Enjoy the countryside outside Burnley

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 February 2015

Cosima Towneley in front of Lady Mary Towneley's monument

Cosima Towneley in front of Lady Mary Towneley's monument


Not far from the centre of this famous industrial hub lies some of Lancashire’s loveliest countryside. Martin Pilkington takes a tour

Pebbles at the HAPPA centre at BriercliffePebbles at the HAPPA centre at Briercliffe

From the heart of an industrial town like Burnley it’s easy to feel isolated from the fields and hills of rural Lancashire. Yet a short hike, bike ride or canter away are some of the loveliest spots in the county.

‘There isn’t a place in Burnley where you couldn’t walk into the countryside in ten minutes, and particularly beautiful countryside too, although it’s not too well known,’ says Cosima Towneley, whose family name came be traced back to Norman England.

‘In a way we don’t mind passing people over to the Ribble Valley and keeping this lovely area for locals in the know,’ she jokes. The Towneley family has deep roots in the town – witness Towneley Hall – and in the county. Cosima’s father Sir Simon is a former High Sheriff, like his 14th century ancestor Richard before him.

Over his life he has witnessed a huge improvement in the environment around the family home, Dyneley Hall in Cliviger. ‘When I was a boy – and I’m 93 now – this was coal and cotton country. The chimneys that used to produce smoke are relics. You couldn’t garden up here in my youth - if you put your finger on a rhododendron it came off soot-black. The only time you could see over Burnley was wakes week when the mills closed.’

Lady Mary Towneley, Sir Simon’s late wife, pioneered the Pennine Bridleway stretching from Derbyshire to Northumberland, and to the 47-mile loop – now named in her honour - through spectacular countryside in East Lancashire and adjoining parts of Yorkshire. High up on Heartbreak Hill above Cliviger, beside the bridleway, there is a simple but lovely stone monument to Lady Mary.

‘She did two years of research, talking to people, riding, reading, looking at maps, then putting it all together and trying it,’ explains Cosima. ‘Some hadn’t been ridden for 100 years, old pack-roads, drovers’ routes, forgotten farm tracks, all with a historical basis. She completed it without mishap which was amazing.’

The Mary Towneley Loop is not just for horse riders. ‘We do events where mountain bikers ride the whole loop, one in June as part of Bike Week, and one in September during the South Pennine Walk and Ride Festival,’ says Pennine Bridleway Ranger Bill Brady. ‘You see more cyclists than walkers, but you do get quite a few octogenarian ramblers here as there are no stiles to negotiate.’

At Hurstwood there’s an added attraction for mountain bikers, a short trail through the woods. ‘We have a number of these small sites you can use via the bridleway network so you can have a nice ride in the country – this is only about three miles from Burnley - and a mountain-bike-specific ride as well,’ says Tony Lund, Senior Environment Project Officer with the county council ‘This one is at the beginner’s level, a good place for kids to learn mountain biking.’

The full loop, however, is a tougher challenge. ‘When we do the 47 miles, it’s the same amount of climbing as if you cycle up and down Snowdon twice!’ says Bill.

Hurstwood itself is a fascinating hamlet. ‘Even the red phone box is listed to avoid it being removed or replaced,’ says Ramon Collinge, of Burnley Historical Society. It’s one of the few structures here that doesn’t date from Tudor or Jacobean days. ‘Spenser’s House is where the Elizabethan poet is said to have spent time, and Tattersall’s Tenement was once home to the originator of the racehorse auctioneering business.’

Another side of equine life is seen at HAPPA – the Horse and Pony Protection Association – in nearby Briercliffe, an organisation which rescues and rehabilitates hundreds of horses each year. It is currently undergoing major development work. ‘This is the first property the charity purchased, in 1984. Before then we were lent various places,’ says development officer Julie Rickwood-Gan.

‘Now we’re improving facilities for the horses coming into our care – including an isolation unit for new arrivals – plus a new cafe and farm shop for visitors, and conference facilities.’ They’ve just welcomed 33 horses, their largest ever intake in one group, so the expansion is timely.

Another big attraction for Burnley is one of the north’s most luxurious spas. Woodland Spa and its Bertram’s Restaurant is set in 100 acres of rolling landscape, woodland and pastures. The complex represents a multi-million pound investment in the area and it has created many local jobs.

The countryside is productive as well as being a leisure resource. At Roaming Roosters in Higham to the north of Burnley the two combine. Hens and rare breed animals like Gloucester Old Spot and Middle White pigs form part of its educational offer, while their products sell in the bistro and farm shop, the range a reminder of the county’s agricultural heritage. ‘All the chicken is our own free range, kept in the barn and roaming the fields; the pork is our own, the animals go to the next door farm to be reared; we have grass-fed beef and lamb from three local farmers, 90 per cent of the cheeses we use are made in Lancashire – and we make our own pies and sausages,’ says farmshop manager George Cropper.

But there are some elements of our rural history that we can be delighted to have lost. ‘On the village green in Worsthorne they used to do bull baiting,’ Ramon Collinge tells us. ‘But happily they stopped it in the mid-19th century after one bull got loose and ran into the school across the way!’

Making a noise

Burnley’s residents who don’t care to venture into the countryside can still enjoy the wide open spaces at Towneley Hall and its vast park. The Hall was home to the Towneley family for 500 years or more. It was sold to Burnley Council in 1901, and opened to the public the following year.

The Hall and its grounds are a magnificent resource for the community, with a continuous round of events and exhibitions. ‘From July to October we have Generation Noise - children will love it, making electronic sounds. There’s the Flower Festival September 18th to 20th, then in November an exhibition of wonderful watercolours from our collection,’ says Senior Curator Mike Townend. ‘And over Easter we have the Pendelfin Pottery Rabbit trail in the house. They were made locally from the 50s until recently.’

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