We’d started finding the route harder to navigate last night as we were trying to find a place to pitch up and I’d put it down to being so fucking tired that it felt like my brain had seeped out of my earhole and was pooling in a stodgy mass of useless somewhere back on the trail. This morning though it became apparent that no, the trail just wasn’t maintained around this point. To be honest, considering the amount of different waymarks this trail has, it’s appallingly signposted throughout. The waymarks on this section were bleached out, stiles were so overgrown with nettles that they were unusable and we had to climb over locked gates, some stiles were just falling apart. One of them had all but given up on generally being a stile and was in pieces.
There was no defined trail after we left camp either, we just had to pick our way through spiky grass in the vague direction that our digital maps were showing us and hope there wasn’t a hidden ravine somewhere hell bent on demonstrating which way ankles aren’t meant to go. Not that a right of way on a map means there’s a trail for you to follow on the actual ground, this is just a heads up in case anyone reading this fancied having a bash at this trail, or the Pennine Bridleway for that matter because we were back on that bad boy too.
We’d broken camp and scurried out of our illegal hiding spot in order to have breakfast somewhere less likely to get us shouted at and once we were through the wet, spiky grass we hung the tent over a gate in a vain effort to dry the condensation off it, plonked ourselves down on the ground and knocked up a Mug Shot each garnished with bits of sausage that may or may not have formerly been a pig. You just never really know with frankfurters, do you. As we ate, a farmer on his quad bike was making his way down the field next to us, staring very definitely in our direction. My paranoia kicked in. That’s it, we were going to get a talking to for last night’s camping spot.
I munched on my Mug Shot and tried really hard to look like I belonged sprawled on the side of a trail in the middle of Yorkshire applying food with questionable nutritional value to my facehole. He pulled up in front of us, we were sat by a gate which he was on his way through. He nodded towards our tent and said with a laugh,
“That confused me, that did! I saw it from a distance and thought, well it’s not one of my animals!”
I assured him we’d be out of his way soon but he was actually really chill, he switched his engine off and chatted with us for a bit.
We got talking about cows, he said we were lucky they didn’t nick the tent off the gate because they’re cheeky buggers like that. He told us about a family he had to lead through a field once because the cows were being a bit too curious, as cows are wont to be, and he told us about an older gentleman who walks with two sticks with a terrier on a lead, and he simply pushes the cows out of the way with a stick.
“Because he’s used to cows, you see. He knows how to handle them.” I told him about my completely warranted fear of being chased by cows and he chuckled.
“They don’t chase you,” he assured me, “they just follow you. If you stop, they’ll stop.” Right. Like I’m going to fucking stop when a herd of beasts twice my size are coming right at me. I’ll be walking as fast as I can whilst trying not to cry.
Despite the fact Lancashire LOOKS flatter than North Yorkshire, it’s bloody well not. We tackled some brutal bastard hills today. I mean, okay, it was mostly flat along the river but there were definitely a few hills thrown in to make your calf muscles sit up and take notice. There were also a inordinate amount of nettles lining narrow, overgrown footpaths, like some manner of Klingon painstik ceremony. And guys, shit got fucking weird for a minute. It started off innocuous enough. We walked through a field with a random tap in the middle which wasn’t working, as if the place had been set up for camping. There was a large sculpture reading “2019” but the 1 had fallen over, and there was a small circle of stones.
We walked past some woods signed as private with a big sign reading “Toil Trees”, and at one entrance there was a signpost which had been covered with a now-tattered cloth. There were little buildings which indicated that it might have been used for camping or activities but had been abandoned, it was sort of creepy. (Update: It took a bit of digging online to find out that this is the site of the Beat-Herder Festival and not a kill room for hikers.) Then we got to the gate leading out and there were a shit tonne of dead moles that had been fastened to the fucking fence by their faces. What. The. Actual. Fuck. It was beyond weird.
We got to Sawley and headed to the abbey ruins to sit down for a spot of lunch. The weather was dry and warm with a bit of a gentle wind so we laid our tent out too to get it dry after this morning’s failed attempt, and we chucked our shoes off and enjoyed the breeze through our toe hair. Bliss. Two barefooted lesbians shovelling peanut butter wraps into their chops whilst the tent flapped next to us certainly got us some funny looks off the locals, but everyone seemed friendly. The abbey itself is worth a brief detour (but I have a massive nerd-on for ruins), it’s a Cistercian monastery which was founded in 1147 and managed almost 400 years before everything went to shit thanks to Henry VII.
We wanted to get our water bottles filled at the pub, the Spread Eagle, but we also couldn’t resist their lovely little beer garden right by the river so we bought a couple of pints of Coke too and chilled some more. We do so like a break. We’re definitely more into meandering rather than marching, we’re certainly never going to break any records on any hikes we do but our enjoyment comes from the journey rather than the destination.
It was pretty flat and easy going after Sawley, largely along the River Ribble, and there were loads of places you could just sit and chill. As we got closer to Clitheroe there were whole picnic areas set up with benches. It was really lovely, such a beautiful place to live. The river just skirts the edge of the town’s suburbs and we very much felt like we were back in civilisation. Literally in the space of a day we’d gone from small villages and vast swathes of farmland with hardly a soul in sight, to people everywhere enjoying the weather. This could mean only one thing; beer o’clock!
I left Tarrant with the bags and popped to the Spar to grab us a few cans before we continued away from the town. We’d decided to start looking for a place to camp as soon as we were through Clitheroe and we found some woods almost immediately. Okay, we were still quite close to town but these woods had a lovely little brook running through them and it was hard to resist. The footpath on this side of the stream was defined but blocked in parts by trees and nettles so obviously not too well used, and we made our way through to a small clearing right by the stream. It looked a lot more inviting on the other side though, there was a large space just perfect for hanging out as I’m sure many locals did. Rather than going around we just crossed right over, footwear and all, it was only ankle deep and oh my gosh the cold, cold water was delicious on our hot, sweaty feet.
We figured that we’d gauge how busy it was before we decided where to pitch. This side was clearly popular, there were two fire rings and we cleared a small amount of litter before we sat down for dinner and a tasty cold beverage. A few people wandered by, it’s evidently a cut-through to and from Clitheroe, though to and from what I haven’t got a fucking clue. There’s nothing on the other side of the woods that I could see. A group of kids on bikes asked us if we were “doing that Edinburgh thing” which was cute they thought we looked young enough, and when we told them no one of them asked,
“Do you just go out the ‘ouse and go camping?” I mean, yeah, more or less I guess. Apparently this is “sick” and whilst I’m not overly au fait with the language of the kids I believe this is a good thing.
It was apparent that this side of the brook was very well used and to be fair the pebbles wouldn’t have been an ideal surface to pitch a tent so we crossed back over. My nerve endings were much less grateful for the application of freezing cold water this time. We pitched up, got spotted by locals at least once, figured there wasn’t much we could do about that and they were unlikely to bother us given that the paths on this side were much less accessible, then crashed out for the night.
Halton West, North Yorkshire to Clitheroe, Lancashire, England
Stayed at: Wild camped in some woods just outside of Clitheroe.
Activity: Hiking the Ribble Way from north to south.
Useful shit to know…
- Sawley Abbey is managed by English Heritage but it’s free to enter for everyone. It’s open from 10am.
- There are plenty of places after Sawley to access the river if you wanted to filter water from it.
- There are toilets just before Clitheroe Camping & Caravanning Club campsite but apart from that they seem to be few and far between. Just after Brungerley Park, there are toilets in the cemetery a short detour away. Coordinates are 53.877747, -2.398983 / N53°52′39.89″ W02°23′56.34″