A Ribble Valley walk of history, graveyards and conversations along the way.
As I wait for a bus to take me to Whalley a lady of a certain age enquires as to my journey, I’m in boots with a rucksack and attached walking poles. When I tell her of crossing the Ribble at Dinckley Bridge she recollects a time when a ferryman would take you over for a penny. It was like that in AW’s early years when he explored the Ribble Valley north of his home in Blackburn.
My bus deposits me in the middle of busy Whalley at 12.30, I’m a late starter these days. Wainwright’s Way takes me past the ancient parish church, I make a mental note to revisit between 2 and 5 when it is open. I do however make the effort to seek out some of the Saxon crosses in the churchyard.
I walk past the Abbey grounds which I visited last weekend. The lane out of town actually goes through the oldest West Gate. It has an impressive ceiling but is somewhat diminished by the road passing through it. Almost immediately you pass through another arch, that of the railway viaduct, the longest and largest in Lancashire. 48 arches of immaculate brickwork. A functional ‘Old Sol’s Bridge’ crosses the Calder River, built in 1993 to replace the 1909 one of Solomon Longworth, a local mill owner. Backstreets of Billington, old and new, take me out through horsey country to cross the A59 and into a more rural scene. I wander across fields which have the clearest signing and stiles I’ve come across, an example for other farmers to follow. Although I’m aiming for Longridge Fell in the distance the view of Pendle behind me is everpresent.
‘In an isolated institution located to the northeast of this stone there lived from 1904 to 1992 a large number of people who were thought to be too strange, too difficult or too challenging to be cared for in their own communities. The institution, in turn, was called Lancashire Inebriates Reformatory (1904) Brockhall Hospital for Mental Defectives (1915) Brockhall Hospital for the Mentally Subnormal (1959) Brockhall Hospital for Mentally Handicapped People (1974) and Brockhall Hospital for People with Learning Disabilities (1991). Although those who lived there carried heavier burdens than most they were part of our common family.
‘Brockhall Hospital closed its doors in 1992 and the land on which it stood was acquired by Gerald Shimon Hitman of Newcastle upon Tyne who raised this stone as a memorial to those who ended their days in the hospital and are buried here. God full of compassion grant perfect rest beneath the shelter of your presence to these your children who have gone to their eternal home. Master of mercy, cover them in the shelter of your wings forever and bind their souls into the gathering of life. It is the Lord who is their heritage. May they be at peace in their place of rest.’
The footpath now goes alongside a development of ‘luxury lodges’ extending into the open countryside. A lady occupant says that they are holiday lets but that quite a few are permanent homes. How to get around our flimsy planning regulations. Another field ruined.
A steep drop leads to a hidden footbridge over a lively Dinkley Brook. I’ve never been here before. Soon a lane is reached, the line of a Roman Road from Ribchester to Ilkley. At a farm along here, I watch as a golfer practises his drives across the fields, he has spent his life as a dairy farmer and only now has time for leisure pastimes. He too remembers, as a child, the ferry at Dinkley and much more.
At last, I’m on the lane dropping down to the Ribble, Longridge Fell is ahead. Two local ladies on their daily walk are also keen to chat refreshingly about the area until they realise they have to rush for the school pickup.
Dinkley Hall is too far away to observe behind ‘new’ barn conversions but the new shiny bridge is glimpsed below replacing the suspension bridge damaged by floods. The river scenery here is stunning and timeless. [heading photo]
Over the bridge The Ribble Way is joined – an ill-fated long-distance path but with perhaps the best-designed logo The lane up to Hurst Green goes on forever but there is an inn at the top if required. From up here, there is a view back to Whalley NabI had a snack sat on a bench next to a war memorial cross which unusually refers to The Boer War. It is inscribed – This cross commemorates the services of Frederick Sleigh first Earl Roberts K.G.V.C.and his companions in arms the soldiers and sailors of the Empire who fought in the South Africa Campaign 1899-1902.
Opposite on a small roundabout is the WW1/WW2 memorial. Higher in the village are the Shireburn Almshouses, sketched by AW, but when he was wandering this area as a youngster were still up on Longridge Fell. Erected in 1706 but removed and rebuilt in 1946 in the village providing accommodation for Stoneyhrst employees. I’ve never discovered why they were high on the fell in the first place.
Stoneyhurst College is intricately associated with the village and much has been written about it. Up the road, circumventing the graveyard, The Our Lady Statue looking down the avenue to the College has been restored and is shining bright, I think I prefered it as before. It is not marble but steel painted white. That famous view is also timeless, that’s not me yomping up the road.
My accent of Longridge Fell continued by picking up an old bridleway, a favourite of mine, alongside lively Dean Brook with its old bobbin mills and then past buttressed Greengore, an ancient hunting lodge. The day was passing and the forecast predicted rain by 5pm. There has been a lot of change up here with storm and fungus damage to the trees so I used local knowledge to find my own familiar tracks to the summit. The Bowland Hills across the Vale of Chipping were darkening and rain was spreading across the Fylde towards me. I reached my previously stashed cycle and hurtled down to Longridge just in time. I shall regain Wainwright’s Way at the summit trig point when time and weather allow. Bring on Bowland.