Exploring the Ribble Valley and Bowland by bus
PUBLISHED: 13:04 14 March 2011 | UPDATED: 00:15 24 October 2015
With rural buses under threat, Martin Pilkington joins passengers on a vital - and beautiful - service
Burholme Bridge always feels like the entrance to Bowland; the views whether on foot or in a bus are magical. You need, however, to be in a motor-vehicle to get the childish tummy-tickle pleasure of crossing such a hump-backed structure. From the apex I can look right to the grey hills where passing clouds cut clear shadows on the ground, or left up the tree-fringed river. North hard country; south softer; â ‘twas ever thus.
The journey is now if not to the centre of the earth (Middle Earth perhaps: Tolkien is reputed to have based much of its landscape on Bowland) at least to the centre of Britain, or so Dunsop Bridge claims. At 11.56am we drop off another passenger, perhaps to join the paddlers competing for water with the ducks.
Between Dunsop and Newton it’s roller-coaster time, the undulating and twisting carriageway hemmed in by dry-stone walls, narrow enough that a little blue Fiat approaching forces the bus to pull over. But the driver can watch the road; I’m taking in the hills and the ever-present river.
Just after midday we arrive in Newton, stopping twice to let shoppers off. A lady is arranging hanging-baskets outside a cottage; builders are working across the way; two vans and three cars overtake the halted bus: it’s rush hour in Bowland.
Julie Whalley’s home in Newton is right by the bus stop: ‘We’re so used
to the bus that we use it as an alarm clock - if we’re still in bed when it arrives at 7.15 we know we’re late!’
But now it has assumed greater significance. ‘For local businesses it is vital [that word again] - I am just setting up a food tour which begins here in Newton, and the bus can deliver people who come to Clitheroe by train right to my door.’
Finally the B10 arrives in Slaidburn, the furthest point on the journey,
where having passed a less gentle landscape of rocky outcrops and rounding a sharp bend the old church welcomes you long before the houses. You have to drive slowly here, the honeyed-stone buildings embracing the road at either end of the village forcing motorists to proceed with caution as traffic lights would in other places.
At the far side the bus dips downhill to river level, then slips into a car park in sight of the bridge to let the other passengers off. More board for the return run to Clitheroe, back to Newton before striking across Easington and Waddington Fells.
Stuck behind a tipper-truck the B10 stays in low gear on the long rise to
the tops some 1200 feet or more up. Wheels rattle cattle grids, though
only sheep could thrive here. Wide swathes of purple heathers brighten what can in other weathers be desolate countryside, though always beautiful.
The long descent down Fell Road is another good reason to let someone else drive. Nearly straight for perhaps three miles, all at what feels like a 45 degree slope: the escape lane is not there for decoration. Passing the Moorcock Inn, Pendle spreads before us across the other side of the Ribble Valley that one second is far below, the next upon us. We weave through genteel Waddington, all white walls and flower-tubs, minutes and a world away from the brutal moorland behind us.
Leaving the bus in Clitheroe I remark to the driver he must have the most beautiful route in Britain: ‘Aye; I can’t disagree,’ he says, beaming as well he should. It only cost me £2.20; but he gets paid to take it.
I am the last of the handful of passengers boarding the single-decker outside the solid old station in Clitheroe, starting-point for the B10 circular route. The driver refers to his papers to determine the round-trip cost. His face betrays curiosity as to why someone other than him would get on and off the vehicle at the same point.
Simple. With a nod of the head to David McKie’s quirky book, Great British Bus Journeys, for a mere £2.20 I am about to spend an hour travelling in comfort through perhaps the prettiest countryside in Lancashire, with a double seat high above hedge-level; someone else driving; and no danger of anyone organising a coach-trip sing-along.
Bowland by bus. The Tyrer B10 Clitheroe-Slaidburn circular follows a clockwise route; its twin the B11 goes widdershins on alternate hours. But it’s not only for sightseers: Clitheroe solicitor John Holdsworth, a stalwart of the Country Landowners’ Association, says: ‘It’s a lifeline for a lot of my clients, for example widowed ladies who don’t drive for whom it’s their link with the outside world.’
At 11.25 we’re off. Thanks to Clitheroe’s one-way system we have a mini-tour of the town before heading out over Edisford Bridge. It’s a rare sunny day and the Ribble teems with splashing children.
The metropolitan delights of Clitheroe are soon swapped for huge pastures as we turn right and motor towards Bashall Eaves, Longridge
Fell the backdrop to the west. Lorries and tractors that slow our progress
are a bonus not a problem, at least not for me.
Lush greenery from a wet summer is dotted with mauve mallow along the stream bounding the road. Farmers are naturally making hay while the sun shines, one in a new green tractor as shiny as a still-boxed Britains toy.
A rambler with rucksack and stout socks gets off at Bashall’s Red Pump Inn. It’s 11.37 and I wonder if walk or pint will have priority. On past Browsholme Hall. Woodland alternates with fields full of newly-shorn sheep.
At one junction all roads ahead lead to Whitewell. We take the left
fork through forested shade, fittingly not the way marked ‘direct route’.
The Hodder snakes along below us as we climb towards the comfortable sight of the Inn at Whitewell. I really should have bought an all-day ticket and stopped off.
Charles Bowman, managing director of the Inn at Whitewell says: ‘We were involved in the planning of the service, which is used by members of staff and customers here.
‘At one point it was going to need some very fancy buses to meet all the needs for walkers, cyclists and so on - but what is really important for people in the area is to have a basic service to link them with Clitheroe.’
In later discussions Douglas Chalmers of the Country Landowners’ Association makes a similar point: ‘Rural bus services are the string that binds communities together, so they are a huge policy issue for us at the CLA. Economically, yes they bring visitors into areas like the Forest of Bowland, but they are vital in taking people from the villages to jobs, to job interviews, and to training and educational opportunities too. We have to remember those users when timetables and routes are being decided, and not focus on visitors alone.’