we’ll talk about the best areas of natural beauty. We’ll then cover information about the best walks in the area, before looking at the most worthwhile villages to visit.
Best Attractions in the Forest of Bowland
The Forest of Bowland has many fascinating historical attractions to see. These include Whalley Abbey, Sawley Abbey, Browsholme Hall, Stonyhurst College and Clitheroe Castle. Let’s start by looking at the famous Whalley Abbey.
1. Whalley Abbey
Although technically located just outside of the Forest of Bowland in the historic village of Whalley, the ruins of Whalley Abbey are often included in a Forest of Bowland itinerary. The 13th century Cistercian abbey is now an English Heritage site. Unfortunately, under the order of King Henry VIII in the 16th century, many monastic buildings across England were destroyed, including Whalley Abbey.
Thankfully, the Whalley Abbey East Gatehouse, which belonged to the nearby Cistercian abbey, remains in good nick. Best of all, it’s completely free to explore the ruins at Whalley Abbey and is open during daylight hours. We recommend visiting later in the day to avoid the crowds.
2. Sawley Abbey
Although not as impressive as Whalley Abbey, Sawley Abbey is another monastic building worth visiting. Located in the town of Sawley, the ruins of Sawley Abbey date back to the 12th century. After the monastery was dissolved in the 16th century, similar to Whalley Abbey, the building suffered from a period of revolt and disrepair. The site is now managed by English Heritage, which are facilitating the protection and refurbishment of the ruins. Similar to Whalley Abbey, it’s free to explore Sawley Abbey.
FYI – right around the corner from Sawley Abbey, you’ll find the sensational B&B and inn called The Spread Eagle. We highly recommend heading there for a drink in the beer garden. Alternatively, it makes for a great place to stay in the Forest of Bowland.
3. Browsholme Hall
Located near the charming village of Chipping, you’ll find Browsholme Hall and Tithe Barn. It’s a Grade I heritage-listed Tudor Hall, dating back to 1507. The estate features a lovely garden, tea rooms and also hosts events such as weddings. Unfortunately, Browsholme Hall is usually only open to the public a couple of days during the week. So, visiting isn’t as straightforward as visiting other historical attractions such as Whalley and Sawley Abbeys.
If you’re able to visit on a day when it’s open to the public (usually a Tuesday and Wednesday), it costs £10 per person to enter.
4. Stonyhurst College
Stonyhurst College is located in Hurst Green. It’s an esteemed boarding school and a very elegant building. It’s well-known that J. R. R. Tolkien spent much of his time there, whilst visiting his son. In fact, Tolkien’s name appears countless times in the college’s visitor book. He even taught a few lessons, all whilst writing and working on his acclaimed and much-loved novel, The Lord of the Rings. Stonyhurst College was also where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, attended school.
Personally, Beck and I visited Stonyhurst College during the Tolkien Trail. By doing so, you won’t explore the grounds as such. You’ll simply peer into the college, passing by during the walk. In fact, the college is only open to the public on certain days of the year.
5. Clitheroe Castle
Wedged in between the main designated area of the Forest of Bowland and Pendle, you’ll find the historical town of Clitheroe. Admittedly, the modernisation of the town has slightly taken away from the charm and feel of the place. But, the Clitheroe Castle Museum is certainly still worth exploring. Similar to Whalley and Sawley Abbey, the 12th century Clitheroe Castle is free to explore. From the castle, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
Of course, we don’t mean to offend the town of Clitheroe, but there are definitely more quaint villages in the Forest of Bowland. Read the Best Villages in the Forest of Bowland section for more information.
Best Areas of Natural Beauty in the Forest of Bowland
Apart from historical attractions, the Forest of Bowland is renowned for being a breathtaking natural space. Below, we’ll look at the most stunning natural attractions in the area, including the Trough of Bowland, Gisburn Forest, Beacon Fell Country Park and the Bowland Knotts. Let’s start with the famous Trough of Bowland.
6. Trough of Bowland
The Trough of Bowland is a glorious valley and high pass featuring gorgeous countryside. Once described as ‘the Switzerland of England‘, the Trough of Bowland runs between Dunsop Bridge and Marshaw near Abbeystead. Many visitors enjoy the scenic drive or cycle along Trough Road, which meanders through the valley. Otherwise, we recommend doing the Trough of Bowland Walk (AKA the Trough of Bowland Circular Walk) to fully experience the area.
