• Start: Moorland to the north of Bacup
  • End: Moorland to the north of Bacup
  • Country: England
  • County: Lancashire
  • Type: Country
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines
  • Difficulty: Medium
Google Map


Keith Carter explores the fascinating countryside around Bacup

My invaluable Dictionary of British Place Names lists as the origin of the name Bacup as Fulbachope meaning a ‘foul and muddy valley by a ridge’

which you may say is no great endorsement although they dropped the ‘foul and muddy’ bit early on, to the great relief of all concerned. You can imagine the marketing department trying to do something with foul and muddy: ‘We may be foul and muddy but you should try our pies!’

The town today is typical of other East Lancashire towns, fitting into the pattern of grey stone built town centre with a number of fine buildings that once housed the places of municipal authority such as the town hall, often surmounted by a clock tower. But it has a character of its own if you look deeper and the folk have developed a pride in their town and community in the face of the usual economic obstacles.

I parked in the free car park on Fern Street next to the parish church, across from the post office. To get to the start of the walk proper, turn left out of Fern Street and walk along the main Burnley Road away from the town centre. On reaching the Irwell Inn, cross the bridge over the stream on the right and climb up the steep Coopers Lane and take the first on the right then the next left to Cowtoot Lane. Something tells me this should have been Cowfoot, the map maker’s handwriting hard to decipher once on the drawing board.

Head up this lane past the large complex of school buildings and where it runs out go through a gate to a footpath climbing the hill. This brings us to a beehive shaped cairn which a plaque tells us is called ‘Sentinel’ by Jane Dunn, erected in 1998. Local schoolchildren have decorated it with coloured stones, perhaps intended as ‘dream catchers’.

Turn left along the wall, a path that has been designated as part of the Irwell Sculpture Trail, a social arts enterprise to install site specific artworks in a natural setting. The beehive is the only one we come across on this walk but there are over 30 pieces in various locations in the South Pennines.

We pass under an arched bridge, or the remains of one, and continue on a clear, moorland track linking a series of farms, most of them either being renovated or having had the process completed. We reach a farm rearing deer, with parking for customers looking for venison and keep to the left of the buildings. Just beyond them we take the track on the right, passing beside a large plantation of firs like a green rampart.

The track makes its way towards a ridge ahead, passing an isolated farmhouse lifewhere a living must be precarious in such wild terrain. Go through an old mine working, the spoil tips grassed over long ago, the path winding its way to reach the ridge line where a wall causes a change of direction, right.

We have come to the Rossendale Way, a 42-mile circular route variously described as challenging and tough. Luckily we only stay on it for a short distance. The sign-posting isn’t particularly good; in fact the way marks state that we are on the South Pennine Horse Trail.

Horses are in evidence at a large farmstead called Heald Top Farm which we pass through to join a broad Land Rover track until the sound of vehicles brings us to a road, the A681 to Todmorden. We don’t actually cross it, taking a path to the right which heads towards a cluster of pylons which we pass close by, our route sticking to a grassed track which leads us over rough moor towards a group of farm buildings where we negotiate a wood yard then meet a lane.

Turn right on joining the lane and walk downhill, the town gradually asserting itself as we get nearer. As the first houses are met, pass a stables and soon a path is signposted to the right – one of the few signs or way marks found on this walk – and we take this, a row of bungalows behind their garden fences to our left, and emerge on the open hill top where the beehive which we passed early in our walk, stands.

Turn left and descend the same path we came up and follow our outward route in reverse, making our way back to the centre of Bacup. The sun was low in the sky as I returned to my car and the chill of the afternoon began to be felt. These wild moors grow on you; I must come back and do this walk again.

Area of walk: Moorland to the north of Bacup

Distance: 6.5 miles

Time to allow: 3 hours

Map: OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines

Refreshments: Take a packed lunch.

Pushchair/wheelchairs? Not suitable.


The print version of this article appeared in the April 2012  issue of Lancashire Life 
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