I knew this would be a long arduous day so I did it out of sequence in the good weather mid-September. I used devious tactics to complete the walk but I’m happy to write it up as it should be.
Following a coffee at Puddleducks Cafe, I set off along the lane out of Dunsop Bridge heading into the fells. A gentle stroll, alongside the Dunsop River, leads to the prominent Middle Knoll where the water board roads divide, one going left into the Brennand Valley the other going right into Whitendale. Wainwright’s Way follows the latter but I know a better way. Cross the river and follow a path up the right bank before climbing into Costy Cough and picking up a level path all the way to Whitendale Farm.
There is lots of interest along this path but today the highlight was seeing a Hen Harrier rising from the valley and fluttering up the fell. This is a rare sight these days as their population over grouse moors has been drastically reduced by foul means. Bowland should have a decent population of Hen Harriers, a book well worth seeking out is Bowland Beth by David Cobham which highlights major issues in UK conservation.
At Whitendale Farm, part of the Duchy of Lancaster, paths go in several directions. WW goes up the valley following the Whitendale River. The dogs in the kennels give you a good send-off. This is shooting country and bred pheasants are everywhere. The grouse shooting this year has been restricted due to the Heather Beetle devastating large areas. It is usually a squelchy route up the valley and today is no different. A few random boardwalks don’t really help but the waymark posts keep one in the right direction. I plod upwards in the heat with the occasional submerged leg.
Side valleys often have Ring Ousels and Dippers but none today. A post on the Hornby Road beckons and I’m soon sat on a convenient rock for a snack, I could probably sit here for hours before another person appeared. This old road over Salter Fell has been described as one of the best moorland walks in England. The Romans came this way en route from Manchester to Carlisle and then the packhorses, bringing salt to Lancashire and wool to the coast. The Lancashire Witches were dragged across to Lancaster Court for sentencing and hanging. I’m surprised that WW comes up Whitendale, a difficult route rather than the easier way from Slaidburn, AW was familiar with both. His Bowland Sketchbook from 1981 illustrates the area well and he had a certain respect for relatively unknown Bowland, not much has changed from his time.
I set off along the good track, below on the left is the head of Whitendale and way above the rocks of Wolfhole Crag. All is wild and remote. the track follows the slopes of Salter Fell for a good way before views open up to the west. The infant Roeburn River gradually gains volume running west, To the north Ingleborough and its neighbours stand out, a little hazily in the afternoon sun. The silence is only disturbed by a couple of motorcyclists making the through trip.
A lone cyclist comes the other way. The track goes on and on and slowly loses height towards Higher Salter Farm. There are hazy views of the Lakes, Howgills and the Barbon Fells. The last time I was up here was on The Lancashire Witches Walk which at Higher Salter veers off to Littledale and Caton Moor.
Today I carry on past Middle Salter to Lower Salter where there is a small Methodist chapel. Built in 1901 it will have been a meeting place for the far-flung farms in Roeburndale. It was open so I rested a while in its plain interior. Looking back up the Salter Fell Road Mallowdale Pike is prominent, described by AW as “one of the few fells in Bowland with a graceful outline” It is an outlier of the Clougha Pike/ Ward’s Stone range. The road drops further to cross the Roeburn, a river of hidden delights. WW follows the road for almost a mile with the bonus of good views to the Northeast but I notice concessionary paths possibly by the river, I haven’t time to explore today but make a mental note to return.
Reaching Back Farm the way goes steeply down into the heavily wooded valley on a path that gets little use. There are signs of occupation: yurts, sheds, coppicing, vegetable plots, orchards between the trees. Looks like an organic environmental settlement but there is nobody about. http://www.middlewoodtrust.co.uk/
A narrow wooden bridge crosses the river into more orchards. There is still no sign of anybody about. I suspect that one of those concessionary paths would bring you here without the road walking. Anyhow, I gain a cart track leading up through the woods and fields to arrive at a small road heading back down to a converted mill. Wray Mill started as a woolen mill but adapted to produce silk, cotton a nd bobbins, it closed in the 1930’s. Kitten Bridge, nice name, crosses the Roeburn and a little track leads straight into Wray.
This bridge was washed away in the August 1967 floods along with cottages at the lower part of Wray. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in Wray before, it’s off the beaten track. Anyway, the Main Street off the main road is a pleasant collection of cottages with a homely feel to it. There aren’t many buses so I have to continue a further mile through fields to Hornby. Ingleborough is over my right shoulder all the way and ahead is Hornby Castle, its C13 base obliterated by a C19 Gothic building. I join the River Wenning for the last stretch into the village.