Read more: Trough of Bowland Walk – The Ultimate Guide
DJI Air 2S
7. Gisburn Forest
Gisburn Forest is the largest forest in Lancashire. It’s a roughly 12.5 square kilometre (4 square mile) public forest that was largely created by the UK government’s Forestry Commission in the late 1940s. Featuring stunning woodland, Gisburn Forest offers a serene natural landscape, whilst having epic MTB trails (mountain bike trails) and picturesque walks. Although there are many trails on offer, we recommend the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk (AKA the Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk).
Whilst you’re at Gisburn Forest, you’ll have to stop in at the awesome cafe on-site.
8. Beacon Fell Country Park
The Beacon Fell Country Park has been running since 1970 and is currently managed by the Lancashire County Council. The country park is only around one square kilometre (0.45 square miles); but, it’s filled to the brim with woodland, moorland and farmland.
Located in the mesmerising Ribble Valley, the Beacon Fell Country Park has numerous walking trails including the Summit Trail (to Beacon Fell), Woodland Trail, Fellside Trail and Sculpture Trail. You’ll find many of these trails are interconnected and share the same path at some point. So, by walking around the country park, you’ll naturally cover most of the trails.
At the country park, you’ll find the Bowland Visitor Centre. It’s an awesome visitor centre with plenty of educational exhibitions. Certainly, we recommend scoping out the visitor centre for more information about the country park, including details about its history, flora and fauna.
9. Bowland Knotts
The Bowland Knotts is a lesser-known rocky outcrop that acts as a decent vantage point in the northeast part of the Forest of Bowland. From the roadside, the rocky outcrop is only a short 700 metre walk away. Personally, Beck and I visited the Bowland Knotts for sunrise. It was an amazing experience and one that we highly recommend.
Best Walks in the Forest of Bowland
Given the abundance of natural space and Open Access Land in the Forest of Bowland, there are many excellent walks to choose from. Of course, at Travel Made Me Do It, we’re all about walking and hiking. So, if you want to learn more about walking in the Forest of Bowland, you’ve arrived on the right page! Below, we’ll start with the most famous walk in the area – the Pendle Hill Walk.
Read more: The 13 Best Forest of Bowland Walks
10. Pendle Hill Walk
You can’t visit the Forest of Bowland and not do the well-known Pendle Hill Walk. After all, it’s one of the best walks in Lancashire. At 557 metres above sea level, you’ll enjoy phenomenal 360° views from the summit. There are many different Pendle Hill Walk route options. But, the most popular route option is the Pendle Hill Walk from Barley.
11. Tolkien Trail
As mentioned earlier, the Tolkien Trail begins from the small village of Hurst Green. In reality, the Tolkien Trail is a village walk around an area of England that likely inspired much of J. R. R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. So, it’s like a glimpse into the creative mind of the man himself. Other than visiting Stonyhurst College, you’ll cross the historical Cromwell Bridge and follow alongside the charming River Hodder.
Bonus tip: head to the Shireburn Arms in Hurst Green after the walk. It’s the perfect place for a post-walk pint or it could even be the place you’ll spend the night.
12. Nicky Nook Walk
At 214 metres above sea level, Nicky Nook is a small fell located near the charming town of Scorton. During the short circular walk, you’ll reach a trig point at Nicky Nook and walk alongside Grizedale Reservoir. Indeed, it’s one of the easiest and most relaxing walks in the Forest of Bowland.
13. Stocks Reservoir Walk
Stocks Reservoir is one of the only reservoirs in the Forest of Bowland. Starting next to Gisburn Forest, the Stocks Reservoir Walk is one of the best circular walks in Lancashire. Indeed, it’d make sense to visit Stocks Reservoir before or after exploring Gisburn Forest and its hidden waterfall (more details below).
Read more: Stocks Reservoir Walk – The Ultimate Guide
14. Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk
The Forest of Bowland Waterfall Walk (AKA the Gisburn Forest Waterfall Walk) actually starts at the Stocks Reservoir Car Park. From there, you’ll walk through majestic moss-covered woodlands. After zig-zagging across a combination of trails, you’ll eventually reach Bottoms Beck. Whilst walking along the river stream, you’ll soon find a well-trodden steep trail descending towards the stream. From there, you’ll find the waterfall, which is also known as Bottoms Becks Waterfall.
15. Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk
The Wolfhole Crag and Wards Stone Walk is one of the most remote walks in the Forest of Bowland. By doing this walk, you’ll visit Wolfhole Crag, which is the third-highest summit in the area. You’ll also explore Wards Stone, which is the highest point of the Forest of Bowland – even higher than Pendle Hill! From Wards Stone, you’ll enjoy fine views of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Three Peaks (coming soon).
16. Clougha Pike Walk
The Clougha Pike Walk is one of our favourite walks in the Forest of Bowland. During the walk, you’ll enjoy sensational views of Morecambe Bay, Lune Valley and the city of Lancaster. After meandering through the moorlands, you’ll return via a lovely river stream in Rigg Wood.
17. Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell
Also known as the Parlick Fell Circular Walk, the Parlick Fell and Fair Snape Fell Walk is one of the most popular walks in the Forest of Bowland. During the walk, you’ll summit Parlick Fell, Fair Snape Fell and Paddy’s Pole. Admittedly, the views from Fair Snape Fell aren’t as far-reaching as the views from Parlick Fell. But, after reaching Fair Snape Fell, you’ll then walk to Paddy’s Pole, where you’ll encounter brilliant views once more.
18. Longridge Fell
Longridge Fell is the most southerly fell in the UK and reaches a height of 350 metres above sea level. From the roadside parking at Jeffrey Hill, near Longridge, you’ll follow a short trail to reach Longridge Fell. The fell is actually an excellent example of a cuesta, which is a ridge that has a gentle slope on one side and a steep slope on the other. Indeed, Longridge Fell has a steep escarpment on its northern side and a gentler slope on its southern edge.
From Longridge Fell, you’ll enjoy one of the best sunrises in the Forest of Bowland.
19. Pendle Sculpture Trail (AKA Pendle Witch Sculpture Trail)
Starting from the town of Barley, you’ll soon reach a road leading by the Black Moss reservoirs. You’ll then arrive at the official trailhead for the Pendle Sculpture Trail at Aitken Wood. Along the woodland trail, you’ll see many sculptures and artworks.
Unfortunately, the sculpture trail has started to show signs of wear and tear. Launched in 2012, the sculpture trail has certainly seen better days. So, is it still worth visiting? Well, the trail offers an easier walk from Barley compared with the challenging Pendle Hill Walk. So, it might still be a better option for some people.
Best Villages in the Forest of Bowland
Besides the historical and natural attractions, the Forest of Bowland has numerous picture postcard villages. The charming villages are certainly a huge part of the appeal of visiting the area. Of course, we won’t detail every single quaint village in the Forest of Bowland. We’ll simply talk about six villages that Beck and I have visited over the years and highly recommend to our friends and family when they visit. These include Dunsop Bridge, Slaidburn, Chipping, Downham, Whitewell and Scorton.
Let’s get the ball rolling by looking at the historic town of Dunsop Bridge.
20. Dunsop Bridge
Dunsop Bridge is well-known as the most centrally located town in the UK as well as being the entrance of the famous Trough of Bowland. To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot to see in the village; but, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth visiting. We recommend grabbing a takeaway drink from the Puddle Ducks Tea Rooms and then walking along the River Hodder.
FYI – there aren’t any pubs in Dunsop Bridge – bummer!
Slaidburn is an enchanting old village with some of its buildings dating back to the 14 century. Although, there’s archaeological evidence to suggest that Slaidburn has been inhabited since the 10th century! Many visitors stop in at Slaidburn during a trip to the Forest of Bowland for refreshments at the Riverbank Tea Rooms. Indeed, it’s where I took my mum and dad, on their first trip to the area, during a trip from Australia.
Chipping is a delightfully sweet village in the southern part of the Forest of Bowland. Simply turn up and wander the charming streets of the old village.
But, if you’d like to plan out your trip and want some specifics, well, you’ll have to visit the 15th century St Bartholomew’s Church. Then, depending on the time of day, you’ll be off to the Cobbled Corner Cafe or The Sun Inn.
Downham is known as the prettiest village in Lancashire. And, well, Beck and I have to agree. Featuring gorgeous stone cottages and an impressive church (St Leonard’s Church) dating back to the 15 century, there’s much to admire in Downham.
With Pendle Hill overlooking the beautiful village, you’ll have to sit in the lovely beer garden at Assheton Arms to enjoy the views of the famous hill. On the weekend, especially when the sun is out, expect visitors knocking back plenty of ice cream from the Downham Ice Cream Shop.
