Down on the River Wyre in St. Michael’s a tragic drama is transpiring, a 45-year-old local lady, Nicola Bulley, has gone missing whilst walking her dog by the river. You will have seen it on the national news, the trauma her family are going through as the days pass, without resolution, doesn’t bear thinking about.
The River Wyre comes out of the Bowland Hills above Abbeystead, the Tarnbrook Wyre and the Marshaw Wyre join forces there and head off into the Fylde to reach the sea at Knott End/Fleetwood. A dramatic journey. I walked the whole of the Wyre Way in 2014, can’t believe it is so long ago. Today I’m parked up in a lay-by alongside the Marshaw Wyre at Tower Lodge as suggested by Walk 11 in Mark Sutcliffe’s Cicerone guide book, exploring these two upper Wyres.
I’ve just driven through the ‘Trough’ from Dunsop Bridge, a way through the hills beloved of NW Lancashire cyclists. There were plenty this morning, the forecast being good with sunshine and little wind. In fact the last time I came this way was on my cycle way back in 2014, I remember it being a tough ride in this direction. I would need an electric bike I think for such exploits now. I have previously walked a version of this route in reverse, again in 2014.
I thought the lay-by might have been full by the time I turned up at 11am, but there were only a couple of cars. Boots on and immediately a steady uphill begins. By chance, I’m heading into The Duke Of Westminster’s territory once more. I was disparaging about grouse moors in my recent post on Clougha Pike, so today I start optimistically with only healthy thoughts of the great outdoors. I can’t believe it the first WW stone marker, of which there were many better examples along the way, depicts a rifle and a grouse. Condescending bastards.
Putting that aside I march over the hill to views of the Clougha Pike/Ward’s Stone ridge above the Tarnbrook Wyre. I’m glad I’m not going up there today – it’s a tough long walk, although the Duke’s new motorway had made it easier in parts. We used to go up there to climb/boulder on Thorn Crag before it was open access, often resulting in being forcibly ejected. The CRoW act of 2000, despite its limitations, has been a gentle step forward. I cross the infant Tarnbrook Wyre without much thought to its journey from up on Ward’s Stone.
The last time I came through Tarnbrook, an old farming settlement at the end of the road, I got talking to an elderly gent, born and bred there and the last remaining permanent resident. (his family checked up with him every day). I doubt be is still here as the properties all seem to be in the process of modernisation – for rich incomers or holiday lets? A lot of history possibly lost.
Turning my back to the hills I make my way across multiple fields westwards. Yes the stiles are rickety and not easy to spot in the low light. A few adjustments are needed after my phone GPS mapping is consulted, in the past I would have been much more careful with map and compass.
Abbeystead is reached without too much trouble and the Tarnbrook Wyre, (header photo) now more sizeable is crossed at Stoops Bridge, a popular parking area. The hamlet is the centre of the Duke’s Abbeystead estate with the mock Elizabethan estate offices, cottages and old stables.
My path takes off from the road at the far end of the village, taking me high above the Reservoir and then down below the dam and a footbridge over the Wyre. The reservoir is silting up and there is a constant cascade of water over the beautifully curved dam. All very dramatic.
The concessionary path alongside the water is in a dreadful state. Too many feet on the muddy terrain. There is an alternative higher path to the south via Marl House and Hawthornthwaite, longer but more sustainable. It takes an age of slippery sliding to reach dry land again near the Stoops Bridge parking.
Then the parkland of Abbeystead House, the raison d’être of the area, is traversed with tantalising views of the enormous property. Lots of fields and stiles often high above the Marshaw Wyre. I must have fallen asleep and come out onto the road well off route. My map shows it all.
The Marshaw Wyre is then followed closely back up the Trough road to those well known pines alongside the river. Tower Lodge was a welcome sight. I was getting tired and have measured my route as 8.5 miles as opposed to Mark’s 7.25. Some of that was me getting lost.
I have reservations about this walk, yes stunning scenery in parts but lots of field stiles to negotiate, needing careful navigation. The section to the south of Abbeystead Reservoir is horrendous, muddy and awkward. I think the route would be more balanced starting in Abbeystead, with an option to take the difficult reservoir 1.5 mile loop. The road up Marshaw was tedious at the end of the day, it would be so much more enjoyable early in a walk that gradually gained height and then brought you back anticlockwise down to Abbeystead.