Clitheroe is gateway town to Pendle’s Witch Country, but today was magic of a different kind: a wonderful day ride up to Bentham and back over Forest of Bowland moors. It’s all hilly stuff: no wonder most of the many cyclists I saw today were on e-bikes. Who needs flying brooms when you have electric assist?
I was staying in cheaper Blackburn, where the Premier Inns cost the same as a main course in one of the many upmarket gastropubs round Clitheroe, and commuting by train. It was a beautiful, cloudless morning, with a blue sky the colour of an implausibly perfect graduated tint in Photoshop. It was also freezing cold: woolly hat weather, to suit my usual mode of thinking.
All day I encountered more cyclists than cars on the quiet, awesomely scenic back lanes. There were big views everywhere in the open landscape, most impressively north up to the unmistakable form of Pen-y-ghent. Oh, hang on, no, Ingleborough. Recognise it anywhere. Or is it Whernside?
Anyway, I started off north from Clitheroe, through Grindleton, and up a long steady climb. The looming massif of Pendle Hill loomed massively behind me, sidelit by the sun. George Fox had a vision after climing it in 1652 and was inspired to create the Quakers.
I feel a great kinship with the Quakers, what with their practical belief in equality, honesty, humanity, and the simple life: cycle touring fits in well. And, while all that stuff about them and porridge is a fiction – a late-19th century marketing device to flog breakfasts – it fits in pretty well with cycle-touring too.
After a restorative coffee and flapjack in the friendly cafe of Gisburn Forest Hub, I winched myself over the stunning pass of Bowland Knotts, with mighty vistas in every direction. I chatted to a lady whose bike had a Swytch electric motor add-on. I wish I had a powerful electric motor to whisk me effortlessly up these climbs, I said to her. So do I, she replied.
At Keasden – a place marked on the map which seems to consist solely of a road sign – I took a left across to Bentham, then left again to head back south. A prominent landmark here is a great big stone in the middle of an otherwise bare flat field, called, not very imaginatively, the Great Stone.
It’s a glacial erratic – a migrant rock from elsewhere, looking for a better life, having hitched a lift on a glacier eons ago – and presumably part of the same lot as the Norber Erratics I saw a few weeks back.
The Great Stone has steps thoughtfully carved in the side so you can easily climb to the top and feel on top of the world, and countless graffitied names and initials of other visitors less thoughtfully carved in the side. It was a grand place to be on this super sunny day.
More epic, cleansing, life-affirming moortop riding brought me to Slaidburn, a rugged village that used to be in Yorkshire and is now in Lancashire – no doubt gratefully, as they were getting fed up of those Yorkshire winters. From there more beautifully scenic and quiet lanes with wide views got me back to Grindleton and Clitheroe.
I’d just missed a train back to Blackburn, and so, by reluctant force of circumstance, did some pub research for my route article before the next one.