Located between Dunsop Bridge and Chipping, you’ll find the quaint village of Whitewell. It’s best known for The Inn at Whitwell, which is one of the best restaurants and pubs in the Forest of Bowland. Indeed, you’ll find sensational food and drink there. Why not try the seasonal grouse from Lancashire Moor? After a meal, you’ll have to walk along the stepping stones, positioned over the River Hodder and located opposite the country inn.
Although technically located just outside of the Forest of Bowland, Scorton is a worthwhile village to see whilst you’re in the area. Just a stone’s throw away from Nicky Nook, you’ll find the beautiful town. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, The Barn at Scorton has a great reputation and also serves up delicious ice cream.
Located just outside of Scorton and inside the Forest of Bowland is the rural estate and working farm called Wyresdale Park. This is actually where the Nicky Nook Walk starts. The private estate features some excellent places to visit such as Applestore Cafe. You’ll definitely want to head to the cafe after doing the Nicky Nook Walk!
How to Get to the Forest of Bowland
Now you know where to go in the Forest of Bowland! So, what’s the best way to get around the area and visit all of these awesome places? By far, the easiest and quickest way to get to and around the Forest of Bowland is to drive yourself.
There are bus services running in the Forest of Bowland; but, these services can be limited and restricting. Certainly, for the ultimate freedom and flexibility during a trip, we recommend driving.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car.
If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.
Where to Stay in the Forest of Bowland
When it comes to Forest of Bowland accommodation, there are plenty of fantastic options to choose from. Whether it’s Forest of Bowland cottages or hotels in the Forest of Bowland, you should be able to find something to your liking. Below, you’ll find some of the most popular mid-range options in the area.
The Red Pump Inn
The Red Pump Inn is one of the most popular budget-friendly accommodation options in the Forest of Bowland with mostly double rooms on offer. Located near Whitewell, Chipping and Downham, it’s a popular choice for those wanting to stay near Pendle Hill.
The Assheton Arms
Located in the most beautiful village in Lancashire, The Assheton Arms is a cosy country inn. Indeed, it’s one of the best accommodation options in Downham. Beck and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the country inn.
These are our gear essentials for walking in the Forest of Bowland.
Osprey Skarab 30
The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.
Osprey Ultralight Raincover
A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.
BUFF Original Ecostretch
The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.
To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.
Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about the Forest of Bowland.
Is the Forest of Bowland a National Park?
The Forest of Bowland isn’t a national park – it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). In reality, any AONB has similar status to a national park in terms of regulation, protection, conservation and management.
How Big Is the Forest of Bowland?
It’s 803 square kilometres (312 square miles).
Who Owns the Forest of Bowland?
Because of the area’s game-hunting history, there is a considerable percentage of private landowners including the Duchy of Lancaster, the Duke of Westminster and Lord Clitheroe. But, the current largest single landowner is United Utilities, which manages a large area of the fells for the purpose of water catchment.
Where Is the Trough of Bowland?
The Trough of Bowland is centrally located in the Forest of Bowland. For your reference, please click here for an interactive Trough of Bowland map.
Is the Forest of Bowland Worth Visiting?
Yes, absolutely. Beck and I have visited many times and have enjoyed every single visit. Whether you want to visit a historical attraction, see a charming village or enjoy a walk, there’s something for everyone in the Forest of Bowland.
Trainline is one of the best online platforms for booking trains. By using Trainline, you can easily find the best available prices and times for your journey. We always use Trainline to book our train journeys in the UK and in Europe.
- An honourable mention to Bowland Wild Boar Park: located near Chipping, the Bowland Wild Boar Park is a great day out for the family. The wildlife park features activities including animal feeding, tractor rides, play areas and riverside walks. Bowland Wild Boar Park also runs events for Easter and Halloween. For more information, head to their website.
- Other places to see whilst visiting Lancashire: you should head to the city of Lancaster to see Lancaster Castle. Whilst you’re in the area of Lancaster, you should also head to Gawthorpe Hall and Hoghton Tower.
- Visit Yorkshire Dales National Park: located near the Forest of Bowland, you’ll find the awesome Yorkshire Dales. Personally, the Dales is one of my favourite areas in the UK.
We hope you find this guide helpful. For information about the best national parks in the northwest of England, read our guides about the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, the North York Moors and the Lake District (guide coming soon).