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Britain > Lancashire > Forest of Bowland

A royal forest of boars, authors and witches


Bowland Wild Boar Park
Pendle Witches Trail
This part of Lancashire might be called a forest, but that doesn't mean it is one. There are some wooded sections, but much of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is made up of open heathland and rolling hills. The title comes from its history as a royal hunting forest, where the monarch and friends could spend their leisure time.
This official ownership had an effect on the development of the land. In short, there wasn't any. For many years construction and cultivation were strictly controlled. Industrialisation may have transformed other places, but Bowland is barely different to its medieval self. There are villages, but only a few. They grew from the estates of the rich families who looked after the land for the monarchy. Most are pretty places, built from grey stone.
One, Dunsop Bridge, is known as the geographical centre of Great Britain. This, however, is a debatable title that's also claimed by settlements up to seventy miles away.
Slaidburn is the biggest village, but it's still only populated by less than 300 people. Its Heritage Centre collects history and memorabilia about the residents' lives and traditions, with a particular focus on farming. The most valuable artefact is the stone carving of an angel, made back in the 10th century.
The village of Hurst Green contains Stonyhurst College, a Roman Catholic boarding school founded in 1593. Former pupils include the authors Arthur Conan Doyle and JRR Tolkien. The latter was particularly inspired by the surrounding countryside. A walking route called the Tolkien Trail takes in sights that would later be recreated in his masterpiece, The Lord Of The Rings.
Connecting Slaidburn and Hurst Green is the Hodder River, an important feature of the forest. All but a single mile of its length is contained within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It's a favourite location for walking or cycling trips.
Also on the river is the Bowland Wild Boar Park. You can't tell from the name, but deer, llamas and longhorn cows share the land with the boars. Children can feed some of the animals by hand, then have a ride on the tractor-powered land train.
Not far from here is the Ribble Valley Sculpture Trail. This walking route features over twenty pieces of public art, standing among plentiful trees and flowers. Keep an eye out for wading birds, fish and otters.
In the south-east of the forest is Pendle Hill, a 577-metre fell with expansive views. In the 17th century, the visible land was infested with witches. These women would pose as healers or spell-casters, selling their sinister services to gullible village folk. Their scheme backfired, however, when nearly a dozen of them were rounded up and, after one of the most famous witch trials in British history, hanged from the neck until dead. The Pendle Witches Trail is a walking tour that takes in the homes and hideouts of these unfortunate convicts.

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